Friday, September 5, 2014

What IS in a name? Or better yet, where is it?

Shakespeare's Juliet once asked "what's in a name?" and I can say that for the majority of medieval (and Renaissance) poets, the answer would be: everything. Names often encapsulate a character's personality or defining quality, or possibly even his/her function in the story.

So what does this have to do with Erec and Enide, you ask? Quite a lot, I imagine. After all, how many times have you ever heard the name "Enide" in literature? I don't know about you, but I can't imagine that Chrétien just picked them out of a hat, so it occurred to me to find out what they mean.

According to several hopefully-reputable sites *cough* Erec's name comes from (you guessed it) a Scandinavian origin, and means "ever ruler." More interestingly, though, Enide's name comes from the Welsh, and means either "soul" or "life."

I don't know about you guys, but I find Enide a much more interesting and compelling character than Erec, and after we all pointed out the oddity of Enide's name not showing up until nearly the end of the story, I've been pondering it nonstop ever since. Why withhold her name? In a sense, there's no point in it--medieval manuscripts would have included the title of the work at the top, the same as we would do, so any reader with a smattering of brains could figure out which woman is Enide, at least by process of elimination.

One of the possibilities I thought of had to do with an independent study I did last semester. I studied a gigantic piece of Renaissance allegorical poetry known as the Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser. Throughout the chunks of it I read, Spenser often did this interesting thing where he would only give the name of the character once he'd finished the "portrait" of the character, so often you wouldn't know a character's name until the end of their scene in the book, if not later. In the same way, I think it's possible Chrétien wanted to hold out on Enide's name until her portrait was done--meaning, once she'd matured and changed, and the reader had a chance to get a real feel for her character. Maybe, too, he didn't feel that she fully embodied her name until that point, whereas Erec always displays the pomposity/imperiousness that fully suits the meaning of his name.

So, in essence, my question is (drumroll please): why does Chrétien/the narrator choose to reveal Enide's name when he does? I know this question seems a little frivolous and perhaps slightly unimportant, but I think it's these small details that can really reveal a lot. Plus I'm just curious, so speculate (intelligently) away.


  1. Lacey, you picked the absolutely best question for this blog post; Ever since our class discussion on Thursday, I’ve been thinking about that small moment where Enide chooses to tell Erec the gossip she’s overheard. This story is composed of little calculated moments that impact the entire outcome. Enide’s name and the decision she makes are connected (at least in my mind), but before diving into that I’ll take a shot at your question.

    Enide’s “right name” is not revealed until page twenty eight in our translation. Up until that moment, Erec has been reinforcing what the rustic proverb dictated, “he is not wise who does not make liberal use of his knowledge” (Chretien 2). We explored in class how Erec starts out as an immature knight and grows throughout the story, so much so that he is given a robe representing transcendent knowledge at his coronation. But what about Enide? She is the backbone of this story, yet for almost thirty pages we don’t even know her name.

    Naming something serves many purposes; it provides a clear identity for Erec about Enide, the audience a name to collect her story around, and Enide herself can now begin to conceptualize her own identity. Chretien writes “as yet no one knew her name,” leaving the people gaining knowledge of Enide’s name ambiguous. The Enide that existed before this point was passive and without form. Now with a name, she herself starts to develop a voice.

    Naming Enide not only symbolizes her growing role in Erec’s life, but it allows readers to conceptualize and solidify her identity. The satirical tone and structure of the first thirty pages sets up what feels like a story about young, attractive Erec that goes on an adventure and ends the story a heroic man. And that does happen. But only because Enide grows alongside him.

    The meaning of Enide’s name does not shock me; she gives Erec an honorable life and arguably her own identity and life begin at that moment in the story. Cheesy, yes-but true! Nothing, not her noble background or life before Enide has defined her as a person. On page twenty eight, her life is given a name. My hypothesis for your question would be that Chretien waits to name Enide to show that she is growing as a character herself. Her name being known is a precursor for her voice being heard. These small instances with Enide are what shift the story from each different part and provide Erec and herself opportunities to define themselves.

  2. This question and the issues surrounding names, and specifically Enid’s name, is really interesting to me as well. When I first read the story and when we talked about it in class, I thought that Chretien did not reveal Enid’s name until later in the story perhaps because he wanted to show that her name was unimportant because she is a woman. While, I think this is true, I also think there is more to it than misogyny alone. Finding out the origins of both names really help to analyze the characters and find their place within the lines of the plot.

    One of the reasons I think Chretien/ the narrator chooses to reveal her name when he does is partially because of where the story is plot-wise. I don’t think it’s an accident that Enid’s name is revealed for the first time at their wedding. The only reason her name is revealed is because of legality reasons; Enid cannot be married unless she is married using her proper name. So, it’s interesting to me that her name was only revealed because it had to be, not because anyone cared otherwise. For Chretin’s purposes he may have revealed her name when she marries Erec as a kind of foreshadowing, especially since Enid means soul, which is something Erec appears to be lacking since he is so concerned with appearances. It’s also significant that Erec finds out the name of his wife along with a group of other people, as well as with the readers. Enid’s name reveal is not an intimate moment between husband and wife, but rather a public announcement. The narrator may have revealed Enid’s name within a group of people as a contrast- when I think of soul, I think of a single individual. So, the reason to reveal Enid’s name at this point in the story could be similar to Spencer’s, perhaps previous to this point, Enid had not deserved her name. Enid’s name shows her personality. For example, throughout the text, Enid blames herself for the faults of Erec. Because Enid blames herself often, it shows that she is self aware and empathetic, and that she also does not see fault in Erec. This reminds me of soul because Enid does not see fault in Erec and would rather blame herself and feel sorrow than to put blame on someone she loves. This shows Enid’s compassion and her soulfulness.

  3. Courtney, I think we're both on the same page about the solidification of Enide's identity through her name. Enide is an incredible counterpoint to Erec, especially because she's almost always the better person, and judging from Chrétien's very courtly preference for the ladies, I can't imagine that he would leave out her name for that long without it having something to do with her growth and characterization. I also really liked what you said about Enide finally having a voice: I feel like before that moment, she talks and behaves like a shy girl, whereas by the end of the story, she has this regal bearing and confidence that reminds me of how Guinevere conducts herself throughout Chrétien's other Arthurian tales. She's my fave, can you tell? :)

    Laura, I'm glad that you brought up the point that it's at their coronation that Enide's name is first mentioned, as well as that of her parents. It's also interesting how you noted the presence of a group of people versus the supposed intimacy that that reveal would, we would think, occasion. It almost makes me want to take a Marxist look at the story for a minute, because it's not just Enide's name that's revealed, but her parents'. Names in the Middle Ages, outside of literature, were used to denote those who were noble, so probably the parents' names show that they are of a noble bloodline and worthy of having a daughter on a throne. So maybe Chrétien, in addition to all the reasons we've all come up with, wanted to ensure that we understood that she's noble, because I can't imagine the country having a commoner as queen.

    Great job ladies--and thanks for an interesting discussion!

  4. The points that have been raised thus far have convinced me that Enide is the soul of the story. I agree with you Laura when you think of a soul as an individual, private entity. But when Lacey defined Enide's name as "soul," it's clear that neither Erec or the story would have a soul without Enide.

    In class we discussed how Chretien's interpretation of proper knighthood relied on balance. Erec begins the story imbalanced, with Chretien providing an on-the-surface,
    shallow description of him. When Enide enters the story (still unnamed at this point), Erec has developed very little. As a group we’ve definitely established that the wedding is a point of growth for the couple; the couple’s public identity is confirmed with the naming of Enide.

    The next important moment in the couple’s life is also brought on by public appearances and identity. Enide overhears others opinions of her and her husband and shares them with Erec. These outside opinions drive him into rash action, and even though Enide’s naming indicates development in Erec’s life, he still mistreats her as they adventure together. His concern with proving himself puts Enide in danger and not being able to trust her continues to hinder his ability to become a fully formed knight.

    Connecting both Lacey’s original post and Laura’s post, Chretien seems to use the public audience in the actual story and the readers themselves to explore Erec and Enide as characters. Chretien is possibly trying to comment on the difficulty of achieving proper knighthood by showing just how long of a journey Erec must complete before he deserves the robe at his coronation. And with Enide, it seems that her less upfront but still strong development is equally as integral to the story as Erec’s self journey, which is a rather progressive way of thinking before any part of the feminist movement in history has started.

  5. I definitely agree that Enid is the story’s soul as well as Erec’s soul. I mean, for instance, while on their journey, Enid continuously warns Erec when he is in potential danger, although she knows he doesn’t want her help. It’s almost like she has this unrelenting urge to warn him, which leads me to think/ reminds me of a soul- this thing apart from the body that is everlasting, as well as capable of moral judgement . If Enid is the soul of the story and Erec’s soul, she is unable to not warn Erec, especially when she is convinced he is in danger. This next point might be a little out there but as the soul, it makes sense that Enid cannot not tell Erec when she hears his friends bad-mouthing him. And yes- she could have hinted towards it without hurting Erec’s ego, but since the soul is this natural, moral conscience, and eternal force, it might make sense that Enid had to blurt out the first thing without taking a moment to reflect on the situation and figuring out a better way to express her feelings.

    In addition I like what you said Courtney, “ His concern with proving himself puts Enide in danger and not being able to trust her continues to hinder his ability to become a fully formed knight”. It’s like Erec is unable to become a true knight because he does not trust his own soul. Now, I am trying to piece together everything we have discussed and try to weave in clothing and appearances, specifically the place in the story where Enid is wearing rags instead of a gown. This leads me to think although her appearance is not fancy, it doesn’t matter because her inner self (soul) shines through. We also get Enid’s soul through her thought process while accompanying Erec on his journey, where true emotions are revealed (also typical of a soul).

  6. Hello Lacey, Laura, and Courtney. I really enjoyed reading this exchange, both because of the level of reading and analysis that evolved as you discussed the story, and because you work through some of the more interesting levels of the story. Lacey, where exactly did you track down the meaning of Enide's name? I found it on Wikipedia, but "cough cough, etc," it would be useful to confirm the old Welsh derivation of it. Because if that is the case, then you all have developed a very strong allegorical reading, which is easily supported with evidence from the story itself. Erec, the strong warrior, lacks a soul. The whole purpose of the story is to show us how he found it--by accepting and being kind to his wife _and_ being a good warrior at the same time. Once that happens, we see how he has evolved--by rescuing another warrior who succumbed to the entrapment that could have been his, _and_ the coronation at the end, in which he's rewarded with symbols of wisdom and accomplishment.

    I'd have liked to see you carry through your discussion to that conclusion. It's like you all get 90% of the way there and then sort of stop.

    Laura, I like the discussion of gender and misogyny you bring in. It's fairly clear that _Chretien_ isn't misogynistic--not if the whole point of the story is that Erec only becomes a decent human being by learning to listen to his wife. But certainly chivalric society was patriarchal--a fact that Chretien may well have been criticizing, given his emphasis on the importance of love of women as the path to wisdom.

    I'm struck, if it's true about what their names mean, at how much this story resembles that of Cupid and Psyche, which also involves the combination of wisdom and love as the means of acquiring a soul.

    Well done everyone!