February 14, 2012

Guest Post -- Once Upon a Time: The Power of Names, By Samantha Kymmell-Harvey


ABC's Once Upon a Time

In fairy tales, names are precarious things.  They are the key to one’s soul -- one’s true self. Hence why to possess someone’s true name is to hold power over them. This belief stems from folklore. An unbaptized and therefore unnamed child was more likely to be swapped for a changeling. Calling the names of the dead for too long could wake them from their graves. And if the banshee wails your name, you’re the next to die. The lesson? Guard your name. Especially if you’re in Storybrooke, Maine.

In ABC’s “Once Upon a Time,” our fairytale characters’ true names have been veiled from them in a sort of memory loss, rendering them helpless inhabitants of Regina’s real world town. But the key to their identities dangles cruelly in front of them in an homage to their former selves. Some examples: Snow White. She’s called Mary Margaret Blanchard, from the French “blanc” or white. And how about Archie Hopper? Well, he’s jumping Jiminy Cricket. But without their former memories, they continue to be manipulated by Regina, the mayor and Evil Queen. Regina -- queen -- get it? Interestingly enough, their situation does not make their true names any less potent. Let’s take Prince Charming’s case. When Snow robs his carriage, she sarcastically calls him “Charming.” It isn’t until she finally gives in to his pleas to call him James that their love really blooms. Same thing in Storybrooke. “John Doe” lies in a hospital bed, stripped of his name and powerless in a coma. Until Mary Margaret (Snow) reads their story to him and hearing his true name awakens him, thus reviving his love for her.

But there is a darker side of name possession. Regina is the only character whose name remains the same between both worlds. This shows she is the one in complete control of herself. However, wearing her true name so openly could also be risky. Despite the fact that Mr. Gold (our very own spin-straw-into-gold Rumpelstiltskin) does not remember who he is, there is clearly tension for control between these two. Mr. Gold has proven to be more influential in Storybrooke than Regina likes. Should she ever find herself indebted to him, her name could become the price.

Which, of course, is why Emma is so vulnerable. Having grown up in the real world, she has no idea her name can be used against her. And it most likely will be. Her mother, Snow, made a trade with Rumpelstilskin: knowledge of the curse for telling him her firstborn’s name -- Emma.  The time will come when Mr. Gold will demand his payment. In the fairy tale though, Rumpelstiltskin’s name is his own undoing. Perhaps it will be Mr. Gold’s as well. After all, names work both ways. In the meantime, I hope they have Netflix in Storybrooke, because they really need to rent Hayao Miyazaki‘s “Spirited Away.” Maybe Sen’s quest to remember her true name would jog their memories. Or at the very least show them what’s truly in a name.

Samantha Kymmell-Harvey’s work can be found in Fantastique Unfettered, Underneath the Juniper Tree, and The Urbanite. Check out her blog at samanthakymmell-harvey.blogspot.com

4 comments

  1. Great post! The clues in the names in one of the fun things about Once Upon a Time. I'm interested to know -- what do make of the fact that Regina's last name in Mills? I'm wondering if it hints that she might be the girl who made the famous deal with Rumpelstiltskin, but I haven't seen quite enough evidence in the show to prove it yet.

    Also, good point about Emma's name, and how it might be used against her!

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  2. I love "Once Upon A Time" and I love playing with the names of my characters, using them as clues or giving them special (for me) meanings.

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  3. I AM NICK.ENCHANTED GUY BY THE FAIRIES.MY OPINION ABOUT--ONCE UPON A TIME,THE POWER OF NAMES IS GORGEOUS.THIS FAIRY TALE MOVIE IS TRUE FOR ME.MY ORIGIN COUNTRY IS SCOTLAND,BUT NOW I LIVE IN OTHER COUNTRY.ALL FAIRY TALES ARE TRUE STORIES.A MAGIC IS POWERFUL.FOR EXAMPLE--LEGEND OF THOMAS THE RHYMER WHO WAS POPULAR SCOTTISH BARD AND LURE BY ELVEN-FAIRY QUEEN IS TRUE....

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  4. This show is amazing in itself, capturing how fairytales work in the real world. As soon as I heard about it, I was intrigued and knew that it would hold my interest in the fairytale world, which is part of the reason why I took this course. I never knew that names were so important until I remembered the Rumpelstiltskin story, where names are everything. It’s amusing to see that the television show is so closely following the fairytales and showing you how things would be in the real world, even if they are under Regina’s spell. I’m just waiting for the day when her name is used against her. I feel that since her name is the only one that is the same in both worlds, that she has something bad that’s going to come back and bite her for all the evil she is.

    Taylor B.

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