THE NAMESAKE (book) and the Importance of Names

I just finished THE NAMESAKE by Pulitzer Prize winner Jhumpa Lahiri, and I’m trying to decide if I liked it. I don’t think that’s a good sign. I guess the best assessment is that there were parts I adored and parts that left me cold.
This book is about character rather than plot, so if what you want is a gripping, fast-paced story, look elsewhere. If you want to understand the plight of Indian immigrants trying to assimilate into their new world (in the US) while holding tightly to the comfort of their old world, this is a terrific book. The story focuses on Gogol, the son of Indian immigrants, who struggles against his odd name (given to him, both literally and figuratively, by accident) and against his parents’ culture. The problem for me was that I didn’t like Gogol much. I wanted to tell him to “get over it,” so perhaps I’m just hard-hearted, or he was unlikeable, or something was lost in the storytelling. Indeed, Lahiri writes with a sense of distance from her characters. While describing food (yum!) and scenery in elaborate detail, the emotions of the characters are often difficult to discern and harder still to relate to. This is especially true when she writes about Gogol. The character my heart ached for was his mother, Ashima–most likely because, as a woman, I could easily feel her pain and fear as she moved halfway across the world with a husband she barely knew. 
Having said all this, I may completely change my mind after this book is discussed in my readers’ group. For now, though, I give it three and a half lighthouses.half LH blue.jpg3 LH blue.jpg
And this brings me to the subject of names. Chamberlain is not the name I was born with, nor is it a married name. I was born a Lopresti, then married a Chmielewski (we considered hyphenation for about 1,000,000th of a second!). I took Chmielewski as my name for about four years, but it never felt “right” to me. The name I really wanted was my mother’s maiden name, Chamberlain, which was of course the surname of my maternal grandmother, with whom I was very close and a woman I admired tremendously. But I didn’t want to hurt my father’s feelings by taking Chamberlain instead of Lopresti. So I legally changed my name back to Lopresti (with my then-husband’s blessing). When I told my parents, my father said “You should have taken Chamberlain, since your mother’s the last of the Chamberlain line.” He didn’t need to twist my arm! Once again, I went through the process (pretty easy in California, where I lived at the time) of changing my name–two weeks after the first change. When I applied for a passport shortly after, I was required to list all names I’d had in the last ten years, thus the name on my passport read “Diane Victoria Lopresti Chmielewski Chamberlain. LOL. Anyhow, Chamberlain felt right from the moment I first wrote ‘Diane Chamberlain’ on a document. And it wound up being a pretty good name for an author, as well.


  1. brenda on September 3, 2006 at 6:33 pm

    Love the names.
    This year when I applied for a passport-for the first time-to go to London to study Shakespeare with teachers—a guest (almost) of Humanities–I applied for a passport in February…I listed my names.
    Mother’s maiden name-Coyner
    Birth father-Coiner (no kidding)
    Mother’s 2nd married name (Estes) I did not use that name-I used COiner
    My married name-Burke…
    My present name Brenda Burke-Cremeans (Have to keep the Burke because we owned a Hallmark store together (before I left to become a teacher) and there are legal things–nothing negative but…
    I married and kept the Burke name for my children and the business…
    Okay, everything looked okay until May-no passport–I was leaving early June.
    Contacted the post office where I applied-something was copied incorrectly somewhere–I needed the passport-oh-did I forgot to mention-for EVEN more money-I could apply and get it Quickly…I refused-that was ludicrous.
    It was promised to me-coming from S. Carolina.
    Finally, after emails and calls with my Senator’s office (Rockefeller)-I had the passport. They were promised it the next day-to no avail…the second call that office made-I had the passport the next day.
    My trip-the money the Humanities paid-the money I paid-would have gone for naught…This happens a lot-I am told…thus-too much money spent for those of us who are innocent citizens-to get a passport…how silly.
    Enough said…I like your names…
    However-might be difficult to use those in a book…
    One of my aggravations: Why do they use unusual names on the ACT/SAT tests-students are worrying about reading and pronouncing those names-instead of concentrating on the tests…..????
    My names have been butchered-pronounced so many ways.
    The origin of my name-Germany KEINADT…instead of the Coiner.
    Are my parents related-about l0 generations….but after all…

  2. delaney on December 21, 2006 at 9:06 am

    hey i like your website..!..:)♥

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