By Jhumpa Lahiri. Published in 2004.
Names have fascinated me for more than a decade. When I was a teenager, I started collecting baby name books, a hobby I kept secret because people could easily get the wrong idea about a fifteen-year-old girl with a small stash of books for expectant mothers. How could I explain that my obsession wasn’t with babies but with what people name them and why and what that means?
I love studying names because thinking about names means thinking about cultural background, class, race, gender, and family history. Thinking about names means thinking about individual identity, collective identity, and the negotiation between the two. That’s precisely why Jhumpa Lahiri can use the name Gogol Ganguli, the name of the principal character in her novel, The Namesake, as a vehicle to address all of those issues. She doesn’t need to stretch; the issues are inherent in the name itself.