3.03.2008

What's in a Name Redux

Now that I'm done dealing with midterms (for the time being), I can make another post about names without feeling guilty. So in honor of having fun and procrastinating (what 2 books I have to finish reading by tomorrow?), I'd like to blog about a few instances of Names Being Important and/or giving another delicious layer to the people they belong to in a few personal areas of interest. But first, let's start off with something a little more dense--namely Shakespeare (he's getting such a shout-out these past few posts).

From Romeo and Juliet, we have this famous passage:
'Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
While Juliet is essentially arguing that it is what a thing is or who a person is that matters--not what it/he/she is called--she does not disregard the impact the name nevertheless has. While Romeo's name may not change his "dear perfection," it is his name and all that it represents that makes their love so star-crossed and tragic. The weight of their family names is the biggest obstacle in the way of their love.

Now, on to the fun things. The Harry Potter series has fun multi-layered names that I've enjoyed. These include those that may not have direct "meaning" per se but they evoke the type of person the character's supposed to be. I'll cover a few of these latter type names, but only if time and space permitting (since I ought to be reading). Before I go on though, I must make a token SPOILER ALERT warning for those who haven't read Book 3 and onward and don't want to be spoiled. (Spoiling people who don't want to be spoiled is a big no-no for me since I hate it when it happens to me and would hate to do that to someone else.)


Let's start with Professor Remus Lupin. No, I didn't realize he was a werewolf until the big reveal at the end of Book 3, but in hindsight (which is always 20/20), it couldn't have been more obvious with a name like that. Professor Lupin's entire name cries wolf. His first name, Remus, references the myth of Rome's foundation, in which the twins Romulus and Remus are suckled and raised by a she-wolf. The last name, Lupin, references wolf directly with the root of lup. Lupus is Latin for wolf, the Latin species name for wolf is canis lupus, and loup is French for wolf. You don't understand how much this stuff makes me squee inside.

Then there's the whole Black family. Sirius Black's animagus form is a huge black dog. The black part is a bit of a given, but the other relation is that Sirius, the star, is known as the "Dog Star" as it is located in the constellation Canis Major. It's also the brightest star in the sky, and what is Sirius but the most (in)famous member of the Black family in the storyline's recent years. Sirius' younger brother, Regulus, is also named after a bright star. The star Regulus is located in the Leo constellation, and not only is Regulus the brightest star in the lion constellation, it's the Heart of the Lion. Though it was mostly the clues given in the 5th and 6th books (esp. the RAB bit) that made me believe that Regulus did the right thing in the end, seeing the connections Regulus' name drew helped cement that belief. I mean, Sirius' brother named after the Heart of the Lion--the lion being the symbol of the Gryffindor House, which is where our main protags are from--has to mean something.

There's also the Black sisters, Bellatrix, Narcissa, and Andromeda. Bellatrix and Andromeda continue the Black family tradition of constellation names. Bellatrix is another meaning laden name because it's the name of the 3rd brightest star in the constellation Orion and means "female warrior," and isn't that exactly what Bellatrix is to He Who Must Not be Named? Narcissa, on the other hand, isn't constellation named, but she's a good example of one of those names that "fits" for reasons other than literal meaning. The name references "narcissus," which aside from being a rather pretty white flower is also the name of the Greek youth who fell in love with his own reflection because he was so beautiful. Narcissa, herself, is described as a pale beauty (platinum blonde, blue eyed, fair skinned -- unlike her dark-haired sister Bellatrix and cousins Sirius and Regulus), and while we don't see anything that suggests she's particularly vain, she is what amounts to a wizarding world aristocrat, and there's an air of self-centered snobbery to the old blood.

Moving on from Harry Potter, we enter the world of manga and anime. Briefly, I'd like to note the role of names in Hayao Miyazaki's Spirited Away (which is a great film by the way) and Kubo Tite's manga/anime Bleach. Name is the key to power, identity, and freedom in Spirited Away. The girl protagonist, Chihiro has most of her name taken from her when she signs a work contract with Yubaba. She is left with a fragment of her name, Sen, to be called by, but she is warned by friends to remember her true name if she wishes to succeed in saving her parents and leaving the spirit world. The boy Haku is apprenticed to Yubaba but cannot leave his apprenticeship or remember who he is/used to be because he has forgotten his real name. Names are the key to unlocking spiritual power for shinigami in Bleach. For the protagonist Ichigo to truly gain the power of his zanpakutou, he has to first learn its name.

The more recent manga/anime hit Death Note (by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata) plays with names as well. The initial draw of the series is the Death Note's cardinal rule: "The human whose name is written in this note shall die." You find out later that you have to know the person's full and true name, as well as what they look like to make it work, but the implication on the importance of names is clear. It's the name rule that really becomes an obstacle for main character Light because his nemesis only goes by nicknames and fake names and famously by the letter 'L.' So there's a lot of playing with the concept of hidden and "true" names.

Then there's the manga/anime Loveless (by Yun Kouga). I can't really do an analysis of this justice, especially since the English Tokyopop release includes a really wonderful essay about the power of words and names in this series, but I need to mention it. It's strange to explain and I've read like 6 volumes and I'm still confused about stuff, but basically, the plot involves these dyads of a 'fighter' and a 'sacrifice.' Battles are conducted between fighter and sacrifice pairs and fought with words that form spells.

Where do names come in? The dyads are paired by name (fighter and sacrifice share the same name), and not just any name; it's a "true" name. We find out in the beginning that main character Ritsuka's brother, Seimei, revealed his true name (Beloved) to Ritsuka before his death. It is this "true name" that designates a fighter to his/her sacrifice, and it is from this shared name that they draw their strength and power. It is what connects them in a deep and spiritual way--like soul mates. Thus, having a pair with unmatched names is not just frowned upon, it's viewed with a fair amount of disgust. And for Ritsuka, who is trying to cope with the loss of his brother, growing up, and figuring out who he is, names take on an especially meaningful role. His "true name" aside (he can't quite make heads or tails of it yet), Ritsuka's struggle to find who he is under the psychological torment he's been subject to since Seimei's death is tied to the name Ritsuka. It's this name--not his "true name"--that he ultimately identifies with and uses to reaffirm to himself who he is. This action is especially significant in the context of Loveless because as mentioned before, words are spells are power in the series.

So in such a world, names perhaps hold the most power of all words and spells.

3 comments:

Misque Writer said...

That is very cool.

Inkblot said...

I must admit, names with layers of meaning like that make me 'squee' inside too :)

's why I hate naming my own characters |:\ Nothing seems meaningful enough!

Krispy said...

I think that's the exact same reason why I have issues naming my characters too. I think too much about meanings. XP But they're so fun!