Friday, March 07, 2008

Lost Theory II: Charactonym Theory

Well, I posted a reference to this list last week, so I thought I'd publish all my notes this week, and see if someone has an insight/comment.

Someone cleverly recognized a connection between the name of one of the new characters on Lost, Charlotte Staples Lewis, and the writer Clive Staples Lewis (known to most of us as C.S.Lewis. This reminded me of a conversation I once had with a friend about the names of the cast, so I thought I’d see if I could connect the other names of the characters to other people or to their character traits. As another friend recently informed me, this literary phenomenon is called a “charactonym”, defined as “a name given to a literary character that is descriptive of a quality or trait of a character.” [Note: As I researched this, I found a lot of it isn’t new. (Thanks, especially, to John Marcotte at]. This week Paige gave me a hard time for writing down names during the show, mocking me for blogging about this, but Faraday, in particular, seems unlikely to be accidental. Of the rest, some could be coincidence, and some of these required more conjecture on my part than others, but I still think there’s something here. Check out the list. I don’t have much of a cohesive theory yet, but I’ve tried to formulate something after the list itself.

Charlotte Staples Lewis – writer C.S. Lewis

John Locke – enlightenment philosopher John Locke

Desmond Hume – enlightenment philosopher David Hume

Kate Austen – novelist Jane Austen
aka Kate Dodd – Martha Dodd, American spy
aka Kate Ryan – the Irish surname Ryan bears the family motto: “Malo More Quam Foedari” Translation: “I would rather die than be disgraced”

Renee Rousseau – philosopher Jean Jacque Rousseau

Jack Shephard, son of Christian Shephard – though this could be a reference to Christ (the “Good Shepherd”), it could also be a reference to “Shephard’s Problem”, a geometric equation relating symmetric convex bodies in n-dimensional Euclidian space (thanks, Wikipedia!)

Michael Dawson – Christopher Dawson, English philosopher, sociologist, and cultural and political critic

Sayid Jarrah – Sayid means “master” in Arabic. Jarrah means “cutter” or “wounder”.
Master Surgeon? Master Butcher? We’ll see.

Charlie Pace - Jordan Scott Pace, English enlightenment philosopher

Shannon Rutherford - Samuel Rutherford, Restoration era critic of English government, preceded enlightenment philosophers like Locke and Hobbes

Juliet Burke – Edmund Burke, Irish political philosopher, critic of “Natural Law”

Henry Gale (Benjamin Linus)- Dorothy’s Uncle Henry in the Wizard of Oz, who might be the Wizard himself.

Ethan Rom – some have speculated this is just an anagram for “Other Man”. I can’t help but see a possible connection to the character Ethan Frome, the protagonist of the book by the same name. He’s “the most striking figure in Starkfield” but comes to a tragic end.

James “Sawyer” Ford – Perhaps this conman is named after a bunch of storytellers, like James Joyce, James Baldwin, Mark Twain (Tom Sawyer reference), and Ford Maddox Ford (that really was his pen name, not a typo)

Hugo “Hurley” Reyes – Frank Hurley was an explorer and photographer/filmmaker who traveled on Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole. Victor Hugo, French novelist, author of Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame

Mr. Eko – Eko is the original name for the second largest city in Africa, Lagos, Nigeria, the country where Mr. Eko came from.

Walt Lloyd-Porter - William Sydney Porter was the real name of the American writer O. Henry.

Daniel Faraday – Michael Faraday, English chemist and physicist who contributed to the fields of… wait for it… electromagnetism and electrochemistry

Goodwin – Richard N. Goodwin, writer and speechwriter for JFK, LBJ, and Bobby Kennedy, served as the secretary general of the Peace Corps and named LBJ’s program “The Great Society”

Harper – Harper Lee, writer

So, here’s what I’m thinking: The most significant name is the name of the show. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about this season is that it’s driven home the point that these characters are not only lost on an island in the south Pacific (maybe), but that they were all lost in the world before they ever got onto that Oceanic flight, and that even after they return they are still lost. I wonder if this is further illustrated by the charactonyms. Writers and philosophers, despite their seemingly normal lives, are all people who take on occupations which separate them from their own world, which force them to see human interactions with a measure of detachment, an affected objectivity. Could the references to so many authors and philosophers, beyond pointing to the immediate relationship between character and referenced figure, be a larger commentary on the separation of these characters from the world? Like the writers and philosophers they (might) allude to, all these people share a similar skewed perspective on humanity. They are outsiders, be they survivors or others, to our world.

Again, here’s my call for the assistance of a mathematician. Would Shepard’s Problem relate to a projection from a plane in such a way as to reference an altered perspective from within that projection? Might that relate to this notion of these characters’ (and writers’/philosophers’) distinct perspective on the world which makes them, in a way, lost?


@bdul muHib said...

And what of the striking character similarities between Benjamin Linus and an English teacher and part-time blogger of the same nom de guerre, hmm?

Benjamin Gorman said...

I hadn't thought of that one. But then, I don't see myself as a super-genius manipulative psychopath with a Neanderthal's notion of romance ("Mine" he called Juliet. Paige said, "How romantic."). On the flip side, I frequently pretend to know a lot more than I actually do, and it's possible Ben and I have that in common.

I did consider a connection to Linus, the blanket carrying pal of Charlie Brown. Also an outsider and detached but critical observer of his world, but I thought that was a stretch. But maybe the island is Ben's security blanket? Or Jacob is? Or some other "bargaining chip" (since he claims to be out, and therefore has more of them).

@bdul muHib said...

See, I completely agree that you don't have a neanderthal notion of romance.