Role of Names in A Personal Matter

Role of Names in A Personal Matter

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 The Role of Names in A Personal Matter  

Names are an important part of defining one's identity.  After all, when someone asks you who you are you tell him your name. Reading A Personal Matter I was struck by the role of names in the story.  The main character is known as Bird and this nickname gives Bird an identity that he struggles to overcome throughout his story.  He sees himself as being just like a bird.  "It wasn't only that his hunched shoulders were like folded wings, his features in general were birdlike.  His tan, sleek nose thrust out of his face like a beak and hooked sharply toward the ground....Then the image he was observing in the window glass was a composite of his entire life"(3).  His only problem is that he can not fly away from his problems, despite the desire he harbors in regards to "flying off" to Africa.  He appears more to flap his wings helplessly much of the time, lacking direction in his life and in the decisions that he must make.

     At the end of the story, though, Bird finds some direction in his life, even if it is not what he originally planned on.  This change in his identity is noticeably marked by his father-in law's statement "You've changed.  I childish nickname like Bird doesn't suit you"(165).  Bird is no longer like a bird, he is instead a person with his own directions, his own "flight pattern" set out.  He has hope and forbearance in his life.

     The name of Bird's son is also a significant part of the story.  For most of the story his son is without a name, as if naming him would give the child a true place in Bird's life, which is what Bird wanted to avoid.  "Provide the monster with a name and from that instant it would seem more human, probably it would begin asserting itself in a human way.  [A]fter Bird had given it a name would mean a difference to Bird in the nature of the creature's very existence" (146).  When he does name the child, it is with the name of a childhood friend who Bird ultimately abandoned.

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  What then does this relay about Bird's attitude and intentions toward his own son?  Will he leave his son just as he left his friend?

     Bird, however, does not abandon his son, despite his intention to do so.  Perhaps by naming his son and making his son a part of his life, Bird comes to realize not only the identity of his son but also his own identity.  For it is only when Bird accepts his son's identity and role in his life that Bird is able to change his identity.
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