A name or not a name? Tagging names in Dostoevsky

One of the TEI manuals that we have been using to teach ourselves this encoding language states that different types of names are easily discernable in a text because they usually are proper nouns. Well, Dostoevsky offers his own take on what names are and how future DH scholars are to trace them.

The element <name> encodes proper nouns that name people, places, and objects. Since this element can be used for a variety of entities, we use a “type” attribute that specifies what/who is being named: a person, a city, or an organization. In Digital Dostoevsky, we opt to use this element to tag mainly people’s names.

We all know that people can be referred to in many ways—by a first name (its full and short versions), a last name, a nickname, or a combination of these. Russian language adds to this list with patronymics and a multitude of diminutives. To avoid having our processing tools get lost in all these options, and because we want to deliver concise results, we also include an attribute “ref” to <name> tags. “Ref” contains a unique identifier (xml:id) created for each character in the Dostoevsky’s tale: “#gol” for Goliadkin, “#pet” for Petrusha, Goliadkin’s servant, “#ko” for Klara Olsuf’evna. If you scroll through our encoding of The Double, you will see that Goliadkin is always marked as “#gol,” whether he is referred to as Goliadkin, Iakov Petrovich, or Goliadkin the First. For The Double in particular, a unique identifier should help the software to differentiate between Goliadkin and his double, who have the same name. Just look at this conversation between the two of them:

Since we wanted both the software and everyone who might use our encoding to know what character stands behind each id, at the bottom of the file we created name lists for all the “fictional characters,” “historical characters,” and “fictionalnonDostoesvky” characters. All these lists include separate entries for every character or historical figure mentioned in the text; they contain their full name, occupation, sex, and at times a brief additional biographical or bibliographical comment. My personal favourites in these lists are imaginary characters—real characters with whom Goliadkin has his imaginary disputes: #imko (“imagined Klara Olsuf’evna”), or  #imdbl (“imagined double”).

<name> is arguably a basic element in TEI. Tagging names can give us an idea about how much narrative space each character occupies. For example, we can establish who speaks or thinks the most/the least in each text and which characters interact with each other more/less frequently. You can read about first results of our speech mark-up in Braxton’s post. Another example specific to The Double would be to note when Goliadkin’s double appears and watch how he establishes himself in the text, which can be done by following how frequently his name is mentioned throughout the chapters. And finally, comparing the references to Goliadkin and his double can give us graphic proof that the double appears only in Goliadkin’s presence. However, is it really true that <name> is only useful as an auxiliary to other elements or for calculations of characters’ appearance in a text?

As you have already learnt from Encoding Dostoevsky, the great thing about the TEI encoding is that it is interpretative—the decision making about what and how to encode is an act of (super)close reading of a text. <name> was our second major element to tag in The Double, so by the time we got to it, we already knew that we could expect a couple of Dostoevskian surprises. Consequently, even before we started marking up the names, a few fundamental questions immediately came up:

  1. If a character does not have a name but interacts with other characters, how can we tag them to include them into our analysis?
  2. Since our goals with naming all aim to determine which characters dominate the narrative space, why should we limit the encoding to proper nouns?
  3. And, inevitably—what actually is a name in Dostoevsky’s text? And what does it do?

The character who first hinted at the interpretative possibilities of <name> was not the double, not even Goliadkin, but… his excellency.

His excellency, or ego prevoskhoditel’stvo, is the head of the department, where our hero Iakov Petrovich Goliadkin serves. His excellency is respected and revered by all his employees: he has a nice apartment, servants, and office hours to see petitioners, but he does not have a name. All characters in The Double, including the narrator, refer to him exclusively by his rank. His excellency does not appear a lot in the text, but he speaks and is spoken to by multiple characters, who mention him in passim in other conversations as well. Since The Double is especially interesting for its speech patterns, it seemed important to be able to encode both addressees and addressers of each communicative act. Moreover, since he is called “his excellency,” doesn’t it make sense to treat this reference as a name, since it clearly functions that way?

When we decided that we will mark “his excellency” as a <name>, we had to be consistent and similarly mark other speaking characters who do not have a name with whatever word or phrase they are referred to in the text. Thus, we tagged all unnamed cabmen, servants, and Goliadkin’s speaking colleagues with the <name> element:

Once our focus shifted from the proper nouns, other irregular kinds of naming started to come up. If we tagged a “cabdriver” as a <name> because it was consistent, might we expand the usage of this element onto other irregular but consistent types of naming in The Double? And this is where it got really interesting.

Stay tuned for my next post on <name>, which will include Dostoevsky’s manual on how to vehemently disapprove of someone when calling them by their name.

One thought on “A name or not a name? Tagging names in Dostoevsky

  1. Pingback: Revisiting Names in The Double | Digital Dostoevsky

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s