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Identity and Names

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Pepe7
Words 959
Pages 4
“A sense of belonging is closely associated with identity, and names are crucial to identity.”
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A sense of belonging is made up of various elements, a secure identity being of them. Lahiri questions where is one’s identity found? Is it in their name, their heritage and culture or in their past or present? The Namesake represents identity as one fluid concept and a sense of belonging is closely associated with identity because it is the meaning of the names that can shape the individual’s identity and the clash of cultures can influence the how the individual searches for identity within their name.
When Ashima and Ashoke first move to America as immigrants, it is nothing but a learning curve for them as they try and settle into a foreign country where they are faced with cultural differences; and Gogol being the first born is faced with the difficulty of living almost like a test subject as his parents try to master juggling their Bengali heritage and American culture. “They’ve learned their lesson after Gogol…for their daughter, a good name and pet name are one and the same.” This affects Gogol’s sense of belonging and identity as the lesson Ashima and Ashoke have learned prepared them for the challenges of raising their second child, who finds more success in navigating America as a Bengali leading to her finding a secure identity; while Gogol is left with the initial confusions his parents experienced, causing him to feel lost about his sense of self and identity. Gogol’s uncertainty about his sense of belonging within a secure identity severely distresses him and makes him agonise over the meaning and source of his pet name. Gogol is not American or Indian, two cultures that Gogol was brought up in and is accustomed too, “He hates that his name is both absurd and obscure, that it has nothing to do with who he is, that it is neither Indian nor American but of all things Russian.” The source of his name is foreign and he feels that he has no relation or link to the name or heritage at all, along with that his pet name defeats the main purpose of a pet name, which is supposed to be intimate and private but after his first day at kindergarten when Mrs. Lapidus refused to call him by his good name ‘Nikhil’ and introduced him to the school as ‘Gogol’, his sense of identity is blurred after his two names are no longer relevant. “Not only does Gogol Ganguli have a pet name turned good name, but a last name turned first name. And so it occurs to him that no one he knows in the world, In Russia or India or America or anywhere, shares his name. Not even the source of his Namesake.” When two individuals share the same name, there is a sense of connection and belonging as they can relate to each other however, Gogol cannot relate to anyone causing him to feel alienated and lost because he cannot turn towards the meaning of his name to seek his identity. If his name is not shared or relatable, how can Gogol turn to the source of his name to find his sense of belonging and identity? Names are crucial to identity because in a way the individual embodies the meaning behind their name, allowing them to feel secure within themselves because in a way they have a definition of who they are and this allows them to feel confident and shielded by their name because it is something that shapes their identity. At a young age Gogol associates a new name with a new identity and this is seen in his first day at Kindergarten as Nikhil, “Gogol doesn’t want a new name. He can’t understand why he has to answer to anything else …he is afraid to be Nikhil, someone he doesn’t know. Who doesn’t know him.” The idea that names represent identity and existence is reinforced as Lahiri refers to Nikhil as ‘someone’ as if it is a different person with a different identity; the young Gogol believes that if he changes his name it might change his identity and that he will have to start a new life as Nikhil. The idea that Nikhil is an alternative self, an alter ego later distracts Gogol on his fourteenth birthday “Gogol sounds ludicrous to his ears, lacking dignity or gravity. What dismays him most is the irrelevance of it all…he could have had an alternative identity, a B-side to the self.” Gogol sees Nikhil as a name that holds a secure identity because it holds a meaning: “he who is entire, encompassing all” and he later turns to Nikhil as if it is someone different, a person that has a sense of belonging and a secure identity and this is seen after he kisses Kim at a college party as Nikhil “But he doesn’t tell them that I hadn’t been Gogol who’d kissed Kim. That Gogol had had nothing to do with it.” Gogol finds comfort in Nikhil and feels that ‘Gogol’ and the confusion of his identity and be discarded away if he is Nikhil. The Namesake addresses how does an individual find a sense of belonging and how the importance of a name ultimately shapes an individual’s identity and it is the significance of the names that is crucial to identity because one can rely on that meaning to form the basis of their identity; however the search for identity can affect the individual in many ways and Lahiri recognises that his universal element allows readers to relate to the characters in a deep and personal way despite the potential difference in their backgrounds.

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