Dostoevsky's "Poetics of Names"


The characters in Dostoevsky's works often have names with hidden meanings. Take "Crime and Punishment" as an example (from "Crime and Punishment Academic Edition"):

  1. Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov (РодионРомановичРаскольников): Раскол means split, which accurately captures the characteristics of the protagonist's personality and worldview in the novel: a combination of kindness and cruelty, gentleness and impatience, always taking things to the extreme, struggling between faith and doubt, holding noble ideals of salvation but believing that any means can be used to achieve the goal.
  2. Sofia Semenovna Marmeladova (Софья Семеновна Мармеладова): Мармелад means marmalade, a type of sweet jam or candy. This name creates a strong contrast with the tragic family, reflecting the author's helplessness and profound sympathy.
  3. Arkady Ivanovich Svidrigailov (Аркадий ИвановичСвидригайлов): At that time, the most popular column in the Russian magazine "Spark" was "Letters from the Audience," which reported various scandals but had to use pseudonyms due to censorship. Svidrigailov was the code name for a villainous nobleman in a city in Ukraine. This peculiar surname has some southwestern Russian dialect flavor: свидый, sour; хайло, throat. When Dostoevsky was writing "Crime and Punishment," his brother had visited this city and discovered that this code name was well-known among the locals, perhaps sharing this information with Dostoevsky.
  4. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin (ПетрПетровичЛужин): лужа means puddle. Luzhin's soul is like a petty and dirty puddle. Pyotr, derived from the Greek word for "stone," represents a heart that is cold and cruel. Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin, the stone within the stone, is a collective embodiment of the new generation of Russian capitalists in the eyes of the writer.
  5. Lizaveta Ivanovna (Лизавета Ивановна): A type of "holy fool" in Russian religious tradition.
  6. Dmitry Prokofievich Razumikhin (Дмитрий Прокофьевич Разумихин): Разумиха means rational (woman).
  7. Andrei Semenovich Lebezyatnikov (Андрей Семенович Лебезятников): Лебезить means to flatter or please.
  8. Mikolka (Миколка): A nickname for Nikolai (Николай) in folk culture, especially in rural areas. In "Crime and Punishment," there are two characters with the same name: one is a split painter downstairs at the crime scene who takes on a murder committed by someone else just to bear the suffering and seek redemption; the other is a coachman in Raskolnikov's nightmare before the crime, who, driven by his animalistic desires, beats his own horse to death. These two characters are actually embodiments of Raskolnikov's dual personality and also symbolize the duality of the Russian people—Mikolka, the angelic painter, and Mikolka, the devilish coachman.
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