The Destiny in the Name
<The Namesake> – the novel by the 2000 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction Jhumpa Lahiri – was made into a film in 2006. In Italy the movie was released – and enjoyed great success – in 2007 with the title <Il destino nel nome> (The Destiny in the Name), an interesting transformation of the original title. What most appeals to me is the concept of homonym of which the namesake is a particular case. This will be my starting point in examining instances in which names have played crucial roles in masterpieces of western artistic tradition, while revealing their ties to a wider multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic world. Three examples: 1) Gogol as a character name in Jhumpa Lahiri’s postcolonial novel; 2) Vittore Carpaccio created one of his best-known and most powerful paintings because of his misunderstanding of the name of a certain holy martyr in the famous cycle <Legend of St. Ursula and the Eleven Thousand Virgins>; 3) in the opening lines of the tragedy <Emilia Galotti> by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, a homonym is the device that provides the first hint of the Prince’s tyrannical character. Through such case studies I will consider the intriguing way in which homonyms have been used as a powerful discourse-shaping factor and rhetorical device and so push further the theoretical framework of the reflections on names in Ingeborg Bachmann’s essay <Der Umgang mit Namen> (1959/1960).