Naming has often been linked to power structure, in works and cultures as broad as epics, history, and religious traditions. In Octavia Butler’s novel, Fledgling, the names of influential characters tend to do more than simply identify the figure. The characters who identifies both as Rene, and eventually, Shori, have names that, if studied, have the power to tell the readers how this character changes, simply by interpreting their name changes.
The power of naming and labels has been studied as an integral structure of dominance. Lauren Graham touches on the power names hold on the blog, The Multidisciplinary Study of Imagination. Graham insists, “the persistence and historical continuity of the linking of naming and power are unmistakable.” This sentiment can be reflected in feminist theory, as the reason women are asked to take the name of their husband, and this act is one of the first submissions a marriage brings about. Even in the bible, naming is acquainted with dominance. God tells Adam to name all the things in the Garden of Eden like plants, trees, and fruits, and then man suddenly has dominance over these things.
The thread of dominance with naming is weaved throughout Butler’s work. Wright decides to give Shori a name when they first decide to stay together. Although naming her might have been a kind act, his decision to name her is more a benefit to him than it is to her. By naming her, Wright feels as though he has a better hold on what she is, and by having a name, he has played a part in creating and shaping her identity. When Wright brings up this need for her identity in the car, he talks about her name in terms of what he needs. He pushes, “I’ll need to call you something” (13), noting his own desire of a label, all the while ignoring her own need for a name. After he decides on a fitting name, one that emphasizes rebirth, and essentially a new life (the new life Wright speaks up undoubtedly includes the two being together), he insists, “ You’ll probably remember your old life pretty soon, but for now, you’re Renee” (13).
With the short amount of time before the couple discovers Renee’s true name, and consequentially, her identity, Renee is “reborn” into a life that differs greatly from her past. The name her father gives her, Shori, gives way to a change in personality from the timid and unsure Renee. Even the phonetic speech sounds her Ina name produces sounds like the word “sure”. With the transition of Wright’s given name to the name associated with her strong heritage as a young, powerful Ina female, Shori becomes more firm and knowing about her past and what she and Wright must do to survive. Her language and attitude changes with her name. She is no longer uncertain. When she was Renee, she had inklings of what she wanted and needed, but was more hesitant about sharing these inklings and fear of seeming very different from the man who sustained her, even though he quickly recognized her uniqueness. When Shori adapts to her Ina name, her confidence suddenly emerges. She still has the same instincts, small inklings from her past that gently guide her actions and choices, but after she adopts her Ina name, she no longer feels shame about them. Shori is sure of herself and her people, and her new name highlights this fact.