The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan

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What significance do names and their nuances have in The Bonesetter’s Daughter? Why is it so important that Ruth discover her family’s true name? When Ruth discovers what her own name means, how...

What significance do names and their nuances have in The Bonesetter’s Daughter? Why is it so important that Ruth discover her family’s true name? When Ruth discovers what her own name means, how does that realization change her relationship with LuLing? 

 

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Anne Riley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Names take on significance in Amy Tan’s novels. In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, one important name is that of Precious Auntie. She is referred to as both Bao Mu and Bao Bomu. Each name carries a very different connotation which connects to Precious Auntie’s relationship with her daughter, Lu Ling. Bao can mean “precious” or “protect.” Mu by itself means “mother.” Yet, when the two words are placed together, Bao Mu signifies a nursemaid or babysitter. Gao Ling tells Ruth that everyone called Precious Auntie Bao Mu. She was indeed a protective mother, one who was precious only to Lu Ling, even before her daughter discovered her true identity. Yet, sadly her station was not of mother but of nursemaid to her own daughter. However, Lu Ling called her mother Bao Bomu. The word bomu means “auntie” so it also represents the family’s deception in designating Lu Ling’s real mother to be her aunt or nursemaid. Thus, Precious Auntie’s names are tragically ironic.

Throughout the novel, Lu Ling is unable to remember her mother’s family name. When Lu Ling says the family name is Gu, Ruth believes she is mistaken because the word means “bone.” She thinks Lu Ling is confusing people and events from her past. However, Gao Ling confirms the name and explains that it can actually mean several things—bone, gorge, old, blind, thigh, grain, merchant, or character. Gao Ling intimates that the word “character” is closest to its true meaning. “That’s why we use that expression ‘It’s in your bones.’ It means, ‘That’s your character.’” Gao Ling explains Ruth’s grandmother’s first name was Liu Xin. Ruth thinks it means “shooting star” but her aunt explains it really means “remain true.”

Ruth’s epiphany begins with her conversation with Gao Ling. She realizes that the Chinese language is quite rich, not limited as she had always thought. She thinks of a sentence to represent the word and the past: “The blind bone doctor from the gorge repaired the thigh of the old grain merchant.” Ruth gains a new respect for her mother; she recognizes that Lu Ling has actually been telling her about her grandmother and their family, but she has not been truly listening. Ruth cries because she proudly realizes she belongs to this family. Character is shaped by connection to one’s family.

Heritage becomes important to Ruth now. She keeps a picture of her grandmother on her desk and uses the past to see the present. She finds her voice and begins to write her family’s story. “It is for her grandmother, for herself, for the little girl who became her mother.”

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Kristian Dach eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The clearest example of the importance of names in The Bonesetter's Daughter is LuLing trying to remember her mother's name. She knows that her mother told her—she even remembers the conversation—but the name itself eludes her. This haunts her and keeps her from being able to...

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Ollie Kertzmann, M.A. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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