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Author Topic: The Name Game: The Etymology of Names and Places in The Casual Vacancy  (Read 1878 times)

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October 05, 2012, 04:03:52 PM

HealerOne

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The Name Game: The Etymology of Names and Places in The Casual Vacancy

 "I am a bit of a name freak ... I collect them. You know, if I hear a good name, I have got to write it down. And it will probably crop up somewhere."

-- J. K. Rowling (Larry King Live, October 20, 2000)

The definition of a name is 'a word or term by which a person or thing is called; a title'. The names JKR christens her characters and places, are not only terms to refer to said, but are often clues which she hands over to us as to the nature or background of that person or thing.

Take for instance the name of the idyllic village of Pagford which is the setting for The Casual Vacancy. It doesn’t take too many clicks of the Google search to find out that ‘Pag’ is a Croatian island in the northern Adriatic Sea.  What is interesting about this island (that is - besides being a pretty idyllic place) is that since the island is long, it is the only Croatian Island administered through two Croatian counties. According to Wikipedia: “The counties are tasked with performing general public administration services, primary and secondary education, government funded healthcare, social welfare, administration pertaining to agriculture, forestry, hunting, fisheries, mining, industry and construction, as well as road transport infrastructure management and other services to the economy, at the county level…” The second part of the fictional town’s name is ‘ford’ – which means ‘to cross over a river where it’s shallow’ – often by wading.  Many towns end in ‘ford’ to indicate that is where there is a natural area to cross the river, i.e. Oxford or Stratford. So what have we learned about JKR’s fictional town? It’s an ‘idyllic island’ – isolated from the main country. Its government is divided into two parts and the book seems to be dealing with some sort of fording or crossing between the two parts. [Note: I did this research before the book itself came out!]

Can this same research be applied to other names of people and places in the book? I was struck by this in the Wall Street Journal’s Casual Vacancy review by Megan Cox Gordon; “Krystal is like her own name: rough and multi-faceted, her value in the eye of the beholder.”

So I think that we can say that the master of name collection, JK Rowling is at it again. Here in The Casual Vacancy she has sprinkled throughout the book a variety of names that hit our senses with whiffs of something familiar or totally strange. Names that carry meanings which give us insight into a character or a place: names that play with words and give different meanings than they would first imply.

What can we uncover about these places and characters just from their names? What can we find out from the sources or origins of the names? How do the names of things and characters add to the complexity of the story? Please feel free to add your observations and comments here in this thread! Can't wait to find what you uncover!


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October 06, 2012, 04:00:19 AM
Reply #1

Armoracia

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Just off the top of my head -

Simon Price: I found the surname "price" an interesting choice. Certainly his family is paying a pretty high price for remaining a family - and then there's the price he pays for his cruelty, thievery, etc.

I need to go back and reread - and write down names!

Has anyone done any research on the Indian names? Are they common ones? Do they have any special or particular meaning, do we know? I'm particularly interested in Sukhvinder and Parminder, as well as the surname.
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October 06, 2012, 05:36:55 AM
Reply #2

wordsaremagic

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Just off the top of my head -

Simon Price: I found the surname "price" an interesting choice. Certainly his family is paying a pretty high price for remaining a family - and then there's the price he pays for his cruelty, thievery, etc.

I need to go back and reread - and write down names!

Has anyone done any research on the Indian names? Are they common ones? Do they have any special or particular meaning, do we know? I'm particularly interested in Sukhvinder and Parminder, as well as the surname.
?? any possible relation to the noun "simony"?
noun, chiefly historical -- the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, for example pardons or benefices.
DERIVATIVES
simoniac - adjective& noun,
simoniacal - adjective
Middle English: from Old French simonie from late Latin simonia, from Simon Magus (Acts 8:18).
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October 06, 2012, 05:52:14 AM
Reply #3

Armoracia

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?? any possible relation to the noun "simony"?
noun, chiefly historical -- the buying or selling of ecclesiastical privileges, for example pardons or benefices.
DERIVATIVES
simoniac - adjective& noun,
simoniacal - adjective
Middle English: from Old French simonie from late Latin simonia, from Simon Magus (Acts 8:18).

Well, that certainly would fit! it's not a perfect fit, true, but then, nothing at all is perfect about that book/world. i like the sneaky reference to magic implied in that name, also, in that "worst sort of muggle" setting.
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October 10, 2012, 07:26:41 PM
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anguinea

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October 12, 2012, 07:35:59 AM
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atschpe

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Has anyone done any research on the Indian names? Are they common ones? Do they have any special or particular meaning, do we know? I'm particularly interested in Sukhvinder and Parminder, as well as the surname.

I don't know about how common they are, but it did strike me what words are hidden in their names.

Sukhvinder: I hear suck-finder in this. It aptly describes someone who attracts (finds) the negative (suck). Nice name and future to give a child, don't you think?

Parminder: Par-minder. Par, as in balance, to be on par. This woman tries to hold balance, even though with Barry gone she is the only one trying to tip the scales in the council discussions about Bellchapel.

I'm still chewing on Jawanda though … hmmmm
"Of course it is all in your head, but why on Earth should that mean it isn't real?" ~Dumbledore (DH)
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October 12, 2012, 08:42:50 AM
Reply #6

anguinea

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Apparently, there is a famous Bollywood singer named Sukhwinder Singh and also ,there was also a heroic guy named Sukhwinder who was killed trying to save a woman from an attack in London back in 2010.  So far, I have been able to tease out that Sukh translates as "peace" and names that include "-winder" or "-vinder" seem be associated with God or lord.  Perhaps "Lord of Peace". Seems to be a boy's name.

Parminder translates to "God of gods, highest God" - although, the source I found spelled it "Parmindar".  The "er" ending makes the word "mind" and "minder" more obvious.

Jaswant means "worthy of praise" and Rajpal means "The protector king".

Jawanda is a surname from the Jat clan of India, primarily Sikh.
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October 13, 2012, 05:38:21 PM
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HealerOne

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The name Barry is connected to spear. The most famous 'spear' is perhaps 'The Spear of Destiny'  which is also known as the Holy Lance.  This  spear was reportedly used by a Roman soldier to pierce the side of Jesus of Nazareth several hours into crucifixion. 

I think the surname  of Fairbrother is pretty well obvious - the brother that is more fair. It also can have the connotation of fairness: 'the state, condition, or quality of being fair,  or free from bias or injustice; evenhandedness' (Dictionary.com)

So  from these we can assume that Barry Fairbrother carried the spear of fairness or if you use 'spear' as a verb instead of a noun - Barry pierced his world with fairness.
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October 20, 2012, 12:49:37 AM
Reply #8

merrythought

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"Fair" is also an old-fashioned word for "beautiful".  Usually applied to women, it's applicable to Barry because he seems to have had a beautiful nature (despite the fact that his wife felt he neglected his family in order to help others).

The names of Barry's children caught my attention because they are all Irish, and I don't think there's any indication in the novel that Barry or Mary are Irish (although maybe I missed it).  The children don't come into the story much, so the names may not be relevant; however, I did find that each name has positive connotations:  Fergus (man-strength) and Niamh (radiance) both come from figures in Celtic myth; Declan (was an early Irish saint) and Siobhan (God's grace/feminine version of John) are Christian.  I find this balance between pagan and Christian names to be interesting; however, I don't know what to make of it, or if much can be made of it at all!  Mary, too, could allude to the saint; but although JKR's character is not a bad person, she's not saintly.  Or perhaps she was a saint to put up with Barry's tendency to put his family second?!   

I appreciated the information on Simon - simony - Price.  When I consider Ruth Price, what I see in her name is that she has paid a terrible price for marrying Simon. 
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October 20, 2012, 09:28:15 AM
Reply #9

Dreamteam

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When I consider Ruth Price, what I see in her name is that she has paid a terrible price for marrying Simon.
... and Ruth means Friend in Hebrew but translates in English as Compassion or Pity which is very fitting in her role as a nurse but also in that we feel compassion for her as Simon's wife. 

Shirley is made up of two words: Shir which, in Hebrew, means Song but I also found it meaning Bright and Ley meaning field or meadow.  I certainly don't think of Shirley as being someone who is bright (as in having a bright and sunny disposition) although I suppose her devotion to Howard (at least until she finds out about Maureen) could be described as bright and she certainly is happy to sing his praises and those of her son, Miles. 

When I looked up Mollison it apparently means Son of Mary, we don't know the name of Howard's mother but we do have Mary Fairbrother although I can't make any connection there yet. 

Mary, however, means Bitter which is very fitting considering the bitterness that Mary feels towards Barry's involvement in parish business and Krystal's welfare over the time he spends with his own family. 

I think Krystal's surname is interesting.  Weedon has connotations of weed which is significant considering her mother's drug addiction but a weed is also a plant that's unwanted or is growing in the wrong place - if Krystal had been born into a different family (ie in the right place) she might have thrived and become a successful woman instead of fighting almost everything and everyone she came into contact with.  Weeds tend to be uprooted and thrown out which is exactly what the parish council would like to do to Krystal's family and the whole Fields estate.  We also tend to call something weedy if it isn't doing well (why, I don't know - the weeds in my garden seem to do much better than plants I've nurtured, lol) and that fits very well with the whole family, none of them seem to do very well with life, they just don't cope well. 
« Last Edit: October 20, 2012, 10:06:35 AM by Dreamteam »

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October 20, 2012, 03:25:32 PM
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atschpe

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Weedon has connotations of weed which is significant considering her mother's drug addiction but a weed is also a plant that's unwanted or is growing in the wrong place - if Krystal had been born into a different family (ie in the right place) she might have thrived and become a successful woman instead of fighting almost everything and everyone she came into contact with.  Weeds tend to be uprooted and thrown out which is exactly what the parish council would like to do to Krystal's family and the whole Fields estate.

Hmmm … so does the Parish think this field needs de-weeding? It's beautiful how much depth JKR puts in her choice of names, characters and places alike!
"Of course it is all in your head, but why on Earth should that mean it isn't real?" ~Dumbledore (DH)
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November 15, 2012, 05:50:22 AM
Reply #11

paint it Black

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The very first thing that struck me about names in this book was Barry.  Sound familiar?  ::)  Any bets on whether the central character in JKR's next book will be Larry?  Or Gary?  ;D
 
The second thing I noticed is that the council rivals have surnames of Fairbrother and Mollison, both alluding to family.  Barry was such a man of the people that he really acted like a brother to a lot of people; Gavin, Cubby, Parminder, the rowing team....  Howard (and Shirley) definitely like having the upper hand over their son Miles, and everyone in Pagford, really.


Just off the top of my head -

Simon Price: I found the surname "price" an interesting choice. Certainly his family is paying a pretty high price for remaining a family - and then there's the price he pays for his cruelty, thievery, etc.
That's certainly true!  And also, money seems to be the biggest priority to him -- he doesn't care what he needs to do to get some or to avoid having to spend some.  When he catches his son smoking cigarettes, is he angry that his boy is endangering his health?  No, just concerned that his pocket money from his parents has been going to support the habit.  :-\  There's no demand for him to quit smoking, just to get a job to pay for the cigarettes.  Nice guy.

I think Krystal's surname is interesting.  Weedon has connotations of weed which is significant considering her mother's drug addiction but a weed is also a plant that's unwanted or is growing in the wrong place - if Krystal had been born into a different family (ie in the right place) she might have thrived and become a successful woman instead of fighting almost everything and everyone she came into contact with.  Weeds tend to be uprooted and thrown out which is exactly what the parish council would like to do to Krystal's family and the whole Fields estate.  We also tend to call something weedy if it isn't doing well (why, I don't know - the weeds in my garden seem to do much better than plants I've nurtured, lol) and that fits very well with the whole family, none of them seem to do very well with life, they just don't cope well. 
These are all good analogies.  :)  And in addition to the first part of Weedon being a slang word for marijuana, "Krystal" could bring to mind crystal meth, a common name for the dangerous drug methamphetamine (though I don't recall that drug being mentioned in the book).  Both of these could reflect the drug culture in which she was raised.

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