Significance of Names in The Old Man and the Sea

Instructor: Arielle Windham

Arielle has worked worked with elementary, middle, and secondary students in American and Japan. She has a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in Education.

In this lesson, we will discuss the significance of the names Hemingway chose for his characters in ''The Old Man and the Sea'', and how he used them to create deeper meaning in the story.

What's In a Name?

Shakespeare's Juliet famously asks, ''What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.'' But Juliet got it wrong. Names are important.

Parents aren't the only ones who agonize over the right name. Authors spend a lot of time picking the perfect names for their characters. Names have special meanings, and the right name can tell you a lot about the character.

For his novella, The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway used several common Spanish names with Biblical origins. It is probably easy to find Santiago on souvenir key chains and license plates at any Cuban gift shop because it is a very popular name. However, within the story, the meaning behind the name adds depth to Hemingway's tale.

Santiago and Manolin

Santiago is the Spanish version of the name James. It refers to Saint James the Greater, the patron saint of Spain. Saint James was one of Jesus's disciples. He and his brother, Saint John, were fishermen when Jesus called them to follow him. Saint James was also in a very famous Bible story. He and several disciples were fishing but having no luck. Jesus told them to cast their nets again. They did so, and they had trouble pulling in nets because they were so filled with fish.

Sound familiar? A fisherman who was having a streak of bad luck but then hauls in the catch of a lifetime. But Hemingway doesn't stop there. The name Manolin is related to the same story.

Manolin is the diminutive form of Manuel. This is also a very popular Spanish name that can be traced back to the Bible. Its root is Immanuel. In Hebrew, it means, ''God is with us'' and it is often used as another name for Jesus since Immanuel is the name given in the Old Testament for the child conceived by a virgin.

So we have Saint James, the fisherman who can't seem to catch any fish, and Immanuel, or Jesus, who encourages him to try again. By using these two names, Hemingway has drawn strong parallels to one of the Bible's most recognizable stories, The Miracle of the Fish.

The Miraculous Draught of Fishes painted by Raphael in 1515.
Miracle of the Fish

The Old Man and the Boy

You'd think that after Hemingway put all the effort into finding the perfect names for his characters, he'd use them a little more often. If you missed that the old man is named Santiago and the boy is Manolin, it's not your fault. These names are only in the book six times! Instead, Hemingway chose to use the old man and the boy for the majority of his story.

For the most part, the names only show up when the characters address each other. That makes sense. It would be rude for Manolin to call Santiago 'old man' to his face. The name Santiago is used three times in this way; Manolin twice.

The only other time the name Santiago is used is when the old man reminisces about his arm wrestling match with ''the great negro from Cienfuegos''. The old man remembers how, ''the negro, after the rum, would try for a tremendous effort and once he had the old man, who was not an old man then but was Santiago El Campeon, nearly three inches off balance.'' This is the only time the old man thinks of himself as Santiago. However, the quote creates distance between the old man and this Santiago the champion. That Santiago was a young man. He was not this old man.

Why would Hemingway do that? Well, by calling the characters 'old man' and 'boy', Hemingway takes away their individuality. Now the characters are universal. They are archetypes, generalized, symbolic characters that represent ideas or themes more than actual people. By making the characters archetypes, anyone can be the old man or the boy. They become universal representations of youth and old age. This helps add deeper meaning to the story as a timeless tale for everyman.

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