Nothing has as profound influence on one’s identity as name. That is, one is constantly recognized by the people and by oneself with his name, and the name consciously and unconsciously keeps influencing one’s identity as the name directly relates to how one perceives the world and oneself. In a novel, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri, this power of name is well depicted through the identity crisis of the son of an Indian immigrants family, the Ganguli.
Gogol Ganguli, the son of Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli, struggles with his dual identity due to two different cultures in his life and, more importantly, his name. Named after his father’s beloved Russian author, he sees no identity in his name, which is neither Indian nor American nor even Russian name. Throughout Gogol’s life, his attitudes toward his own name changes from unconscious acceptanc during his childhood to rejection during his adolescence, and then from the rejection to conscious and full acceptance, as he grows up.
Gogol’s attitude toward his name shifts from his earlier acceptance to rejection as he grows up to develop his identity. His earlier unconscious acceptance of his own pet name ‘Gogol first appears clearly when Gogol enters his elementary school. Despite his patents’ will for him to use his good name ‘Nikhil at formal education, Gogol refuses his good name, “writes out his pet name again and again” and “signs his work” as “Gogol G. ” (Ch. 3, P. 0) It is totally understandable for Gogol to prefer his pet name because that is what he believes who he is during his childhood and it must be confusing for a child to have another name all of sudden. Gogol seems to accept his pet name and he has no trouble identifying himself as Gogol at the time. However, his identity confusion begins as he becomes a teenager and become conscious about his identity. Gogol first becomes aware of his name’s strangeness when he goes to the cemetery and does rubbings of the gravestones, but his detest for his own name becomes most obvious after his fourteenth birthday.
When his father gives Gogol The Short Stories of Nikolai Gogol, he reveals in his mind that “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. “(Ch. 4, P. 76) Born in the United States and raised by the Indian parents, he relates himself with American and Indian cultures. Yet, the lack of American or Indian aspects in his own name leads to his confusion as well as frustration. After all, this lack of his identity in his own name makes him hate his name and causes him to change his name.
In spite of his rejection of his own name during his adolescence, Gogol comes to understand and accept his pet name after he hears his true namesake, involving the train accident which almost killed his father. It is Gogol’s senior year of college, on his way home from the station where Ashoke picks up Gogol, that Ashoke finally reveals Gogol’s true namesake. Stunned and ashamed, Gogol feels that “the sound of his pet name, uttered by his father as he has been accustomed to hearing it all his life, means something completely new. (Ch. 5, P. 124)
Gogol is stunned because he has never imagined the accident in which his father almost died and what his name truly signifies, and he is ashamed for not knowing the story until the moment and for changing his name without knowing its true meaning. At this moment, he finally sees his identity in his pet name because it turns out that his name represents his father’s rescue as well as all the events that followed the accidents, the happiness and difficulties his family went through in the U. S..
This becomes the turning point at which Gogol comes to accept his name consciously and willingly. And yet, his attitude toward his pet name seems to be enhanced as he grows older. As his mother Ashima decides to move to her home country for six month and to sell her house, Gogol comes back home to clean his room. Upon finding the book his father gave him on his fourteenth birthday, Gogol reveals his thought, “without people in the world to call him Gogol, no matter how long he lives, Gogol Ganguli will, once and for all, vanish from the lips of loved ones, and so, cease to exist.
Yet the thought of this eventual demise provides no sense of victory, no solace,” (Ch. 12, P. 289) and starts reading the book. It is significant to note that Gogol’s attitude toward his name has completely changed since his fourteenth birthday, because he, who showed no interest in Nikolai Gogol’s stories, is now interested in them and he, who was so excited when he changed his name, feels no solace in disappearance of’Gogol Ganguli’ from his loved one.
It is a significant moment in which Gogol’s acceptance of his pet name is clearly seen and a moment which hints that his identity crisis is finally settled. The ending of the story provides a clear view of how Gogol has grown up as a person, by overcoming the identity crisis caused by his name. In short, Gogol grows up as a person through the novel, as his unconscious acceptance of his own pet name changes to its rejection, and its rejection to conscious, complete understanding and acceptance of his pet name.