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And The Children Will Know Their Name: Naming In Song Of Solomon

1582 words - 7 pages

It is not hidden that Toni Morrison finds names and naming very important in her novel Song of Solomon. Declaring the importance of names from the start, the epigraph to the novel reads “The fathers may soar / and the Children may know their Names” (Morrison). When first reading the novel people may be surprised by the large quantity and obscurity of characters names. Names like “Milkman”, “Guitar” and “Empire State” sound odd and meaningless but as readers explore the novel they see the importance of these name and how they further benefit the story. We see the value of these names in different ways. We see both how other perceive one another through their names as well as how characters see there self through the identity that is their name. Morrison also uses name extensively as a source of symbolism and intertextuality, naming characters after their biblical similarities as well attributes of oneself. Morrison expresses the importance of naming throughout Song of Solomon through characters perception of themselves and one another’s through their name as well as the meaning behind ones name.
Morrison names each character with a reason, using both intertextuality as well as symbolism. Characters such as First Corinthians and Magdalena names come from the bible and are used as further characterization. The two most important biblical character in the novel are Pilate and Hagar. Hagar’s biblical counterpart was a concubine from Genesis. This is a reference to the way she is treated by Milkman, used only for her sex she longs for his love. She is unaware of the meaning of her biblical name unlike Pilate. Pilates name was chosen by her illiterate father by choosing “a group of letters that seemed to him strong and handsome” (18). He was told he couldn’t name his daughter after the “Christ-killing” Pontius Pilate but in anger for her birth killing his wife he decided the name fit justifying it by saying he “asked Jesus to save how wife” (18). Pilate is aware of the biblical character she is named after as indicated by her recital of the bible at the police station (207). Aware and embracing, at age twelve she “put [her name] in a little brass box, and strung the contraption through her left earlobe” (19).
Pilate name has dual purpose serving also to express the theme of flight. The name homophonic with an airplane pilot. Morrison uses this name because Pilate can be looked as a pilot to Milkman. Pilate guides milkman through his journey in learning how to “fly”. Guitar’s name is also a source of symbolism in the story. Guitar received his name as a child after a trip to a store. They were having a contest for a guitar but he unfortunately did not win. He “cried about it… and always asked about it” (45). Guitar suggests that he should have called Reba because “She ain’t never lost nothing” (45). Guitar is jealous of this. He wishes he could have had the Guitar. He is named after something he couldn’t have because he wasn’t lucky. Living in poverty...

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