Thursday, September 18, 2008

Naming Characters

Fiorella puts a fair amount of time and thought into naming the characters in her literary endeavors. Unlike new mothers, she knows what her characters are going to be like as adults, and she can name them accordingly. That's a perk that writers have.

In "The Cask of Amontillado," Poe used his characters' names as a kind of shorthand to tip us off as to their--well--characteristics. Fortunato, the antagonist, has money and luck. Montresor ("my treasure"), the protagonist, contends that everything Fortunato has should have been his. Since Montresor is a wascally wabbit, Fortunato's name becomes ironic, thus adding to Poe's gallows humor.

In Roth's "The Conversion of the Jews," the protagonist's name is Freedman, an obvious choice for a young adolescent who challenges closed-mindedness. His rambunctious best friend's name is Lieberman, which a German exchange student told me is sort of like "homey." Ozzie Freedman's inhibiting rabbi is named Binder. Seems obvious, but I taught this story for two semesters before I caught on.

In "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," Bierce doubles back on us by giving his protagonist a name promising Tara-type romance--Peyton Farquhar. It's a hero's name, the name of someone who wins every battle and the girl besides. Then Bierce turns the tables on us.

This is the parade in which Fiorella marches. After all, how do you think she herself was named?

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