The Namesake Chapters 4-5 Summary and Analysis: 1982
by Jhumpa Lahiri

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Chapters 4-5 Summary and Analysis: 1982

Gogol decides to change his name to Nikhil, the name his father chose for him but he rejected with all the wisdom of a five year old, insecure in his first day at school. He is eighteen now and has been admitted to prestigious Yale University; he feels convinced that “Gogol” simply will not be a serious enough name when he graduates from college or applies for a job. He has found out that Nikhil is more acceptable to girls. Besides, he reasons, this is America. It is an American’s right to change his or her name—all one needs is to legally petition the local government. Many others have changed their names, among them Mark Twain and former U.S. President Gerald Ford.

When he informs his parents about his wish, at first his parents object mildly. Gogol insists that people do not take him seriously. When his father asks who does not take him seriously, Gogol cannot actually answer; he realizes, though not fully, that no one has actually rejected him or not taken him seriously because of his name. But he still objects to the name. To his surprise, his father accepts his decision to change his name.

Gogol changes his name to Nikhil by going alone to Boston, appearing in court, filling out the necessary forms, and answering the necessary questions. As he exits the court, he is filled with a vaguely thrilling but also confusing feeling: his name for so long is no longer his name! He feels like telling everyone in Boston that he is Nikhil Ganguli, not Gogol: “Hi, I am Nikhil!” he actually says aloud to no one in particular. He is unaccustomed to the new name and feels weird. He also feels a bit sad, to give up this name he has hated for so long; after all, it is the only name he has ever responded had.

Armed with a new name, he makes the transition from high school to Yale University. Once again, he has to go through the routine of changing his name in all official Yale documents because he applied to the university eight months before as Gogol Ganguli. He has to tell his roommates that his name is actually Nikhil, not Gogol. But everyone at Yale accepts his new name without fuss. Even when his parents visit him they seem to adapt to his new name quite naturally, something about which Gogol is slightly taken aback.

The transitions are smooth and natural, both from school to college and from the old name to the new. Gogol studies assiduously, falls in love with a girl called Ruth, and experiences sex (first anonymously with a stranger at an all-night party on campus and then with Ruth, with all the attendant love and romance). However, he does not tell his parents anything about Ruth; he does not even relish returning to the “mandatory” visits home every other weekend, preferring the company of his girlfriend and the ambiance of Yale to the same old ethnic Bengali atmosphere of his parents’ home on Pemberton Street. One time, on one of these visits to his family, Gogol carelessly refers to Yale as “home,” and Ashima is beside herself in anger.

In about a year his parents become vaguely aware of Ruth, but do not seem to take the news of his having a girlfriend very seriously. Meanwhile, Ruth goes to England on a study abroad term without Gogol. He misses her all autumn. Nothing remarkable happens except that, out of curiosity, he attends a South Asian students’ conference on social issues involving Indians in the United States. He has experienced numerous such issues, and he has gone to their seminars in the past and learned from them nothing new except some terminologies describing Indian Americans (such as ABCDE, American Born Confused Deshi—the last term being an Indian colloquial reference to Indians in America.) The conference, though, causes some self-reflection in Gogol. He wonders who he is really. He is Bengali, Indian, and can speak his mother tongue but cannot read it. Back in India, his American accented English is a constant source of curiosity and laughter. But his two names—a “pet-name” and “a...

(The entire section is 1,554 words.)