The Custom of the Country Questions and Answers
by Edith Wharton

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What does Undine's name mean? In relation to the theme of the novel

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Though an undine, in folklore, was a water spirit, Undine Spragg was named, indirectly, for the French word ondule, meaning "to wave" or "to undulate".  The word was from the name of a patent hair curler invented by the baby Undine's grandfather around the time of her birth.  So, Undine's name is the combination of American commercialism, a mythical being, and a French word for "wave."  These many layers of meaning enlighten the reader to Undine's character. 

An undine was a water spirit who could gain a soul if married to a mortal man.  Undine, while certainly human, lacks the "soul" of many of the people around her because she is unconcerned about anyone else's feelings.  Her behavior at times becomes sociopathic, such as when she feels little to no guilt when her husband Ralph Marvell actually kills himself to save her the trouble of divorce.  Undine goes from man to man, with no thought for the well-being of her son.  Similarly, even when Undine's parents are...

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