Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Not Everyone on Lost Is Named After Philosophers

A friend was catching up on old but new-to-her episodes of Lost not long ago and, upon being introduced to a new character, responded with “Is everybody on this show named after philosophers?” I can’t remember who, exactly, prompted this response, but let’s be honest: There’s a whole lot of characters that could have. To answer the question, however, no, not everyone on the show gets their name from dead philosophers. Lost characters also seem to take their names from scientists, authors, works of literature, and some surprising pop culture sources. So here, then, is a quick list of speculative origins for Lost character names. Consider this a companion post to two others I’ve done on shows I love — Arrested Development and Pushing Daisies, both of which also put a lot of care into naming their characters. For this post, the vast majority of info came from the vast compendium of Lost knowledge that is Lostpedia. Consider it the source unless otherwise noted,

A quick aside before the big list: There’s one character whose name I won’t really be discussing.


And that’s Squirrel Baby, the horrible thing Feral Claire has been keeping in her sad little island bassinet. I realized while writing this that I’d so far neglected to give a shout-out to Squirrel Baby, who quickly became one of my favorite characters in this, Lost’s final season. And now, as of last night’s episode, Claire boarded a boat and sailed away from Squirrel Baby. Yes, after being abandoned herself, Claire has abandoned her little ALF-looking substitute child. Squirrel Baby, you may not have gotten his own flashback and you may not be as important to the show’s overall plot as I had hoped, but I at least will carry you in my heart — and not my arms, because you’re creepy and I wouldn’t want people to see me with you.

After the jump: names, names and more names. (And no Squirrel Baby, I swear.)




So even though not all Lost characters take their names from philosophers, quite a few do. Bear, if you can, a quick run-down of these Losers before we move on to other sections.

Names from philosophers:
Most obviously, there’s John Locke the Loser and John Locke the Famous British Thinker. The latter is credited as being the “father of liberalism.” His thoughts on the nature of the self, ideas and their origins may be of particular importance to Losers currently achieving various levels of awareness.

Upon leaving the island, Locke takes the pseudonym Jeremy Benthem. Jeremy Bentham, spelled only slightly differently, was another British philosopher who today is remembered for supporting utilitarianism, the notion that the morality of actions should be determined by their outcomes.

Locke’s father, Anthony Cooper, shares his name with two different historical figures. The first — Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 1st Early of Shaftesbury — is the more notable of the two in terms of Lost as he mentored a young John Locke.

For Desmond Hume, there’s the similarly Scottish philosopher David Hume, an associate of the historical Locke whose thoughts on free will and fate — conflicting, sometimes to the point of seeming paradoxical — would seem to have some bearing on Desmond’s repeated struggles to sort out what could happen from what will, should and must happen.

Though Juliet is the more important to Lost than her husband, he happens to fully share his name with Edmund Burke, an Irishman who advocated the protection of free will and who defended the American Revolution but critiqued the French Revolution. Given that Juliet betrayed the Others and helped the Losers overthrow them, I’d say the Burke’s legacy in regards to the American Revolution should apply to her as well — that is, at least, when she wasn’t living up to the Shakespearean half of her name by being a perpetually star-crossed lover.

Juliet finds an enemy in Harper Stanhope, community therapist for the Others and the wife of Goodwin, with whom Juliet has an affair. The philosopher Edmund Burke faced opposition from British statesman Charles Stanhope, who vehemently disagreed with Burke’s take on the French Revolution.

Dogen
shares a name with the thirteenth-century Japanese Buddhist monk Dōgen Kigen who founded the Sōtō school of zen philosophy and whose essay Shōbōgenzō (“The Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma”) discusses such subjects as monastic practice, language, being, time and the underlying oneness of existence.

Gerald and Karen de Groot, cofounders of the Dharma Initiative, share their last name with the Dutch writer and philosopher Hugo de Groot, better known by the Latinized version of his name, Hugo Grotius. Upon reading about his life’s work, however, I don’t see any clear parallels between his work at that of Lost de Groots. If you do, I’m all ears.

Savage woman Danielle Rousseau would seem to reflect some of the beliefs of Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. He advocated the notion of the noble savage — that is, man born into nature as pure and escaping corruption by avoiding society.

And, finally, there’s one-eyed Russian bad guy Mikhail Bakunin. He has the exact same name as a Russian anarchist and critic of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s. There’s little anarchical about Lost’s Bakunin, but Entertainment Weekly’s Doc Jensen has noted that perhaps the associations with the name manifest on the show through chaos — a type of all-bets-are-off strangeness that seems to take over when the one-eyed one makes an appearance.
Names from scientists and other academics:
It seems likely that Eloise Hawking takes her last name from Stephen Hawking, physicist and author of A Brief History of Time, which is glimpsed in the episodes “Not in Portland” and “The Man From Tallahassee.”

Daniel Faraday may have been named in tribute to English electromagnetism researcher Michael Faraday both in and out of the continuity of the show. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have stated that his mother, Eloise, gave him the surname Faraday to protect him from his biological father, Charles Widmore. Eloise’s choice of name may well have been inspired by the nineteenth-century physicist, since her time on the island, near its unique electromagnetic properties, may well have given her opportunity to learn about the works of Faraday. One of the real-life Faraday’s scientific discoveries — the Faraday constant, or the magnitude of electric charge per mole of electrons — may also be referenced with Daniel Faraday’s theory of a an emotional constant as a means of not succumbing to time travel-induced brainmelt. Also, we today measure capacitance — the ability of a thing to hold an electric charge — in farads, named in honor of Faraday.

Richard Alpert shares his name with a real-life psychologist who palled around with the likes of Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley and Allen Ginsberg. He eventually became a prominent Hindu spiritualist — now known as Baba Ram Dass — and in 1974 founded the vaguely-Dharma-like Hanuman Foundation, an organization promoting spiritual well-being.

George Minkowski
, communications officer for Widmore’s freighter, shares his last name with Hermann Minkowski, a German mathematician who created the geometry of numbers to solve the theory of relativity, among other problems.

New Zealand physicist Ernest Rutherford is widely credited as being “the father of nuclear physics.” And though he shares a last name with bygone Loser Shannon Rutherford, I can’t think of a single reason why this similarity should be meaningful.
Names from authors and characters in literature:
The nickname Sawyer could be a reference to the orphan protagonist of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both characters are orphans who excel at manipulating others. Furthermore, the opening of this book’s sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, — “You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter.” — may be reflected in the first line to the letter young James writes to the conman responsible for his parents’ death — “You don't know who I am, but I know who you are.”

When Ben is first introduced to the show, he says he is Henry Gale and claims that he innocently landed on Four Toe Island while sailing about in his hot air balloon. The name seems like a reference to Dorothy’s uncle in The Wizard of Oz, another story about someone who gets taken to a fantastical place by strong winds. A theory on Lostpedia takes the Ben-Oz connection one step further: Just as the initially fearsome wizard in Oz is revealed to be the lowly schmuck behind the curtain, the Lost episode “The Man Behind the Curtain” shows that Ben’s leadership of the Others was never exactly as he explained it to the Losers. In fact, he never communicated with Jacob and therefore had hardly any more insight as to island goings-on as anybody else.

Boone shares his last name with Scottish writer Thomas Carlyle. In Carlyle’s body of work is the book Heroes and Hero Worship, which discusses the flaws of heroes. In this context, it seems interesting to note that Boone’s first name is associated with an American folk hero and that Boone’s bungled attempts to be a hero ultimately caused his own death.

Lostpedia points out twice that Eko’s name could be a reference to the author Umberto Eco. It seems like a stretch to me, since Eco’s novels Foucalt’s Pendulum and The Island of the Day Before better parallel the show itself rather than this specific character. However, it’s worth noting that Pendulum features characters at a publishing house inventing alternative histories and Day Before features a shipwreck survivor trapped on an island, with the International Date Line separating him from another boat he can use to escape. Thematically appropriate, but to the show in general.

Lost’s own Indiana Jane, Charlotte, shares numerous similarities with British author C.S. Lewis. Both attended Oxford, and both have the same middle and last names — Clive and Staples. Finally, the way Charlotte’s mother convinces her that she imagined her time as a child on the island is reminiscent of how Chronicles of Narnia heroine Susan eventually also comes to think of her time spend in the world beyond the wardrobe as being imagined. Charlotte’s backstory also parallels the life of Charlotte Brontë in one way: Both Charlottes are the oldest of three sisters.

It’s possible that Eloise Hawking’s first name may be a reference to the story of Héloïse d’Argenteuil and Pierre Abélard, though in a roundabout way. Héloïse — whose name can also be rendered as Eloise — was a scholarly woman who has an affair with the philosopher Abelard. She became pregnant, exposing the affair and ultimately getting Héloïse tossed into a nunnery and getting Abelard castrated. On Lost, Eloise is similarly learned, and her pregnancy proves troublesome, though in a much different way — she ultimately has to kill her son, Daniel. And I guess one could view Eloise as a sort of nun in the main timeline — matronly, presumably unmarried and devoted to the voodoo of Four Toe Island instead of an actual religion. The possible Abelard analogue, Charles Widmore, matches a bit more closely. Widmore gets punished for fathering a child, though it’s not Daniel but Penelope. Leaving the island to carry on with a woman gets Widmore exiled from the island — relieved of some of his power and figuratively castrated. Speaking of names, the child produced from Héloïse and Abélards affair was the unfortunately named Astrolabius, who shares his name with an instrument once used for navigation and astronomy. Daniel may have been shot dead by his own mother, but at least he didn’t get stuck with Astrolabius for a name.

Ethan Rom’s name always reminded me of the title character in Ethan Frome, who himself may have been an analogue for book’s author, Edith Wharton. The character’s unhappy marriage had several parallels with Wharton’s own, and she initially called the character Ethan Hart. If you take Ethan as a suitable masculine substitute for Edith and note that Hart is embedded in her own last name, the connections become clearer. Knowing all this, from the moment Ethan Rom was first introduced on Lost, I wanted to assume that there was more to him than he was telling. Being an English major does this to you. (By the way, shouldn’t Ethan’s last name be Goodspeed in all continuities? Do you think we’ll ever find out why he introduces himself with the last name Rom?)

Penelope, of course, is the one I like to call “obvious Odyssey allusion.” In the flash-sideways universe, where she and Desmond never met and therefore had not married, her surname is Milton, in clear tribute to the author of Paradise Lost.
Names from the Bible, Christianity or other religions:
Jack Shephard’s last name reflects his leadership position among the Losers. It seems especially appropriate given the show’s fixation on Psalm 23, which famously contains the line “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall be in not want.” Though I think Jake is a more common of a nickname for Jacob, Jack can be one too. Time will tell if there is any significance of Jack’s nominal association with Jacob — the Lost one or the Biblical one.

Along the same lines, Christian Shephard’s name has some obvious connections with Christianity, foremost among them a literal interpretation of it that would identify him with Jesus Christ. Also, like Jesus, Christian rose from the dead — or appeared to, anyway. There are other connections, but I’ve been more concerned with the ways the Lost character defies comparisons with Christ — namely by being a dick throughout much of the show and, as of last night’s episode, being outed as never having risen and instead just having been impersonated by the Man in Black.

Claire’s poor little island baby, Aaron, shares his name with Moses’s brother, who helps lead the Israelites out of desert. However, because the Biblical Aaron is known for being an eloquent speaker and because the Lost Aaron can neither talk nor lead a group to a promised land, I assume his name is purely symbolic.

Speaking of Claire, I feel like there’s a connection between the Lost character and the Catholic saint Clare of Assisi, who renounced worldly pleasures and led a very austere lifestyle — though not quite as spartan as the Danielle Rousseau-style one Claire Littleton leads after she gets left behind on the island. The order of nuns Clare of Assisi founded is known today as the Poor Clares. And if there’s anything that this Lost character’s tribulations has ever made me utter, it’s “Oh, poor Claire.”

As I mentioned in one of my “women of Lost” posts, Naomi’s name is also of Biblical original — from the Book of Ruth. In the linked post, I talk about the origin as justification to conjecture about the Lost character’s sexuality. That being said, it’s also worth nothing that Naomi debuts in the episode “Catch-22,” which also features a Ruth in one of Desmond’s flashbacks.

Widmore’s operative Matthew Abaddon has a name that invites some rather nasty end-of-the-world interpretations. In the Book of Revelations, Abaddon — rendered in Greek as Apollyon and variously meaning “a place of destruction,” “the destroyer” and “depths of Hell” — is both the king of tormenting locusts and the angel of the bottomless pit. How fun for him!

Season four big bad Martin Keamy has a name that hints twice at the character’s violent tendencies. The name Martin is derived from Mars, the Roman name of the god of war, while Keamy is a homophone for kimi the Mayan astrological sign for death.

Some have attempted to link the first name of Dharma honcho Horace Goodspeed with the homophonous name of the Egyptian god Horus, especially given all the ancient Egyptian motifs existing on the island.
Names drawn from other historical figures:
Somewhat more complex is James “Sawyer” Ford. The character’s real name could be a reference to those famous Wild West outlaws Jesse James and Robert Ford.

Ana-Lucia Cortez’s surname could be a reference to the sixteenth-century Spanish explorer and conquistador Hernán Cortés. If you wanted, you could draw parallels between the colonization of the New World and Ana-Lucia’s iron-fisted rule over the tail section survivors. But that would be a stretch. After all, Cortez and Cortes are fairly common Spanish names.

Richard Alpert’s story and name are reminiscent of Albert Richardson, first mate on the doomed merchant ship Mary Celeste, which was found in 1872 in the Atlantic Ocean and inexplicably devoid of any human inhabitants. Draw your own parallels with Lost’s equally ill-fated Black Rock.
Names from miscellaneous pop culture figures:
I actually have nothing of interest to say about Kate Austen’s name. However, I did enjoy that in the episode “What Kate Does” she gives her name as Joan Hart, which a lot of viewers presumed was a reference to the fact that Beth Broderick, the actress who plays Kate’s mother, played an aunt and mother figure to Melissa Joan Hart’s character on Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. I don’t know if anyone has interpreted much meaningful from Kate’s other aliases: Monica Callis, Katherine Dodd and Maggie Ryan.

Though many Lost analyzers try to put Ben Linus in the context of the Biblical Benjamin or the Linus of Greek mythology, I think the best explanation for this character’s name has been offered by Doc Jensen: the Peanuts character Linus van Pelt, Charlie Brown’s friend, whose unshakable belief that the Great Pumpkin will appear one Halloween sends him out to the pumpkin patch year after year. His faith remains even though he never sees the thing he believes in. What a better analogy for Ben’s belief in Jacob and the powers of the island? At least up until he does see Jacob and kills him, anyway.

Bernard and Rose may be preceded by two characters in Alan Moore’s Watchmen — one minor and one unseen. In the graphic novel, a Bernard runs a newsstand, which he says he opened as a means to meet new people after the death of his wife, Rose. Incidental, yes, but perhaps not beyond the realm of plausibility, given the associations many Lost scribes have with comic books.

Lostpedia points out that Naomi having jumped onto the island from a helicopter makes her an analogue of sorts for a similarly named character from the James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me. This Naomi pilots a helicopter for the film’s big bad — the reclusive villain Karl Stromberg, who lives in a submersible lair and thus could work as an analogue for Lost’s submarine-riding villain, Charles Widmore. Depending on how you look at the film, it may also be notable that the Spy Who Loves Me Naomi is the first female character “indisputably killed by Bond,” as Lostpedia puts it.

Bonnie
, an Other, appears in three episodes as one of the guards in the Looking Glass, a Dharma station at the bottom of the ocean. Given that she dies down there, mere feet from the watery moon pool entrance to the Looking Glass and in the presence of Scotsman Desmond, the lyrics to the old Scottish folk song seem appropriate: “My Bonnie lies over the ocean.”

As I’ve noted previously on this blog, the doomed news reporter named in the episode title “Tricia Takana Is Dead” has almost the exact name of a recurring character on Family Guy, Asian reporter Tricia Takananwa. I have to assume the similarity is intentional.

Charlie’s brother, Liam Pace, seems like he’s probably named after Liam Gallagher, member of the British rock band Oasis alongside his brother, Noel. It’s easy to make parallels between Oasis and the Pace brothers’ band, Drive Shaft.

Sawyer’s jilted lover Cassidy Phillips seems like a double reference to The Mamas & The Papas, which would make sense given how often the show has used Cass Elliot’s song “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” Mama Cass’s real name was not Cassidy, but the two names are similar enough that I’m willing to buy a possible connection, especially in light of the fact that fellow band member John Phillips could be a likely source for the Lost character’s last name.

Cassidy and Sawyer’s daughter, Clementine, also has a musically themed name that seems especially appropriate given her lack of a relationship with her father. The folk song lyrics “You were lost and gone forever / Dreadful sorry, Clementine” neatly sum up what Sawyer’s relationship would be towards this little girl.

And bespectacled Other Lennon got his name because he looks just like John Lennon. Doy.
Wordplay names:
At the 2009 Comic Con, the Lost panel featured a montage memorializing all the characters who had died so far. Included in the montage was Libby, with her name being displayed as Elizabeth “Libby” Smith. To some, this answered the question of what the character’s last name had been. It had never been spoken on the show and therefore some people assumed she could have been Liddy Wales, a character in the non-canon Lost Experience game, while another source had stated her full name as Libby Franklin. To me, however, I feel like slapping the last name Smith is the creative team’s way of writing out the character, seeing how Smith is one of those generic last names, like Johnson or Doe. At the time, actress Cynthia Watros had said she wasn’t interested in reprising her Lost character for the final season, and perhaps this was an initial attempt at closing the book prematurely on the mystery that is Libby. Just a thought.

Similarly, the name of Other bigwig Tom Friendly also wasn’t revealed until the Comic Con video. Before that point, Mr. Friendly has been a nickname assigned the character by Lost crew and eventually fans as well. After the video, the name was confirmed as canon when it appeared as one of the crossed-out candidate names Jacob’s lighthouse in the sixth season.

In an article in Entertainment Weekly, Damon Lindelof was quoted as saying that the Miles Straume character was named because “it would be cool if his name sounded like maelstrom.” So there’s that.

Though I don’t know of anything special being coded into Pierre Chang’s name, the pseudonyms he gives in the various Dharma orientation films each relate to candles in some way. He variously identifies himself as Dr. Marvin Candle, Dr. Mark Wickmund and Dr. Edgar Halliwax. It so happens that another Lost character has a last name that would fit in with the pattern, Cindy Chandler, the Oceanic flight attendant. But that’s probably just a coincidence.

Though most anagrams of Lost names seem at best coincidentally appropriate for the characters they’re attached to, I’ve always been intrigued by the fact that the letters in Naomi Dorrit’s name can be switched around to spell maid in rotor and raid monitor — arguable references to the fact that she flew a helicopter to the island and that she likely intended to wipe out the Losers, per Widmore’s orders.

Other tempting anagrams can be made form the name of Others ambassador Ethan Rom, including other man and more than — as with the earlier analysis of his name, both point to him having more secrets than he’s letting on. Pushing the anagram theory even more is the fact that Juliet, when she’s being courted by the fake company Mittelos Bioscience, meets Ethan, who poses as an employee. Mittelos is an anagram for lost time, a phrase that applies to both Juliet and the show as well.

The last name of ill-fated science teacher Leslie Arzt means “doctor” in German. Furthermore, Arzt had a Ph.D., so when characters refer to him as Dr. Arzt, they’re literally calling him Dr. Doctor.

I have read that Sayid’s last name, Jarrah, translates directly from Arabic as “cutter” or wounder” — appropriate for a man with so much blood on his hands. However, the figurative meaning of the word would be “surgeon,” meaning his last name means something fairly close to what Arzt’s does.

I couldn’t help myself from trying to read the name of short-lived other Bea Klugh as be a clue. But then she was unceremoniously killed off after three episodes and I stopped caring what the clue might be.

And, finally, there’s Zoe. I wonder if her name might be a reference to actress Zoe Bell, whose role in the third season of Lost was cut short by the production schedule being jumbled up by 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike. Perhaps naming this character was a tip-of-the-hat towards Bell. Or perhaps the character got an end-of-the-alphabet name because she is the last recurring character us Lost viewers will every be introduced to. (Prove me wrong, Lost. Prove me wrong.)
Mysteries: Neither I nor anyone else that I know of has posited anything about the meaning or significance of the following characters names: Michael Dawson (and his alias, Kevin Johnson), Walt Lloyd, Nikki Fernandez, Charlie Pace, Charles Widmore and Ilana Verdansky. Anyone got theories about these? Also, I’m sure I overlooked a few characters in compiling this list, so don’t hesitate to tell me.

Previously on Lost on this blog:

9 comments:

  1. Anonymous4:43 PM

    You left out Lapidus. And I have no idea what his name would mean.

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  2. How long does it take for you to write such a thorough post like this one???

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  3. Stuart12:26 PM

    Was the role of Nikki written especially for Kiele Sanchez? If it was, it might explain the name. They are similar in that both are a female version of a man's name plus a common Hispanic last name.

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  4. Stuart12:30 PM

    I forgot another thing I wanted to say. Nikki's producer boyfriend was named Howard Zukerman. Because his last name is German for sugar man, his name could be a reference to being a sugar daddy to Nikki.

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  5. Anonymous3:55 PM

    You skipped over Jacob. He's the patriarch of the twelve tribes of Israel and also a spiritual guide for the people on Lost. Also, Jacob is known for feuding with this brother Esau, and alot of people have guessed that the Man in Black's name might actually be Esau.

    In the Bible, Jacob is married to Rachel. On Lost, Rachel is also Juliet's sister. And Jacob is the one who heals Rachel and allows her to have a baby . But I think a better name for the Rachel on Lost would have been Sarah, since the Sarah from the Bible conceived a child when no one thought she would be able to. But Sarah is already Jack's wife's name.

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  6. Anonymous2:38 PM

    Kate Austen/ Jane Austen the writer
    and it's not difficult to see the similarities--

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  7. Anonymous11:51 PM

    Hugo de groot refers to Hurley, you silly head. You were over thinking it. Hugo de groot was a philosopher who believed in peace, and disagreed with the Spanish war that was going on in his time. In Lost, Hurley often ends up trying to be the peacemaker between two arguing people, mainly Locke and Jack, or Sawyer and anyone, (haha) and so on. Hope I could be of help! :)

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