Character Naming in Beloved

Essay by goldylocc9High School, 10th gradeB, April 2005

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"What's in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo called,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And, for thy name, which is no part of thee,

Take all myself."

hakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, II.ii

Shakespeare's Juliet tells us that names are unimportant - inconsequential, in fact. A name is merely a convenient string of sounds that denotes an individual, but it has no meaning. But this is clearly not true. Would Romeo and Juliet be the same play if its star-crossed lovers were called Robert and Jennifer? Of course not. The names of characters serve to identify them as members of a certain culture and help to cement their identities. A name may be an arbitrary string of sounds, but it carries much more weight than that.

In Beloved, Toni Morrison demonstrates a clear understanding of this fact. Her choices of character names assist in firmly establishing the world of the book.

Toni Morrison was born with the name Chloe Anthony Wofford. She changed her first name to Toni upon entering college - traditionally, a time looked upon as one of great significance in a young person's life. From this, we can infer that Morrison appreciates the power of a changed name to confer a new identity. There are two characters whose names change during the novel: Jenny Whitlow becomes Baby Suggs, and Joshua becomes Stamp Paid. In both of these cases, the character is abandoning the name under which they lived as a slave for a new, free name. Whitlow is the last name of Jenny's original master (142), and we learn that she takes the name Baby Suggs because her husband called her...