What’s In A Name?

I don’t know why, but I’ve always been fascinated by the meaning of names, and the significance of characters names in stories. They are often revealing of the character in ways we might not have understood until finishing and reflecting on the text. I’ve found it helps me to understand what I’m reading better because I feel like I know the characters better. I didn’t really plan on looking up the names of some of the characters of TYOTF, but after looking up the pronunciation of Pilar (PEE-LAAR), I kind of just went on a tangent. So here this is for anyone who’s interested.

PILAR: Pilar is a Spanish name that refers to the Virgin Mary: Nuestra Señora del Pilar — Our Lady of the Pillar (although I don’t think that it has any significance, I like how this name, though often given to women, is a male gendered noun). For those who don’t know, James the disciple, went to the pagan city of Zaragoza (now Spain) to convert the pagans to christianity. Disappointed that he had not converted many people, James went to pray at the bank of the Ebro river. The Virgin Mary miraculously appeared before him atop a pillar to tell him not to worry, that the people would eventually be converted and their faith would be as strong as the pillar she stood on. She gave him the pillar as a symbol, and he then built a chapel on its site. Additionally, another famous Pilar appears in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls (which I haven’t read…don’t get me started on Hemingway). According to the ever so wonderful Sparknotes, Pilar embodies “earthliness, strength, and wisdom.” She is an influential woman within the novel who “though practical, often relies on, intuitive, mystical folk wisdom.” She is often able to read people’s futures, and is only wrong in her choice of the side of the war she stands on (the Republicans who ultimately lose).

TOBY (TOBIATHA): the female version of Tobiath, a Hebrew variant of the name Tobias meaning “God is good/the goodness of God.” Many people in the bible appear by this name, however one of the most well known Tobias-es is from The Book of Tobias which ultimately teaches that suffering is not a punishment, but a test. In the book, the importance of piety is explained among other things such as the sanctity of marriage, reward of good works, the importance of prayer and other religious practices, and parental respect.

REN: The Welsh meaning of the name Ren is “ruler,” while the English meaning is “raven.” Ren is a term in confucianism, which is the good feeling a virtuous person feels when being altruistic (exemplified by a normal adult’s protective feelings for children). Ren in ancient Egypt referred to the human soul (which has multiple components). The Ren part of one’s soul was their name, which the ancient Egyptians believed could live on for as long as it was spoken (so it was very important for them to have names written frequently and everywhere).

ZEB: Possibly short for Zebedee/Zebediah, meaning “portion of the lord/gift from god;” probably a fisherman or teacher in the bible.

AMANDA (BARB JONES): The English meaning of the name Amanda is “worthy of being loved.” Barbara means “foreign or strange; a traveler from a foreign land”, however one could think of barb in the sense of the object, as in a point/pointed part projecting backward from a main point such as a fish hook or barbed wire fence.

Sorry if I got a few things wrong here, I oversimplified a lot of the stuff that I read up on. Hope this gives you better insight to each of these characters or makes you question what you think about them. 


One response to “What’s In A Name?

  1. So interesting that the name / word / phoneme Ren turns up in so very many traditions that are widely separated in both time and place…


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