What is in a name?

Today I am spending the day in Miami, at the house of my cousin Ben. At the moment I am hanging out with Ben’s big friendly dog Sasha. Jast as I typed those words, Sasha let out a deep and soulful sigh, as though she knew I was writing about her. I suspect she is wondering why I am typing on this stupid computer rather than running around the house like a reasonable human should, throwing a bone for her to fetch over and over again.

One of my first encounters with Russian names was the time I read Dostoevsky’s great last novel The Brothers Karamazov. It’s an amazing book, full of powerful ideas, larger than life characters and intense emotions, spiritual struggles and debates about belief and the limits of free will. It took a while for me to get through the whole thing. I remember that one weekend I was reading it while alternately watching successive films in the Hellraiser series, where some cable station was running them back to back in a marathon. I can’t really explain why, but the two experiences went together extremely well.

But if you’re going to read it (with or without Clive barker movies), here is a friendly warning: I remember I was on about page one hundred and sixty before I suddenly realized that Alexei was the same person as Lyosha. I’ve just now looked it up on Wikipedia, and it seems that at different times this character is variously referred to as Alyosha, Alyoshechka, Alyoshenka, Alexeichik, Lyosha, and Lyoshenka. There’s a similar kind of deal going on with the other characters. No wonder it took me a while to realize that there were four brothers.

For weeks after reading the novel, my head was filled with all the ideas to be found between its covers. In fact, it became somewhat difficult to concentrate on the here and now. What finally cured me of my Karamazosis was the simple act of renting and sitting down to watch the 1958 Hollywood film version. Yul Brynner did a perfect job of capturing the powerful and smoldering Dmitri, but William Shatner as Alexei was – how to say this delicately – unfortunate. Kind of killed the mood. Well, the good new was that after weeks of wandering in a haze of Dostoevesky’s powerful thoughts, I managed to snap out of it in under two hours, thanks to the magic of Hollywood.

3 Responses to “What is in a name?”

  1. Zabador says:

    Ahem, how to say … not any better… Someone read some part of a book to me (a Pratchett Discworld thing, but in French), and after 200 pages, I discovered that Char1 and Char2 were two different characters although they had similar names… ahem …

  2. sally says:

    wow. you are a travelin’ guy, ken.

  3. ulmedas says:

    I was a tad confused while reading Crime and Punishment for the first time until I realized that Raskolnikov, Rodya, and Rodka were the same person. I doesn’t help that when I read any book, I treat the character’s names as symbols, rarely thinking to pronounce them in my head. It helps reduce my cognitive load I suppose.

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