I recently read The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.* One thing that stood out to me was the naming of characters. Now, I’m not going to go all crazy like people who obsess over names in Harry Potter, giving the etymology or mythology behind each name (but maybe for a couple…). All I’m going to do is point out a broad observation about the names in these novels, focussing especially on the first novel, of which a film has been made.
People from the Capitol have names such as: Coriolanus Snow, Cinna, Caesar, Octavia, Portia, Flavius, Seneca, Claudius. And we mustn’t forget that the male tribute from District 2, the district with the closest relationship to the Capitol, is named Cato; two other characters from District 2 not in the first book are Enobaria and Brutus.
People from the districts have names such as: Katniss, Primose, Rue, Thresh, Gale, and then a variety of names that are less identifiable, like Peeta or Haymitch.
What the Capitol names tend to have in common is a Roman origin. Coriolanus (the President in The Hunger Games) is the cognomen of Gaius Marcius, a fifth-century Roman general who fought at Corioli — and the subject of Shakespeare’s play Coriolanus. He was a patrician and, after helping lead the Romans to victory against the Volscians, he resisted the attempts of the plebs to reform the Republic. Misappropriation of public funds led to his exile, and he banded with his former Volscian enemies. He may or may not be real; Early Republican Rome is not so clear-cut as those who argue for either the veracity or falsehood of its stories may make you think.
Cinna (Katniss’ stylist) held four consecutive consulships, 87-84 BC, and pretended to be properly ‘democratic’ (?does that word apply to Rome ever?)/republican in the midst of Marius and Sulla. Caesar (the announcer of the Hunger Games) we all know; Octavia is the feminine of Octavius, the family name of the man who became Octavian and then Augustus, first ’emperor’ of Rome. Portia is the feminine of Porcius; readers of Shakespeare will recognise this name from Julius Caesar as the wife of Brutus (and the female protagonist of The Merchant of Venice) as well as being the daughter of Cato the Younger.
So it goes, right to Enobaria and Brutus. I am assuming Enobaria comes from the name Ahenobarbus. All of these Roman names are of famous, powerful, or patrician people. Some of them were even crooked politicians and warriors.
But people from the Districts. Well, we have Katniss, our heroine, aka Sagittaria, an edible aquatic plant. And her sister Primrose, a flower. Rue is an evergreen shrub. Thresh is a verb; threshing is when you separate the edible grain from the chaff (appropriate for someone from an agricultural District). A Gale is a strong wind. These names are all names of earth, of sustenance.
The Capitol is the seat of power, the empire, that faraway place for whom the Districts all work. Everything they do is ordered towards the well-being and happiness of those in the Capitol. They even kill each other for the entertainment of the Capitol.
*Yes, I do read books for my PhD. But who wants to read a blog post about Canonical Collections of the Early Middle Ages: A Bibliographical Guide to the Manuscripts?