, Research Paper
It is rarely the case for an author to select the names of his or her characters arbitrarily. Often the names of the characters will be used to express an idea or concept significant to the author. For example, in 1984 George Orwell named his hero after Winston Churchill, England’s great leader during World War II and added a common last name: Smith. Also, in A Clockwork Orange Anthony Burgess felt his hero needed a noble name, nicely met by Alexander (”leader of men”) the Great, and settled on Alex Delarge. While an author s intentions in naming character may be less obvious, there is nearly always some subtle purpose. As evidenced in the aforementioned examples, naming can be a powerful device if properly used. In Beloved Toni Morrison utilizes naming to convey many important aspects of the narrative. Throughout Beloved, the dehumanisation of slavery, the significance self-definition, and interpersonal relationships are all communicated through naming.
Sixo, perhaps the most absurd name in Beloved, epitomizes the dehumanisation of slavery in Beloved. While the origin of the name Sixo is not specifically stated in the novel, it can be assumed that it was derived from the number given to him when being bought and sold. The recognition of a person by number is indicative of sub-human status, common to institutions such as a prison camp where efficiency takes precedence over humanity. It is difficult to acknowledge the title Sixo, as a name, as it is more of an enumeration. The names of the other Sweet Home also demonstrate this same dehumanisation through enumeration. The names Paul A, Paul D, and Paul F Garner, are only marginally more acceptable than Sixo. Their names demonstrate the same enumeration as Sixo, however they are preceded by the designation Paul to provide some semblance of a name. This minor distinction, between Sixo and the Paul s names, could be indicative of the distinction between Garner and other slave owners. This distinction is highlighted in Garners insistence that my niggers is men, every one of em. and in the relative kindness of Garner, contrasted with the cruelty of Schoolteacher. (Morrison 10) While the distinction between Garner and other, less humane slave owners, is made, we are carefully reminded that slavery, in any form is inherently dehumanising. This reminder is made through, among others, Edward Bodwin, who, while a long-time friend of the Garners, declares, We don t hold with slavery, even Garner s kind. Again we are reminded when Sethe describes freedom as a place where you could love anything you choose – not to need permission for desire – well now that was freedom.” (Morrison 162)
In contrast to the names of Sixo and the Paul s, are names of Baby Suggs and Stamp Paid. While these self-defined names are just as awkward as those imposed by the slave owners, they differ in their significance. Upon reaching Ohio, Baby Suggs, called Jenny Whitlow by Mr. Garner, claims the surname of her estranged husband and the forename that he called her by. Mr. Garner indicates his disapproval of this name stating, if I was you I d stick with Jenny Whitlow. Mrs. Baby Suggs ain t no name for a freed Negro. (Morrison 142) However Baby Suggs is, justifiably, not dissuaded in her intentions. Mr Garner, while sincere in his suggestion, is oblivious to Baby Suggs s need for self-definition. Baby recognizes that it is impossible for someone to escape their past if their own name is a constant reminder of it. As with Baby Suggs, we are supplied with an explanation of the origin of Stamp Paid s name. Born Joshua, Stamp changed his name after his wife was taken from him and forced into to the bed of their owner. He later felt that Whatever his obligations were. That act had paid them off. (Morrison 185) Stamp s name is also symbolic of his position of deliverer, as he helps to ferry runaways across the river to freedom. He takes as his only payment, the right to enter the houses of those he delivered as a member and friend, not as a stranger. The names of Baby and Stamp both illustrate the freed slave s need for self-definition. To them, living with their given names is living the design that the slave owners had set forth, and the only means of escaping it is through self-definition.
The names of Denver, Beloved, and the Thirty-Mile-Woman all function to develop the inter-personal relationships of the narrative. Denver is named after Amy Denver, the white girl who aided Sethe during her escape. The naming of Denver after a white, functions to distinguish the feelings of Baby Suggs from those of Sethe. Baby, who in her last days proclaimed, There is no bad luck in the world but whitefolks. has a different aversion to whites than Sethe. (Morrison 89) Beloved is named indirectly and posthumously, Beloved is the entirety of the epitaph of the unnamed baby. Apart from the obvious connection to the title of the novel, the name Beloved is significant on many levels. On the surface, Beloved s name, part of Dearly Beloved is appropriate as her short epitaph is her only worldly description. Beloved is also significant to describe her mother s thick love, the cause of her death, and the attention she receives when she returns her to her mother. The Thirty-Mile-Woman, so named because of her distance from Sixo, is a noteworthy name. It is somewhat absurd to name someone based upon his or her spatial relationship to someone or something else. However in the context of the novel it emphasizes the effort that Sixo is willing to expend to visit her, to see the woman who is friend of his mind.
The use of naming in Beloved is at first curious, but taken in its entirety is completely reasonable. Morrison utilizes naming to impress upon the reader concepts that may otherwise go unnoticed. Though Morrison s naming Beloved is made more expressive and richer.