The power of names

The choice of a name is quite powerful in literature, and in most popular-culture texts, as it can set particular expectations, symbolise aspects of the character, identify even the unique context of the narrative. Children’s literature in particular has used this to good effect with the choice of names that capture the popularity and every-man position of the particular period in which it was produced. For instance Mary of ‘The Secret Garden’ is an ideal choice for the period in which the book was set, as it was an iconic English name. An example of a symbolic name is Bella Swan from ‘Twilight’ that means beautiful swan, which sets against the symbolic fact Bella perceives herself as an "ugly duckling" that blooms within the love story. There are many such examples of both selecting names of the time and names with symbolic value. What other examples can you identify?

  • What you're describing is actually its own well-established sub-discipline of literary studies, called "literary onomastics." If you'd like to read up more about it, I'd recommend perusing the decades worth of essays that have been published in Literary Onomatics Studies (https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/los/) and its successor, The Journal of Literary Onomatics (https://digitalcommons.brockport.edu/jlo/). There's also the Names: A Journal of Onomastics (https://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ynam20; I believe you'll need a university library login to access this one) for a less specialized view of names and naming, not exclusive to its function in literature. Some authors I'd recommend are Leonard Ashley, W. F. H. Nicholaisen, and Grace Alvarez-Altman; you also might want to check out the Oxford Handbook of Names and Naming (ed. Carole Hough, 2016), which is a pretty comprehensive primer on the subject. With regards to the article that you're proposing, I'm not too sure if "What other examples can you identify?" is necessarily the best springboard for a discussion, as it may reduce this broad field of study to a handful of stray observations. (Most of the early LOS articles were limited to how names are used by a specific author or text, so as to keep the discussion directed on a central argument.) The article may be designed as a cursory intro to literary onomatics for beginners, which would work best if it delved into some introductory theory, rather than being limited only to case studies. Or, since you seem to be interested specifically in naming in children's/YA fiction, that could be tighter focus for the article. That way the selection of case studies would be more directly relevant to matters genre and reader demography, as opposed to trying to be representative of the full extent of naming's power. Just my two cents. – ProtoCanon 5 years ago

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