Symbolic Power of Naming

What is the symbolic power of naming as described in The Handmaid’s Tale? Link to your wider reading about the politics of naming.

In the novel, the handmaid are forced to hide their real names and are only recognized by their given names, which are named after their commanders such as “Offred” meaning “of+fred”. This suggests that the handmaid are the belongings of the commanders and should not have any self-consciousness or personal identities. The names create a particularly powerful impact when the readers see all of the handmaid’s names are in the same format, which can be hardly distinguished from each other, representing a powerless community. Names should be a unique personal symbol of people’s identity, but in this case, the similar names hide the handmaid’s identities. This lack of distinguishability between names also links to the idea of invisibility and lack of media coverage in Daily News’ article on Breanna Taylor, as their real identities are both hidden and unseen. The names also expose the universal issue of gender inequality and power distinction between men and women, as the women’s names are either dependent on commanders or the husbands. This is also commonly seen in nowadays society that the new-born babies are usually named after their father’s surnames. Names thus represent power. It is the most direct way of getting to know a person, carrying the power of recognition and reputation. Same can be seen in the Handmaid’s Tale, when the Marthas tell Offred to “tell them who you are working for so they won’t mess around”, underlining the impacts of names as it immediately create the image of the person and reflects his/her social status.

 

 

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