The Importance of Names in Song of Solomon
Abstract: In Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, names have great implication. Language is extremely personal and deeply rooted in culture. Names are an integral part of language, and they help to establish identity, define personality, and show ownership through formal and informal usage.
" 'Tis but thy name that is my enemy; / Thou art thyself, though not a Montague. / What's Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot, / Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part / Belonging to a man. O, be some other name! / What's in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet; / So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, / Retain that dear perfection which he owes / Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name, / And for that name which is no part of thee / Take all myself."
-William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.
In the play Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare claims that a name is just a name; that it has no real significance. Individual names and the names of cultural and racial groups can be very influential, however, as Malcolm X explains in his On Afro-American History, "So they'll say whites, Puerto Ricans and Negroes. Pick up on that. That's a drag, brothers. White is legitimate. It means what color they are. Puerto Ricans tell you that they're something else, came from somewhere else, but they're here now. Negro doesn't tell you anything" (16). In Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon, which describes the tribulations faced by an African American family attempting to define and find themselves, names have great implication. Language is extremely personal and deeply rooted in culture. Names are an integral part of language, and they help to establish identity, define personality, and show ownership through formal and informal usage.
The concept of naming in Song of Solomon was first introduced through a local road known as "Not Doctor Street." The street's title was commonplace after years of colloquial reference from locals, but never truly official:
Town maps registered the street as Mains Avenue, but the only colored doctor in the city had lived and died on that street, and when he moved there in 1866 his patients took to calling the street, which none of them lived on or near, Doctor Street. Later, when other Negroes moved there, and when the postal service became a popular means of transferring messages among them, envelopes from Louisiana, Virginia, Alabama and Georgia began to arrive addressed to people on Doctor Street. The post office workers returned these envelopes or passed them on to the Dead Letter Office. Then in 1918, when colored men were being drafted, a few gave their address at the recruitment office as Doctor Street. In that way, the name acquired a quasi-official status. (4)
However, the status did not last long because city legislators disapproved and...