To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

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Why did Harper Lee choose certain names for certain characters? Why the name Atticus? Why nickname Arthur Radley "Boo"? According to my teacher, even the name "Calpurnia" has a meaning to the story.

Why did Harper Lee choose certain names for certain characters?

Why the name Atticus? Why nickname Arthur Radley "Boo"? According to my teacher, even the name "Calpurnia" has a meaning to the story.

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Jamie Wheeler eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Your teacher is quite right.  I believe all of the names Lee selected were deliberately.  "Scout" is always searching for answers, her personality is such that she is always seeking. I argue that she spells "Jem" with an "e" to allude to the fact that the boy is like a "diamond in the rough."  We don't really see Jem's true capabilities until the very end. 

"Boo" of course is meant to be scary, but it's such a childish word that it's terribly fear-inducing.  Also, Boo's proper name, Arthur, sounds completely harmless, and reflects his true nature.

Think also of the Ewells, (the sound of "Ew" is a lot like "eew," indicating something unpleasant).

Tom Robinson has a very "American" sounding name.  I believe she selected this name purposely to reflect his "ordinary" nature.

Atticus' name is a nod to the Roman orator known for his just decisions.  Calpurnia also a Roman name.  She is a character from Julius Caesar.  Like the character who tries to protect her husband, she is protective of the Finch family, much like a mother bird would be to her offspring.

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cldbentley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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You ask an excellent question.  Names, particularly in stories, often serve many purposes.  In Harper Lee's story, the meaning of a particular name sometimes gives a clue to the character's personality.  Sometimes, even the sound of a name gives a hint to how Lee wants the reader to interpret a character.

The name Calpurnia was also the name of Julius Ceasar's wife in Shakespeare's play.  In that play, Calpurnia's life was frequently subjected to tragedy or tragic elements.  In Lee's story, Calpurnia's life as a black woman of that time was difficult in many ways, and Tom Robinson's trial pressed Maycomb's black community into even more difficult situations.  The sound of the name Calpurnia denotes strength, which is obviously an integral part of Calpurnia as a character.

Giving Arthur Radly the nickname "Boo" gives the reader a good idea of what kind of character he is.  Boo is a mysterious character, often believed to be a ghost, etc., so it is a very effective name.

In order to better understand Lee's use of names, try to discover those names' particular meanings.  For example, the word "scout" can be found in the dictionary as a noun; when you know the definition, you can determine how it applies to Scout as a character.

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malibrarian eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Interesting question! I assumed both "Atticus" and "Calpurnia" came from Romans, but had to double check. Atticus was named for a Roman orator who remained impartial and fair during political turmoil (see wikipedia link below), while Calpurnia was named for the wife of Julius Caesar (check the eNotes link below for more information on Calpurnia from Julius Caesar).

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mynameismiah | Student

Not only is Boo scary LOOKING, but he is also scared. He is scared of the outside world and the pain it can cause. In addition, the town is SCARED of him. He's the tall tale of the town. He is blamed for the town's crimes. So, all in all, Boo not only looks like a ghost but he is one. 

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timelord-district12 | Student

The name Bob Ewell in the novel is also a name of significance, although in this case it is more of a joke. Bob Ewell is named after Robert Edward Lee, the famous Confederate general during the civil war. Bob Ewell's full name is Robert E Lee Ewell. Harper Lee used this name to give the character some irony. Bob Ewell was “a little bantam cock of a man” that is described as a feisty chicken. He strutted to the stand and sat down proudly as if he was indeed the head chicken in the pen during Tom Robinson's trial. He does not fit his ironic namesake, although in his mind he does.


I hope that helps a little bit!

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sk01 | Student

Also, thanks a lot for the above answers, helped me a lot! 

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sk01 | Student

Also, about Atticus and the 'Finches' in general I would link to add to. Finches are birds too, like the mocking birds. Finches "sing their hearts out" as mocking birds do too. There are many similarities [such as the afore mentioned] between the finches and the mocking birds. This then makes one cogitate about Atticus' support for Tom Robinson [who is - metaphorically - the mocking bird], the two birds being similar yet of a differnt type of bird is a sign of equality in itself. As it is showing that yes we do have differences incorporated into us however we are all the same, and thus equal. Finches are seed eating birds, showing that the Finch family wouldn't hurt anyone of their own nature, i.e. other humans without a valid reason. Moreover, Finches eat the seeds, obviously before they bloom into the flowers. This connotates Atticus' actions as he is fighting Toms case so that the situation [racism, prejudice etc.] does not bloom and ignite further. 

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davidsparrow | Student

Just wanted to add to Boo's description that he was almost unreal, or ghostly due to how little Scout and Jem actually knew about him and the one day he came out was Halloween. Also, when Scout was describing him after seeing him for the first time at her house after their run in with Bob Ewell, she noticed how pale and light skinned he was due to his lack of exposure to the sun, giving him a ghostly appearance. He also preferred remaining in the dark at the finch's house. When Boo walked outside and peered through peoples windows it was almost like haunting them. Hope some of this makes sense.

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soccorchick45 | Student

hey were reading this book and the whole story is based off harper lees life!!!

 Atticus Finch= her dad

Boo Radley= her neighbor that was "mysterious"

and Scout= her!!!

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fixme | Student

The story of this novel is quiet captivating. The writer has choosen perfect names for the character that suit them perfectly.Scout and Jem have turned Aurther Radley into a ghost that shows the sense of humor from a child's percpective, and the way of lee's saggacity of presenting this story.

Calpurnia is a women who's character completely potraits to the character of Calpurnia in shakespears novel.Her life is full of tragrdies.She works for Mr.Finch inspite of the fact that she is a black women.

Mr.Finch is a man who is struggling to save the truth ,although he is aware of the fact that it is hardly possible to save a black man in a white dominant society.

Scout is a tom boy,who eventually learns to be a girl .Her name implies to her character.  

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fuzzykate93 | Student

Wow! My teacher said the exact same thing, and my class even got asked to look up the meaning of one of the names. So after my research i have found that "Calpurnia" is the name of Julius Caesar's wife. In the Shakespeare play she was very protective of her husband (kind of like how Cal was in To Kill a Mocking Bird, except she was protective of the Finch children), also Calpunia suffered many hard ships, like Cal who as a black woman struggled in the south with so many racist people around. Then there is Atticus and his name, is the name of a man in Rome who was a just and fair orator, and made good decisions. So any how there are many different meanings to each of the names.  

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