The Importance of Names
It is typical of Rosalie Ham’s meticulous writing style even the names of each of her characters are deliberately chosen to give further meaning to the book. Alterations to the names such as shortenings e. g. Myrtle to Tilly or changes to last names after marriage often coincide which the emergence of a character’s new side or a fundamental change in their nature. On the other hand, if a character does not undergo any change despite the events occurring around them, then the name will simply retain its original meaning.
Though Tilly’s introduction of the fashion avant-garde to the isolated Australian country town changes the exterior of minor townsfolk as a rule, their names do not change as the characters themselves retain their integral character. Beula Harridene is one example of this, the harridan (vicious, scolding woman) nature that gives her her name does not change, as she maintains her natural sticky beak tendencies so she keeps her name. Fred Bundle is named as it could be said that he dropped his (bundle). His alcohol addiction only became apparent to him after a potentially life-threatening, drunken fall into the cellar.
Purl’s common name is supposed to be representative of her common nature. Mr Almanac is much like an almanac in his knowledge of medical histories and his ability to read and judge other people’s lives. Each Pickett lives up to their name in a individual way, Lois Pickett is infamous for picking her scabs and blackheads while her son, the gentle and slow Bobby Pickett, was mercilessly picked on in primary and her daughter, Nancy Pickett developed the habitat of picking on other children to protect her brother. Considered the swine of the town, the McSwineys are aptly named.
Though pigs are commonly believed to the dirty farm animals, they are in fact some of the cleanest animals – they are carefree, highly intelligent and have large litters. Mona Beaumont, often described as ‘Mona by name, moaner by nature, is full of repressed desires, the desire to be noticed and appreciated by her mother as well as strong sexual desire. This is the fact that Mona means ‘wishes or desires’ becomes significant. Sergeant Horatio Farrat, though he could hardly be described as a minor character, also keeps the same name as, though throughout the novel gradually allows more of his nature to show hrough, his nature does not change. Farrat is a play on the word ‘faggot’ which is a colloquial term for a gay man (which there is no evidence that Horatio Farrat is) as well as effect gained by a particular kind of stitching. Other characters either alter their names as the plot progresses or the irony of their names disappears as they grow into it. Myrtle Dunnage changes her name to Tilly in her exile from Dungatar in order to disconnect herself from her past and forge a new identity. As the shortening discards part of her name so she discards parts of her old self that are undesirable.
Similarly, Gertrude Pratt shortens her name to Trudy to discard her former status as a grocer’s daughter and assimilate her new importance as a ‘Beaumont’ more fully. The shortening of Gertrude to Trudy however also seems to illuminate Gertrude’s monstrously ambitious nature as it chips away at layers of character that may have concealed it. The name ‘Beaumont’ that Trudy assumes after her marriage to William is classically upper-class. Beaumont itself means beautiful mountain, the first of many ironies surrounding the Beaumont family.
Though the Beaumonts may have been a presence in the area many years before the decay of Elsbeth’s fox fur is hardly beautiful and the family no longer has the might or the wealth to merit comparison with a mountain. William is typically quite weak willed and is often simply swept along with events not fighting at all for things to go his way. His name then becomes the second ironic aspect of the Beaumonts, as William is generally accepted to mean ‘strong willed warrior’, until Trudy’s character forces him to find his will and fight for the first time for his own interests.
Before Molly Dunnage became the ‘Old Mad Molly’ we are introduced to at the very beginning of the novel, her name was representative of her suspect past. Molly is supposed to sound like moll, a colloquial terms meaning prostitute or loose woman. This in turn is representative of the slander on her name as she was neither of those things. Dunnage means ‘miscellaneous baggage’ refers both to the emotional baggage both the Dunnage women carry. Molly Dunnage’s transition to Old Mad Molly is portrays the way she lost herself and her true name in loneliness for her daughter.