Analysis of ‘Naming Myself’ by Barbara Kingsolver

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Kingsolver in his poem “Naming Myself”, speaks about his ancestors and his family name. He explains how his grandfather came from Virginia during the time of slavery, and the Native American side of their heritage has been buried, and his newfound desire to uncover that part of their identity. He explains how even if he were to shed his current name, that part of his ancestry would always be a part of who he is.  The main theme of the poem is finding one’s identity and the desire to know where one comes from.


Analysis of ‘Naming Myself’

“Naming Myself” is generally an autobiographical poem. By using the main theme of Identity, the poem is about how one’s name is not just a meaningless title; it is something that connects to one’s ancestry. It defines who you are. By using the minor themes of Feminism, and Ethnic pride in the poem, she reasons her “guarding” of her name by going back to how she got her name.

By using, the theme of Ethnic Pride Kingsolver explains the pains that both her grandmother and grandfather went through and that if she discarded her name, it would show some shame to her own ethnic background.

The theme of Feminism is reflected when she questions the act of females who replaces their surnames for their spouses’ and how her own names are equally important. Kingsolver in the poem uses imagery of the “peppered, flaming Autumn” so that it gives a vivid setting to the reader. The “flaming Autumn” can also symbolize passion.

There are also connections to her Cherokee culture’s bond with nature, as Autumn is the time the leaves shed from trees, and with the allusion of her grandmother being called a leaf-eyed Cherokee. She uses a metaphor of saying that she “touched his boots and moustache […]” as a way to say that she has connected to her ancestry and that they live through her. The narrator makes an allusion to the racism that the Native Americans have faced in the past as she mentions that people forgave her grandfather for stealing the horse, but not for marrying someone “Indian Blood.”

A metaphor is used for how the grandfather lost his name and grew a new one by giving it “fruit and seeds” as if his new name is a living being. She also uses imagery for when explaining about her grandmother’s photograph, she gives the reader something to imagine by stating that she had “ink-thin braids”

There is also a sense of pathos in this stanza for her grandmother, as she has suffered not only through racism, but also for letting go of her name- her background and identity (which refers to the whole meaning of the poem). She uses a metaphor to map out a choice that she has for when she gets married:

“I could shed my name in the middle of life,”

She gives her name a closer connection to her soul by using the metaphor by pairing the idea of shedding her name by shedding her skin.


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Kingsolver also gives her name life by using personification by saying that if she did such a thing, “it would flee” and roam along with the other discarded names of her female ancestors. Kingsolver uses a circular return, to sum up, the story and her reason for why she guards her name. In the end, your name will reflect not only your identity but the identity of your ancestors as well. How do you think the theme of Illusion and Reality would apply to this poem? She wants to escape the reality that she might have to let go of her name.

It comes with the illusion that letting go of her name is like letting go of her family history. By that, she will escape that reality by breaking the usual tradition of discarding one’s name.

Naming Myself Style

The main theme of the poem is finding one’s identity and the desire to know where one comes from.  Personification is used when the narrator says, “He lost his family’s name and invented mine, gave it fruit and seeds.” This is an example of personification because a name cannot actually produce fruit. Personification prevails when the narrator states: “I could shed my name in the middle of life,” this is a personification because the narrator cannot literally shed his name.

Kinglover says, “Believing the soul could be scattered if they were careless” because a soul cannot literally be thrown in various directions. The same is observed in lines when she says, “I could shed my name in the middle of life, the ordinary thing, and it would flee along with childhood and dead grandmothers”.

Imagery is used when the narrator recounts his experience with his grandfather when he says, “I have touched his boots and mustache, the grandfather whose people owned slaves and cotton,” because it appeals to the reader’s sense of touch.

A sense of simile is present in the opening lines when the narrator says, “I have guarded my name as people in other times kept their own clipped hair.” It is a simile because it is comparing keeping clipped hair to keeping the heritage of a name.

Throughout this poem, there are images that are felt, heard, tasted and smelled. This poem is very descriptive and provokes many thoughts and feelings to the readers. This is seen when Kingsolver says “until one peppered, flaming autumn he stole a horse”.

Barbara Kingsolver was born in Kentucky in 1955. As a mix-blood herself, Kingsolver’s works always contain many languages and imagery of native Kentucky and the episodes from mixed race families. The poem “Naming myself” was published in a collection of her poetry call “Another America: Otra America” in 1992. This was a narrative poem telling us a story about her family’s name. Kingsolver first informed us how she would protect her name, letting us know how important her name was to her. The story was that her grandfather in Virginia, where at the time people owned slaves. However, he fell in love with a native woman. He stole a horse and ran away to meet his lover. This act loses him his family’s name, and therefore Kingsolver has this name now. At last, Kingsolver told us she would not change her name, as “it would grow restless there”.

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