An Alternative Book Report: What's in a Name?

Prompt #35: Name analysis. Select a few of the characters from the novel. Look up each of their names in a name book to see what the name means. Write all the meanings down and then write a short essay for each character explaining in what ways the name is suitable and in what ways the name does not fit the character.

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I’ll Give You The Sun is a YA realistic fiction novel that dedicates a lot of thought to characters’ names. Because of this, I will be focusing just on the two main characters’ names: Jude and Noah, and then delving deeper into other different representations of their names in the book.

Both twins explicitly discuss the meaning of their names, especially Noah. At one point, he says, “I love Bible Noah. He was nearly 950 years old when he died. He got to leave with the animals. He started the whole world over: blank canvas and endless tubes of paint. Freaking the coolest.” Each part of this segment reveals something personal about Noah himself by virtue of the fact that he values these qualities. One: in admiring his old age, he is admitting some anxiety around mortality and death. This is key when his mother’s death comes into play later in the story. Two: Noah has already shown some preference for nature and animals over daily life, and this confirms it. It also strengthens the theme of twinship as the animals were each in pairs. Three: the idea of creating a world through painting is referenced several times by Noah, his mother, and Jude, and this shows Noah’s desire to change the world into a place that better suits himself and his loved ones.

Another repeating moment for Noah’s character is jumping into the ocean, which echoes the image of Bible Noah setting out on the ark. By the end of the book, their father has even bought a houseboat, which the twins refer to as an “ark” to live on, much as Biblical Noah took his family with him on the Ark. This connection suits Noah very well, as his artistic senses have this world-building, creative tendency, as well as a strong desire to protect his family.

The original Hebrew meaning of Noah translates to “rest” or “repose,” which doesn’t quite fit with the rest of Noah’s characterization in the novel. He is often restless and unsatisfied, or melancholic with guilt. He also has some moments of great love and joy, but this is still not rest. Perhaps this literal meaning could be interpreted as a representation of what Noah is seeking in life, and simply has yet to find?

Jude similarly pays great attention to her own name, but seems to have more negative associations with it at first. At times, she resents it, as she was apparently teased all her life with the Beatles song “Hey Jude” (“why didn’t my parents think of this when they named me?”). Interestingly, Paul McCartney actually wrote “Hey Jude” in dedication to John Lennon’s son, Julian, as encouragement through Lennon’s divorce. This seems to parallel Jude’s struggle with her parents’ conflict and eventual loss.

Reading Jude’s name as a subtle self-comfort fits perfectly into another moment of name-acknowledgement she has. In her giant Sweetwine Family Bible, one superstition instructs: “For courage, say your name three times into your closed hand,” which she does when meeting her mothers’ (unbeknownst-to-Jude) former lover. This evokes both the purpose of comfort in the song, as well as the context of parental strife.

Near the finale of the book, Jude’s friend? Crush? Lover? Oscar tells her that “Jude is my favorite of all the saints. Patron saint of lost causes. The saint to call on when all hope is gone. The one in charge of miracles.” In this scene it feels almost like Oscar is talking about himself as one of the “lost causes” that she has saved, as he previously has talked about how much she inspired him to clean up his act and be a better man. Additionally, Jude acts as a constant watcher of her twin, Noah, to make sure he doesn’t kill himself by jumping into the sea. She actually does physically pull him away from this fate during the novel’s climax, when he genuinely admits to feeling that all hope was gone. But besides the ways she helps others, she also has a connection to this idea of “miracles” through her superstitious Bible. Whether she possesses real magic or supernatural awareness, she repeatedly uses tricks and knowledge from this source to miraculously be in the right place at the right time for what she needs to do.

Mirroring Noah, Jude is also a Biblical name, referencing not only the Saint, but Judas Iscariot. This is partially why Jude is so relieved to hear herself compared to Saint Jude rather than Judas (“So much better than traitorous Judas”), as she struggles throughout the story with feeling like she has betrayed each person in her family in different ways. Literally, Jude/Judas in Hebrew means “praised,” which, again like Noah, is something she is definitely not. Noah receives all the artistic praise, and Jude desperately craves it, especially from her mother.

Sweetwine is an interesting choice for a surname, as it has much less symbolic history attached to it than both their first names. Taking it literally, they are both indeed sweet people, and alcohol does play a background role in a few important scenes, like a houseparty and Noah’s almost-suicide off the cliff. However, it may be more relevant to parse the word as a reference to a specific type of wine. Sweet Wines are characterized by their higher sugar content, caused by time of harvest and length of fermentation. One method for summer harvest is to let them dry out slightly in the sun, which could be a connection to the title, I’ll Give You The Sun, implying a sense of sweetness in that trade. With fermentation, the less time they sit, the sweeter, which matches well with the twins’ experience of youth and progression through a transformative phase of life.

Finally, a unique feature of these characters as a result of being twins is the joint name they share for much of the book: NoahandJude. They are referred to by their parents this way, as well as thinking of themselves using the joint name. One of the most intense moments in the book is when Jude decides to break her “NoahandJude” statue in half and at the same time rechristen it as “Noah and Jude”. In order for them to each heal and grow, they must have separate identities, which Jude herself visualizes through their ownership of individual names.

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