On Names (& Lack Thereof)

One of the most peculiar aspects of Kind One that I have seen thus far is the way in which characters are addressed. In the beginning, we have a family of three, none of whom are given names, only relations: my wife, my daughter. Though we do not learn much about these characters as people, or their roles in the novel the absence of their names was enough to jar me when I got to Ginny’s narration – while being only a few pages in, it almost seemed out of place that she had a means of identifying herself beyond her relation to people and things.

More interesting, however, is the way she relates herself to her husband and his “girls” (whose roles are not explicitly defined; are they his children? Servants? Former mistresses, even? Ginny notes that she is only a few years older than they are). Cleome and Zinnia are named from the get-go only by first name, while Linus Lancaster upholds his surname every time he is mentioned. It seems to me as though Ginny talks about him so formally because the two had never formed a genuine bond, whereas the girls grew attached to her and she to them. My biggest question for now, beyond who the people in the introductory pages are, is why Ginny originally went by Sue, why it was that her “own old name had not come to [her] when [she] was asked (31)”. I assume it has to do with her identity, the fact that who she was when she lived with her parents was not the same as who she became following her marriage to Linus Lancaster, but, if that were true, part of me wonders why the old name should would still be upheld to an extent.

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3 comments on “On Names (& Lack Thereof)

  1. I had most of the same questions and curiosities when I read this first portion of the book as well. In response to your last point, I think something worth noting is that when Ginny gives the name “Ginny” (on page 19), she doesn’t say that her name is and has always been Ginny. Rather, she says, “My husband’s name was Linus Lancaster, which made me Ginny Lancaster” (19). This particular phrasing makes it seem as though her marriage to Linus is what caused her name to be Ginny – as if she were not Ginny regardless. Now I’m wondering if Linus called her Ginny and that wasn’t her real name (I can’t find proof of her parents calling her Ginny, but I might just be missing it), or (more likely) maybe once she left the marriage, she felt so strongly that her identity needed to change that she couldn’t even keep the same name. Maybe she chose Sue (subconsciously) because it reminds her of an influential person in her life and of a time in her life when she was allowed to learn, read, be independent, and be knowledgeable, which is precisely what Linus would not allow her to do. Or, more simply, maybe she had to change her name because she is hiding from Linus. (I can’t remember whether we know if she ran away Linus or if he died.) Either way, there’s a lot to consider in regards to naming in this book!

  2. Until reading this post (and Jenn’s reply), I honestly hadn’t questioned the names of this book. As for Ginny’s name as a young girl, I was under the assumption that her name was given to her by her parents and that it was merely coincidence that we do not discover her name until Linus Lancaster comes into the picture.

    As for Zinnia and Cleome, I presumed that they were two of Linus Lancaster’s slaves. One reason I assumed this was solely on their names. The next reason was the subtlety of North vs. South in the dialogue between Ginny’s father and Linus Lancaster when Ginny suggests bringing the girls back some candy “but Linus Lancaster opined to us all he’d as soon feed up some of the fine apples they had on sale to his pigs” (Hunt 42). As this section of the book begins with a few different years, it is presumed that “Scary Sue” is from 1911, that her parents’ visit takes place in the 1850s, and that we will later read about what happens in 1861. This also suggests that slavery may be the answer to Zinnia and Cleome’s origins.

  3. jlabrecque14 says:

    There’s a section in the novel where Ginny directly addresses why she is now called Sue: she informs us that she chose the name of her old schoolteacher when the residents of her new home asked what she was called (31).
    She says it’s the first name she thinks of when they ask; and I definitely think, Jenn, that Linus had some part in her renaming, in that he may have even deprived her of a name. The way she describes it, it makes it seem like no one had called her “Ginny” for a long time, almost as if she didn’t have a name at all.

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