In "Young Goodman Brown," what is significant about the names of the title character and his wife?
Of Hawthorne's tale, his friend Herman Melville wrote,
Who in the name of thunder would anticipate any marvel in a piece entitled ‘Young Goodman Brown’? You would of course suppose that it was a simple little tale, intended as a supplement to ‘Goody Two-Shoes.’ Whereas it is as deep as Dante.
Truly, "Young Goodman Brown" is a morality tale as he encounters personifications of various qualities such as Faith and evil as represented by the primeval forest--Puritans believed there was evil in the forest because the "devilish Indians" came and went through the forest--and the "old traveller" with his twisted walking stick (the Devil). Later, he encounters Goody Cloyse, his catechism teacher (the real Sarah Cloyse was accused of witchcraft in Salem trials), and Deacon Gookin, (the real Gookin participated in the Salem Witchcraft Trials).
Brown accompanies the old man with the serpentine stick and enters the forest where, to his disheartening surprise, he sees at the black mass his Faith. As her pink ribbons waft to the ground, Goodman Brown watches the ingenuous beliefs that he has thought will lead him to heaven suddenly die. Goodman Brown, like Adam, suffers a great fall from innocence.
In "Young Goodman Brown," Hawthorne uses the names of the two main characters for symbolic and allegorical purposes. Young Goodman Brown's name, for example, helps to establish him as a typical, everyday sort of person. His surname, for instance, is very common. It does not stand out in any way. In addition, the word, "Goodman," demonstrates that he is well-respected in the community and that he is a good person. The word, "Young," is also symbolic of his youth and innocence.
Similarly, by calling his wife, Faith, Hawthorne implies that she is also a woman of good standing. She is pure, innocent, and devoted to the Puritan faith.
Together, then, they are a typical, well-respected and well-behaved Puritan couple.
Through a combination of the plot and the use of these names, Hawthorne makes the point that anybody, even the most ordinary and pious of people, can be prone to temptation and to the devil's influence. As a result, it transforms the story from a work of fiction to an allegory, a story with a deeper, moral message.
Both the names Goodman Brown and Faith are symbolic of innocence and purity. Goodman is a surname similar to using Mr. in today's society. Referring to a man as "Goodman" also meant that the man was in good standing within the community. In naming his characters Goodman and Faith, Hawthorne establishes his story as an allegory. Brown's name is symbolic of the Everyman while Faith's name is symbolic of Goodman Brown's faith in society and mankind. Hawthorne repeated uses references to Faith throughout the story to show Brown's ambivalence in taking this dark journey.