Literature: The Namesake

The Namesake is the second book by Jhumpa Lahiri, who had previously won the Pulitzer Prize for her debut collection of stories, Interpreter of Maladies. While not as well-received as her debut, Lahiri's novel still garnered positive reviews from critics, who lauded its universal theme of cultural dissonance.

Released in 2004, it focuses on Gogol Ganguli, the son of Ashoke and Ashima, who are Indian immigrants to America. Gogol, throughout the novel, struggles to navigate his own distance from his cultural heritage as well as his parents' difficulties with cultural alienation. He becomes disillusioned with his first name (named after Nikolai Gogol), and keeps himself independent from his parents and his heritage by changing it. After a crisis of faith, he reconciles with his culture, only to find out that his relationships and his identity are far more complex than he would wish.

It was adapted into a film of the same name, which has its own trope page here.


Contains Examples Of:

  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: Averted, all the names of people and things in the novel are culturally appropriate, and chosen with great care.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Sort of. It chronicles 30 years of Gogol's life, but it is the story of him coming to terms with himself as an independent adult and his place in the world.
  • Everything Sounds Sexier in French: Inverted by Dmitri Desjardins. His last name, with a French accent, would sound like Day-zhar-dahn. He pronounces it instead in typical American fashion. Despite the fact that Moushimi is a French student, she feels much more attracted to his incorrect way of pronouncing it because, in his doing so, Dmitri defies conventionality and cultural expectations.
  • First Kiss: Gogol has his with an MIT student named Kim while he's still a junior in high school. This directly leads to him eventually changing his name to Nikhil, since Kim liked that name a lot better.
  • Good Parents: Both Ashima and Ashoke clearly love Gogol and Sonia, and try their best to help them integrate into a completely foreign culture; often at the expense of maintaining their own comforting/familiar cultural traditions.
  • I Have No Son: Averted; even though Gogol tries to reject his background and distance himself from his parents, they still are as much a part of his life as he will let them be, and make an effort not to be an embarrassment or call him by the wrong name.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: Gogol goes to Yale and Columbia, Ashoke studies and later teaches at MIT, and Sonia goes to Stanford (which is technically not an Ivy, but still a very prestigious school).
  • Meaningful Funeral: Ashoke's. Not only does the book describe the extensive rituals done by Bengalis during their funerals, but it also highlights Gogol's sudden revelation to reconcile with his culture again.
  • Meaningful Name: Gogol was not named according to Bengali tradition, but after his father's favorite author, whose writing saved his father's life. Significant because it symbolizes Gogol's feeling of distance from both cultures, and from his father. Ashima, meaning 'she who is without borders', is also rife with symbolism: she bridges the cultural gap for her family, constructs a Bengali community in Boston, and in the end chooses to spend her time between Calcutta and America, not fixed in any one place.
  • One Degree of Separation: Every single South Indian in the book is Bengali (from the state of West Bengal or Bangladesh). Every single one. It's pretty unlikely given that there are about twenty-two Indian Languages recognized by the Indian government; while it may be true that Bengalis have immigrated more than any other Indian subgroup, you are much more likely to meet an Indian who speaks Tamil, Marathi, Gujarati, or any language but Bengali.
  • One Steve Limit: Gogol feels like this applies to him, in contrast to every other person he meets, because his name isn't either American or Indian. Averted, as he is named after Nikolai Gogol, a Russian writer who is fairly prominent in the novel.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Gogol, who becomes 'Nick' at university. In fact, the book revolves around the idea that Bengalis are known by a "pet name" to their family and a "good name" to the outside world; Gogol was intended to be his pet name, but later became both due to complications.
    • Zig-Zagged by Sonia. Her real name is Sonali, but at the same time, she does not have a separate pet name common in Bengali households; thus, Sonia becomes both her good name and pet name.
    • Moushimi goes by "Mouse" to Dmitri.
  • Rite of Passage: The annaprasan both Sonia and Gogol have as infants. While Gogol is wavering and unsure during his, Sonia is confident and even happy. This foreshadows their roles as adults.
  • She Is All Grown Up: Moushimi, whom Gogol used to play with (or not) when they were both small.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Gogol has one after Ashoke dies, mimicking what Ashoke himself did when his father died.
  • Uncle Pennybags: Maxine's parents, Lydia and Gerald. They host extravagant parties and treat Gogol like family.
  • Wham Chapter: When it finally seems as though Gogol has settled into a routine in his surroundings and relationship, Ashoke dies.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Moushimi.
    • Even Gogol, who has an affair with a married woman while studying for his architectural license in Manhattan. He feels guilty about it and breaks it off before meeting Moushimi, but the experience allows him to somewhat understand Moushimi's discontent.