Revisiting Names in The Double

As Kate mentioned in her status update, one thing we have been working on for the past few months is naming in The Double. Some of the initial steps, questions, and problems in working with names were written about by Lena in her post from before our hiatus. 

Not too long after that blog went up, however, we realized the way we were tagging names in the text wasn’t reflecting any of the nuance in meaning that is reflected in them or in their position in the text. Our tagging didn’t help us to think about or notice why and when, for example, Golyadkin is referred to as Mr. Golyadkin as opposed to Iakov Petrovich or “our hero” (наш герой) or “the well-intentioned Mr. Golyadkin” (благонамеренный господин Голядкин) or (my personal favorite) the “real Mr. Golyadkin well-known for his love to his neighbour” (известный любовию к ближнему настоящий господин Голядкин). So we did some poking around in the TEI Guidelines section on tagging names and started over.

But first, to understand what the big deal with names is, it’s helpful to revisit a couple of our initial questions about The Double. One of these questions was whether or not Dostoevsky gives Golyadkin any agency. Another, and perhaps the biggest one: is the double, our good friend Golyadkin Jr., real? Of course there are more that goes into answering these questions than just what a character is called (look out for upcoming blogposts about liminal spaces!), but names in Dostoevsky do reveal (and conceal) much about intentions, attitudes, relationships, and identities. Our document didn’t properly reflect that.

So, how could we create a document that did?

First, we decided to break down more or less “normal” names into their component parts. This meant that, contrary to our initial thoughts of not “having our processing tools get lost” in the weeds of all the different ways in which a character in The Double is named (see the first blog post on names), we now wanted the opposite: to get so into the details that by the end of it all we’d be as anxious about and as afraid of names as Golyadkin was when he first meets the double on that stormy St. Petersburg night: “Mr. Golyadkin knew this man thoroughly well; he even knew what he was called, knew his name; and yet, I repeat, not for anything, not for the greatest treasure in the world, would he have been willing to name him, or consented to declare that his Christian name was such-and-such, his patronymic and surname such-and-such.”

Our new process of name-tagging began with the most basic forms. “Iakov Petrovich Golyadkin,” for example, was no longer wrapped as a whole into one tag, but was now this: 

As you can see, Golyadkin is still, of course, connected with the unique identifier (xml:id) of #gol, but as opposed to before, where all references to Golyadkin were tagged entirely the same, this tag is now different than Golyadkin referred to as “gospodin Golyadkin,” for example. 

We repeated this process for each character in the text. Our tags for “Petrushka,” for instance, while still referring to #pet, take into account the diminutive form, which is different from the few instances in The Double where Petrushka is called by something else. You can see that this type of more detailed naming leads to interesting questions: when does the narrator or a character refer to someone one by a certain name, and when by another, and why? Are the ways Golyadkin refers to the double, or Petrushka, or himself, as examples, consistent, or do they vary? What influences a change in naming conventions?

From the “normal” names we moved on to the much more raucous nicknames and epithets, which were not specially marked in any way in our first tagging of The Double. Tracking in what circumstances and how often nicknames or epithets appear was to pay closer attention to the scandal, the humor, the bitterness, the despair, and the self-deprecation that are characteristic of this text — and this was really where interpreting what role names play in identity, agency, intentions, and so on, begins to get interesting. In her next blog post, Lena will discuss these interpretations; for now, I point out only what “nickname” and “epithet” mean in our document. 

A “nickname” is what we decided to tag as any non-normal name given by a character to another character. Nicknames (as opposed to epithets, which are plentiful) appear rarely in the text, which is an interesting fact in and of itself. As one example of a nickname, here is the double making fun of Golyadkin to impress a bunch of clerks:

An “epithet,” on the other hand, is any non-normal name that is given by the narrator to a character, and is much more prevalent in the text. The epithet was an exciting and sometimes tricky thing to work with, much for the same reason that tagging speech was exciting and tricky: where is the line between the narrator and Golyadkin? Going back to my favorite example, it appears that it is indeed the narrator who is calling Golyadkin the “real Mr. Golyadkin well-known for his love to his neighbor” — but this name is far more complicated in attitude, relationship, and identity than when the narrator refers to Golyadkin simply as “Mr. Golyadkin.” Maybe this is a moment where Golyadkin’s voice and judgements of himself have infected the narrator’s? Or perhaps the narrator is mocking Golyadkin, referring to him in this way with a sneer?

Either way, tagging our text to account for different aspects and certain kinds of names instead of just names in general invites questions and interpretations in ways our first document didn’t. Keep an eye out for Lena’s post, which will discuss these questions and interpretations in more detail.

One thought on “Revisiting Names in The Double

  1. Pingback: Names and The Double’s Existence | Digital Dostoevsky

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