This topic contains 23 replies, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Haley 1 year, 2 months ago.
February 8, 2015 at 10:31 pm #1801
I’m thinking about names… those who have them, those who don’t, and those whose names change during these stories. It is clear that in these books, your name, and who gave you that name, matters. But why does it matter? How does it impact a person to be named, or to have their name changed? Does it change things for someone to know another person’s name, and if so, how?
I have some thoughts but they aren’t fully formed yet. It is something I am watching for as I am rereading the books. So for now I want to know what other people are thinking about this. Where in the stories did you noticed the importance of someone’s name? What makes their name matter? How does their name (or lack of a name) impact that person?
February 10, 2015 at 9:20 am #1808
To me, the idea of names having meaning speaks not only of one’s own self-identity, but of belonging. Think of the overlap between naming and community. When a person’s name is revealed, they are free to be accepted into community in a deeper way. And this works multiple ways. Peet is an outcast and can only belong when his name is made known. Podo is loved, but can be fully accepted only when his old nickname is exposed. When the Florid Sword’s secret identity is revealed, family results. Even the Fangs have a community of sorts—a false one, based on false names, but one cannot be considered part of that community until that false name is given. And Tink’s story swerves all over the place depending on what name he will accept.
I have experienced this many times in my own life, mostly in the form of nicknames. Naming is powerful, so it can be dangerous—we all know that cruel nicknames mean rejection. But it only works that way because names are, I think, intended to give people a place in community. Like the old joke, “why name a cat if it won’t come when you call,” names are meant for relationship. There’s no need for them in isolation. But if you give me a name, that means that you accept me, and we belong to each other. Belonging is scary, but it is also healing. No wonder we sometimes saw such violent reactions when true names were used.
There was a great post last summer at the Rabbit Room about this, too. But I’d love to hear more thoughts from this community! Thanks for bringing this up, Miss Linda.
February 14, 2015 at 6:04 pm #1831
I still haven’t gotten all my thoughts together, but I’m going to start talking about them anyway. As I am rereading the books, I am keeping an eye out for certain themes, so I will probably have more thoughts as I get farther along. But I still want to hear what other people think, so please jump in with whatever examples you notice.
I know names are part of identity. There is something about how we define ourselves involved in it. As already mentioned, Tink’s story changes a lot depending on what name he accepts. But there is something relational in names, and how people think of each other makes a difference in how they relate to each other. I’m not sure if this is directly reflected in our world though… it seems like something more than a name here, but I’m not sure I can put words on what I mean. I can’t yet, at least…
Anyway, back to the books.
The very first place I noticed the power of names was when Janner, at 12 years old, learns his father’s name. From just a picture and a name and a very short conversation, his view of his father changed. As the first book says, “Knowing his father’s name made Janner think of him as a real person, not just a happy shadow from his dreams.”
Before knowing Esben’s name, the few times we see Janner thinking or talking about his dad, it seems it is really more about himself than about another person. He sees the picture of his dad at his age, and imagines himself in the same situation. Then he gets angry with Podo and claims that if his REAL dad were here, he would understand. Why does he think that? Janner has no idea at that point who is dad was, what he was like, or even why he is gone. He just assumes that his dad is someone who would deeply understand him and agree with him. It seems to me that he has imagined his dad “in his own image”, or as a reflection of himself and his feelings.
Then there is a change. When he learned Esben’s name, Janner also learned a tiny bit about him. It wasn’t much, but it was important. He learned that Esben had died trying to protect his family. Suddenly instead of imagining his father as a bigger version of himself, Janner begins to change his own attitudes and actions to be a smaller imitation of his dad… he begins to accept the responsibility to take care of the people he loves, even when it costs him something. Without ever meeting him, Janner begins to relate to his dad differently, and it changes his relationships with other people too.
There is meaning here. I can’t quite pin it all down, but it fascinates me.
February 14, 2015 at 7:25 pm #1838
This is such a huge topic that I haven’t said much of anything because my thoughts about it are all over the place. Names being part of identity resonates with me a lot, partly with self-identity, but especially in how one relates as part of the larger world.
I did not have any real nicknames that were just mine until I was 19. Every nickname I had was some combination of the names “Mary” and “Linda” because I am a twin and people often considered us interchangeable and didn’t learn which of us was which. So instead of the nickname being a mark of acceptance and belonging, it signified to me that I wasn’t worth the trouble of getting to know, that what I thought or felt different from my sister didn’t matter, we were expected to be interchangeable in every way. (For those who are curious, yes, Miss Linda is my twin).
Now I am older and while we still look enough alike to be confusing, people are far more likely to take the time and trouble to get to know me enough to know which one I am. Even as a child it meant a great deal to me to know that God knew my name and never EVER confused me with my sister. I am quite sure that the people in my childhood who made the combined nickname had no idea of its significance to me, but it is important to be able to be known as yourself.
February 14, 2015 at 7:36 pm #1839
Now, my thoughts about the books. I see tons of characters changing and growing as they learn their names and as their names become known. Pretty much every major character in the book is like that. The person that stands out to me the most right off is the one who is the most stable and consistent person throughout everything and that is probably Nia. As I think about it though, the kids didn’t know her real name, but SHE knew her name and someone close to her knew her name (Podo) the whole time. That may be a big part of her consistent ability to be exactly what she is, a queen in exile, whether only one person knows it, or whether she is in the Green Hollows and everyone knows it and is too upset to care about it.
Even in her case though, she considers a change of name and the unfolding of new identity that would bring.
March 10, 2015 at 1:14 pm #1995
That is a really interesting point about Nia, Miss Mary. I had not considered that, but I think you’re right. She is very stable and consistent, and despite not feeling free in the beginning to tell her kids who they truly are, she raises them in a way that’s consistent with their true name. She prepares them for receiving that name once the time is right.
I think the biggest change I see in her over the course of the story is in her ability to look her married name in the face, so to speak, and own it despite how hard it was to remember her husband. She had gone back to her maiden name out of a very real fear for her and her children’s lives, but how could she process such a devastating loss as her husband’s death while she was unable to use his name? But even at the very beginning, when nobody but she and Podo knew the truth, Janner saw her as a queen. That name never left her, even if it was hard to remember and she wasn’t able to wear it safely.
February 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm #1925
I’m still thinking about this, and may post more randomly when I have time and thoughts.Today I am thinking about the renaming idea.
The fangs had a human name that they gave up for a new name as a fang. The cloven had names that they forgot, but weren’t necessarily given new ones… remembering what they had lost was painful but kept them sane. Trying not to remember helped them avoid pain but it seems that they lost more and more of themselves as they chose not to remember.
In the books, the solution Kal comes up with is for them to go forward and be given a new name. And if I remember right (my books are upstairs and I am too lazy to go get them to look this up), even those who could remember their old names chose to get new ones instead.
I find this really interesting. So often I find that when I feel a sense of regret, I wish I could go back and do something over again, do it better this time. I have heard sermons about how God’s forgiveness wipes the slate clean and gives us a chance to try again. But I don’t find that true in practical life. and I don’t think it is actually what the Bible teaches. The Fangs didn’t get turned back into the people they once were and resume the human lives they had originally. The cloven didn’t either, even when they could still remember what those lives had been. When I am forgiven, God doesn’t erase my past and I don’t get a “do over.” What I have done is still there, and the consequences (good or bad) are still being played out. But what He does is more interesting and more powerful than that. He changes me and gives me a new name. The past is still there, but I am not still part of it. The Fang has turned into a girl now, and that girl is not the same as the Fang was, even though the memories are still there.
I have more thoughts rattling around, but that is enough for now.
March 10, 2015 at 12:56 am #1990
Now I’m thinking about the name “Igiby” and the people who wear that name.
There is a short conversation in the first book where Janner is talking to Peet, trying to figure out what his name is. Peet asks him what a real name is and whether Janner Igiby is his real name. Janner answers confidently, but Peet still questions… and the subject is dropped.
Now I’m questioning too.
Because I’ve read the end of the book, I know that Janner has another “real name.” But what I’m questioning is whether the “Igiby” name is also a part of his “real name” at least in some sense.
Janner’s sense of his own identity was wrong in some ways (there was a lot he didn’t know) but very right in others. There were things that are part of his heritage, and who his mother raised him to be, that he believed were tied to the name “Igiby.” Those things didn’t disappear because he learned he had another name.
I think perhaps it isn’t so much that learning his real name changed Janner’s identity as much as it added to it. He knew the name “Igiby” meant being held to a higher standard than other people and valuing things that others might not value (like T.H.A.G.S. and protecting the people you love), but he didn’t know how much it really meant. He didn’t know it meant a grandmother who loved them enough to die for them… and actually did it, not just say it. His other name is also full of meaning and a heritage. But I would be sad to think he lost the “Igiby” part when he learned of the “Wingfeather” part.
So perhaps Peet had it right when he called the children “Iggyfeathers” and “Wigibys”. That might be closer to their “real names” than simply trading one name for another. Both parts of their heritage remain part of them, and even more part of them as they learn more of the truth of who they are and where they came from.
There is more to think about, so I will probably post in this thread again once I have more thoughts. But I don’t particularly like talking to myself, so feel free to jump in with whatever thoughts and ideas you have.
March 10, 2015 at 12:29 pm #1991
Great thoughts, all.
March 10, 2015 at 12:33 pm #1992
I’m trying to think of something to add, but right now I’m just enjoying reading your take on it!
March 10, 2015 at 2:16 pm #1996
Since you wrote the story to start with, I suppose you have already done your part. Although if you do have thoughts at some point, they are quite welcome… you have the best chance of knowing the author’s original intent, at least. 😛
March 10, 2015 at 1:04 pm #1994
I love your thoughts. Sorry to leave you hanging! I’ve had my nose buried in a stack of ancient tomes for days and am just coming up for air.
I think you’re right about Igiby and Wingfeather both being a part of who Janner is, and I think you’re right that he’d lose something important if he just switched one for the other. Remember when the kids meet Olumphia Groundwich, and he says that he still feels mostly like an Igiby? That was well after he’d learned his other name and had many opportunities to wear it well.
It reminds me of Bilbo Baggins—he was equal parts Baggins and Took. (Hobbit spoilers ahead!) He needed both sides of his identity in order to be what the dwarves (and all of Middle Earth, in the long run) needed. If he hadn’t been Took enough, he wouldn’t have gone on that unexpected journey in the first place, and he wouldn’t have been brave enough to fight spiders or rescue the dwarves or intervene when Thorin’s selfish greed threatened them all. But if he hadn’t been a Baggins, he would have been so utterly changed by the end that he would never have been satisfied with simple, homely pleasures, and he would have succumbed to the dragon-sickness along with the dwarves. He would have been unable to do what Thorin was also unable to do, and the Battle of Five Armies would have been a massacre on all sides. The Desolation of Smaug would have been the Desolation of Bilbo, or at the very least the Desolation of Thorin.
This makes me think: If Janner also has two sides, and they are both needed, how does each side contribute to the fight for Aerwiar? What does his Igiby side contribute? What does his Wingfeather side contribute? How would this story have been different if he had been only one or the other?
I’m with Miss Linda—I’d love to hear anybody’s thoughts on this, including if you disagree on any point.
March 10, 2015 at 2:35 pm #1997
I’m pretty sure, at least from Janner’s perspective early on, that the Igiby side is much more down to earth. Igiby’s shovel hogpig droppings, work in the garden, accidentally fall into horse nuggets, and repair leaky roofs. But they also hold on to what they believe and value, no matter what happens. In the face of a whole world that has been conquered and has lost hope and even their laughter has worn thin, the Igiby cottage is still a bright spot of love and hope and happiness.
Wingfeathers, on the other hand, are royalty. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve, because it is clear they do… good rulers must. But they serve differently, or at least that is how the stories sound. Janner must have expected that name to mean more heroic, less mundane things, at least at first. As he learned more and more about the Wingfeathers as real people rather than far off legends, I suspect what that name really meant became more developed for him… instead of simply keeping a bright spot of hope and love in spite of the culture around them, Wingfeathers are known for the culture they created and maintained, and it was a bright spot for the whole world.
But I think that while the role of the two families is different, the heart is the same. They are more alike than different, at least in what they value.
March 12, 2015 at 5:40 pm #2006
“Instead of simply keeping a bright spot of hope and love in spite of the culture around them, Wingfeathers are known for the culture they created and maintained, and it was a bright spot for the whole world.” I love this. No wonder that when Artham describes Anniera it sounds so much like the Kingdom of God. And I wonder if that is really what is behind T.H.A.G.S.—creating culture, not just surviving in a dark world. We need stories and songs and art just to survive, but beauty does more than help us survive. It creates the world we live in.
March 17, 2015 at 10:41 pm #2053
I’m back to talk about names again. But first, a correction to my last post. As I’ve thought more about it, I think “protecting” is almost exclusively Wingfeather, and something Janner really didn’t understand until he began learning who he is and who his family are. As an Igiby, Janner was responsible for keeping track of his siblings, dispensing the money for food (most of which went to Tink, I’m sure), and helping Leeli if she needed help getting around. But I think the way it was practiced was more in line with nurture and provide, not protect… until Leeli got in trouble with the Fangs. Then “protect” was the natural response from both her brothers.
But that isn’t the name that I was thinking about today.
Today I was thinking about Nugget.
The first time I read the first book, I laughed when I realized what the dog’s name was. Nugget isn’t a word I use a whole lot, but apparently it is one that they use in Glipwood. Janner fell into the “horse nuggets” and had to wash. The dog’s name means poop (or poo, or dung, or excrement, or whatever term you want to use), and I thought that was funny.
But as the story goes along, it doesn’t take long before my perception of Nugget changed. The only time I am used to hearing the word “nugget” (aside from discussions of these books), it is in reference to gold. At the end of his part of the story, Nugget’s value has been shown to be much more in line with gold than with poop.
What is in a name? Apparently in some cases, it is what you make of it. Getting to know Nugget as a character and seeing his behavior changed my perception of the meaning of his name, from something worthless to something valuable.
April 22, 2015 at 8:50 pm #2288
As I was rereading, I noticed some things I missed last time through.
From Pages 132-133 of North Or Be Eaten:
“Fine, fine,” Oskar said. “in the words of Phinksam Ponkbelly, ‘I don’t want to poke a snickbuzzard in the gobbler.’ All I want is for young Janner Wingfeather here to know who he is and where he came from.”
“And all I want,” said Podo, “is to get these kids and their mother someplace they can live out their years in peace. Anniera is sacked and gone. There’s no more an Anniera than there is an Anklejelly Manor. It’s a dead island, as dead as snakeskin, and that’s what these young Igiby’s will be too if they get any ideas in their heads about kings and stones and secrets. ”
Even Podo didn’t want them to know fully who they were, not because he was trying to corrupt them or anything evil like Gnag or the Fangs would do, but because he considered what they were born to be too dangerous for them, so he was trying to shape them to be something less costly.
In the end though, whether from his motives or from more sinister ones, the Maker was the one who decided that they would be Wingfeathers, with all the history that comes with it. Just as he made every other person in the world and gave them the history and abilities they were given and He has wisdom behind all of it (Queen Sara comes to mind).
May 5, 2015 at 11:06 am #2355
I don’t have any big thoughts today, just a small one.
Janner and Kalmar are talking after Kalmar has walked with the Maker in the Fane of Fire. Kalmar says something like “Then He said my name. But when He said it, it was more than my name.”
I know that throughout that discussion, they are both struggling to put words on an experience that can’t be captured in words. But I wish it could. Maybe someday when things are made right, words will work better than they do now and things like that can be spoken about more clearly. Or maybe some things will always be out of the reach of language, and can only be experienced but not communicated to someone else. I don’t know.
But for now, I’m just wondering how it will sound and what it will mean when I hear the Maker say my name.
May 21, 2015 at 12:20 am #2388
Ok, time for another post about names.
Today’s topic- Janner in the Fork Factory
First, the whole idea that once you are in the factory, you are no longer a person with a name, you are just a “tool” is striking. It sounds like something extreme, something that you would never encounter in normal life. And yet I have, and I am afraid the experience is probably not unique. I’ve never been in a place where my name literally isn’t used. But I have been in circumstances where I know that the people around me did not care who I was, but were merely interested in my usefulness to them. It wasn’t as extreme as Janner’s experience, but it certainly did have an impact on me. Although he was surrounded by people, he was really very alone there, because they didn’t treat each other as people but as things.
When Janner is asked for his name by the Overseer, he quite sensibly gives a false one. If there is an army of Fangs looking for you, it wouldn’t be a good idea to announce who you are too loudly. But Janner still picked a name for himself that reminded him of who he is… instead of picking something random, he chose his father’s name. Yet even that couldn’t help him much in the factory because no one was using his name at all.
Yet in those few chapters, I think it is interesting how Janner knowing who he is really wasn’t enough. It helped him, certainly. But he was losing the fight and losing himself gradually. That is why he was so desperate to get away that he attempted an escape that he had to know was unlikely to succeed. Being treated like a thing instead of a person is destructive, deadening. The passage where he finally meets Sara fascinates me, because what made the difference for Janner was someone who called his name, not the one he had given the overseer, but his real name (well, one of them). Janner wanted freedom, but I think what he needed even more was to be seen and known and acknowledged, and to be able to give the same things to someone else. Once he had that, the same work that had sapped his strength and dulled his senses became something that helped him focus and remember, and eventually work out his escape.
It just makes me wonder about my own life, and how well I do at recognizing people as people rather than objects. A waiter taking my order, the nurse taking my blood pressure, even the telemarketer calling me at a very inconvenient time… they are all people, with names and stories of their own. It is even more disturbing is when I find myself relating to people I am closer to in dehumanizing ways, as can easily happen when I get too focused on myself and what I want or need from others. I don’t want to treat them like “tools” rather than people with names of their own.
June 10, 2015 at 12:26 pm #2738
I do know what you mean. I hate it when I feel like someone is treating me, or anyone I care about like a “tool”, using them just for what they can do without caring about who they are or their personhood, and how being used affects them. Not many things make me mad, but that is one of them. Yet I know that sometimes I do it as well if I am very focused on a task that needs to be done or just too tired to pay attention. Sometimes something will happen to snap me out of it (like in line at a store if the person checking me out acts differently than normal, I might really SEE them, but often I don’t). Definitely something to work on and be aware of, because none of us are meant to be tools for each other. The only one who can legitimately call us a tool is the Maker, and it is a privilege to be His tool, because he does not diminish your personhood when He uses you for His purposes, but instead He fulfills it to everything that you were created to be. Each of us was specially designed to be a specific highly valuable tool that can partner with Him to accomplish his purpose, not a one size fits all, interchangeable, nameless, faceless, tool working for someone else’s purpose, but not having any say in the matter.
June 22, 2015 at 4:21 pm #2848
I don’t have time for a long post right now, but I love this part from the beginning of the Monster in the Hollows. Nia finally claims her name and her identity.
“I am the daughter of Podo Helmer and Wendolyn Igiby,” Nia said in a strong voice. “My husband was Esben Wingfeather, and with him I ruled the Shining Isle until Gnag the Nameless waged war on the free lands of Aerwiar. You may have thought me dead and my children with me, but by the Maker’s hand we live and sail from Skree to the Green Hollows for refuge. My name,” She paused, “is Nia Wingfeather, Queen of Anniera, daughter of the Hollows.”
I think this section gets overshadowed by everything that happens in the next couple chapters. But I wonder if part of the reason she could handle all the conflict that came next is because she had this moment first, when she came out of hiding.
June 29, 2015 at 12:26 pm #2884
What a lovely idea: That claiming one’s identity can get one through difficulty. Do you think this was part of why she kept repeating to her kids, “Remember who you are”?
July 10, 2015 at 11:37 pm #2931
I suspect so. I don’t know how it all works, really. But I think knowing who you are and acting in ways that are consistent with that can at least help. It doesn’t change the difficult situations we may face, but it can help us know how to face them. Nia knows she is a queen and she acts like one. Several times Janner was struck by how much authority she had, and how even Rudric seemed smaller and weaker than she did.
January 7, 2016 at 1:40 pm #5270
I’ve neglected this thread. There are so many more things I could have written about here but I haven’t done it. But today I will.
I’m reading in The Warden and the Wolf King about names again, but this time it is the Fangs Kal captures after the last battle. This little exchange happens in chapter 86.
The Fang whispered to the others then spoke to Kalmar again. “Er, what do we do now?”
Kal’s head cocked to one side. He looke at Janner, but Janner only shrugged. “Well, I guess you can go away.”
The Fangs whispered among themselves, then the leader spoke again. “Where do we go?”
“I don’t know,” Kalmar said. “Just go away. Stop hurting people.”
“I’m not sure we can do that. Not without our old names.”
“The ones the Fang wrote down in the book?”
“You’re telling me you want to know your old names?”
“Some of us do.”
“I don’t!” one shouted from below. “I like being evil!”
“I’m sick of it,” said the first one. “But when I try to remember my old name, or where I came from, my head hurts. Everything gets squishy.”
“What if I gave you new names?”
Janner had no idea what Kalmar was doing. Did he think that he could just give them a random name and the Fangs would suddenly be good again? Was it that simple?
It is not so simple for us either. Even if they could remember their old names, could a Fang who has done awful things and worse, loved doing awful things, really go back to being a normal person? The cloven couldn’t, even when they remembered who they had been, and the wrong they had done was much less than what the Fangs had done. Remembering helped them in some ways, but it wasn’t enough to let them fully return to the person they had been. Their choices changed them. When we have intentionally chosen to do wrong, there is an innocence that is lost. Our view of ourselves changes. We can no long say “I would never do that” because we know that we would. We have. We can’t go back.
But we can go forward. We can become someone new. Not someone who is too innocent to consider doing something wrong, but someone who knows what evil is and rejects it. But trying harder isn’t enough. Just like this story is going to show, we can’t get there on our own. The Fangs cannot rename themselves because any name they come up with will reflect their Fangishness and not be a change at all. Gnag giving himself a name did not change his identity- he was still Nameless in every sense that mattered. But a King, acting together with the Maker, and someone who is willing to pay the price for our transformation, CAN give a new name and a new nature, and with it, the ability to be something other than evil.
October 13, 2017 at 1:38 pm #17240
Oh! Just thinking about the part when Kalmar comes out of the Fane of Fire makes me tear up! I loved it! And I agree that having a name really helps your identity. It can also help shape who you are as a person, because when you don’t have a name, you don’t have one little part of you. And that little part can make a big difference.