Naming and Identity in Literature

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Behavior or Character Traits

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

A character in Robert Bird’s Nick of the Woods (1837) is Nathan Slaughter, suggesting possible character trait identity. This is confirmed when Nathan, also known as “Nick,” (“nick” seems an appropriate verb) gains the name “Bloody Nathan.” The apparently gentle Quaker turns out to be a violent man. Several characters in James Fenimore Cooper’s Leatherstocking Tales (1823-1841) are named or undergo name changes that describe behavior. One is Hurry Harry March in The Deerslayer (1841). His shooting an Indian girl impulsively and endangering his companions demonstrates the behavior that his name suggests. The identity of the title character in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “Young Goodman Brown” is revealed in his name. He represents Everyman, capable of yielding to temptation and desire as all humans are. His wife’s allegorical name, Faith, identifies her with the force of goodness in the world. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s character Evangeline St. Clare, nicknamed Little Eva, in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) has a name that fits this angelic, blond, blue-eyed maiden who dresses in pure white and embodies the Christian virtue of charity.

In twentieth century literature, the inherently royal aspect of Uncle Caesar in O. Henry’s “A Municipal Report” is emphasized in “King Cettiwayo,” a nickname given at first in jest. Upon finding that Uncle Caesar (also suggesting royalty) is descended from African nobility, the narrator better understands the depth of his loyalty. The name of Sinclair Lewis’ Martin Arrowsmith in Arrowsmith (1925) suggests “straight as an arrow,” or steadfast, which is appropriate for this humanitarian scientist. Arrowsmith is an idealist who fights the temptation to compromise his integrity. The name Burden identifies characters in William Faulkner’s Light in August (1932) and Faulkner’s Joanna Burden is obsessed with the issue of slavery; her “burden” is to fight for equality to the end. Ellen Glasgow’s Mrs. Burden, in

(The entire section is 466 words.)