Names and Identity

What’s in a name? One of the interesting things I thought about the Oankalis and the ooloi are their names. In chapter one in Metamorphosis after Jodahs escorted the couple to the guest area before the arrival of a ship to Mars, It explained to the woman that Its human name was “Jodahs Iyapo Leal Kaalnikanjlo” (526). The complexity of Its name and the many other names like it throughout the novel caused me to recall a video I watched a few months ago by Michael Stevens on one of his Youtube channel called Vsauce, titled: Names. There is so much in a name and the names Octavia Butler has given to her characters have been assigned intricately and fascinatingly that to even pronounce them the right way causes hesitation to even pronounce them at all.

With the increase in diversity of people in a given place at a given time like in the United States, people’s names also become diverse as well. A person can have a name that is native to one country, but the person can be from another country. It maybe due to a person maintaining a family tradition and combining their tradition with the tradition of another family to create a new name.  From my observation of Lilith and the Oankalis, the many years that have passed have constituted to the creating of their children’s full name: that of the human mother’s last name, and the ooloi and Oankali parent’s own name. It seems that before the time period of the novel, an Oankali would not have had a human name, nor would a human have an Oankali name. Through generations, like in the world of the Xenogenesis trilogy, names change and became more complex.

In reference to the video link, Vsauce makes the point of the letters of our last names affecting how we rate ourselves in terms of success and failure which I think can build and deconstruct a person’s identity. To imagine the building and deconstructing of how a person sees themselves is good because it develops esteem and confidence, but it is also problematic because it undermines the person has an individual and emphasizes their identity based on their name. I am conflicted because I would suppose that I should value my name to the greatest extent and be glad to be referred to by it regardless of what it is. However, I might not due to how it has branded me in a negative way perhaps because of a negatively influential person in history who have had that name for instance. Then again, a person may change their name for many reasons which impacts their identity nonetheless. We value our name and identity that it does not even matter sometimes, but for others it does as they may have gotten used to the fact that their name is simply representational of them and is a part of them as Nikita’s post stresses about his name. Perhaps then, that to refer to someone by the pronoun “It” is also undermining of who they are fundamentally, however, Butler has made the “It” pronoun into a part of speech that refers respectably to an individual and their identity which Vsauce validates as a person “deserving of empathy.” About a month ago, Buzzfeed, and thanks to the Humans of New York facebook page, I was able to see some names that were unexpected such as “Mayo Naise” and “Jim Socks” and I laughed sympathetically. Because I just imagined how the person’s school years might have not been the greatest years because bullying based on one’s name happens so frequently in secondary schools. Yet, for the person who has the name, it has simply become “them” themselves, accepted through time and that person may have gotten used to the name by taking advantage of what it represents to them. Or they may have not, who knows? Imagine a person with more than 500 characters in their name, or even a person being called “Apple.” Some names, one may think, such as Bruce sounds like it is name for a “male” who has great “physical strength” ß and I am confirming exactly what Nikita wrote, that it is so “easy… to presume and misread someone’s gender” or personality from their name. Enjoy Vsauce.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *