Redux: What’s in A Name?

Funny that my last post fits with what we talked about in class today.

Apparently Aphra Behn isn’t “Mrs. Aphra Behn”–she’s Eaffry Johnson.

My prof suggested some reasons for this name change, all of which I believe to be true. It all boils down to creating a space for herself as a female writer. And that starts with her position.

Unlike Rowling who’s trying to cover her name, Behn is trying to make a name. She associates herself with a man (married to Mr. Behn) to give her some standing…despite her husband is questionable in existence. And the name “Aphra”…

Okay, I’m going to sound like a nerd (then again, when haven’t I?) but when I first saw her name one of the first things I thought was GREEK because of the “ph” instead of the “f”. And in class today my prof suggested that “Aphra” sounds very Greco-Roman goddess-y and I tend to agree. And if you can make your name connote with a goddess–a being of all power and fury–you’ve got some space alright.

It’s interesting that Behn discusses this name change in Oroonoko as well. Oroonoko and Imoinda are renamed Caesar and Clemene once they are slaves. And I think that this is the beginning of the end.

Once you are rename something, it’s yours. You have made it yours. And unfortunately that’s what happens to Oroonoko and Imoinda. They have been made someone’s property.

I wish Oroonoko would have commented on what he thought about the name change. To himself, is he “Caesar” or “Oroonoko”? Is Imoinda “Imoinda” or “Clemene” to him? Given that Oroonoko is so against his slavery, I’m sure he refers to himself and Imoinda as their own names.

But was there ever a point that Oroonoko felt like giving in to Caesar? Did Imoinda ever feel like giving in to Clemene?

Knowing that Behn knows the power of a new name, I wish she included the impact of the renaming on her main characters.

“Oroonoko scorns to live with the indignity that was put on Caesar.” – Aphra Behn, Oroonoko (65)


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