Bombur Yambarzal and the Art of Naming Characters

I’m almost done audiobook’ing Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown and I’ll write about that later. At the moment, I want to talk about his art of naming characters.

There’s Bombur Yambarzal, the waza of Shirmal. Boonyi Kaul Noman, the Anarkali of Pachigam, and her mother, Pamposh Kaul. There is Nazar-e-Buddoor, the seer of Pachigam. Maximillian Ophuls, the flying Jew.

Larger than life characters need larger than life names.

To quote RGV, as I usually do:

Why do villains have names like Bikhu Yadav, Bhai Thakur, Gaddam Narayana, etc instead of Santosh, Ramu, etc?
Ans: Larger than life characters demand larger than life names. If Vito Corleone’s name was John David, Godfather would not remain Godfather.

Another book that I recently audiobook’ed also had extraordinary names. Ignatius J. Reilly, Myrna Mynkoff, Claude Robichaux, Angelo Mancuso, and Burma Jones, the colorful cast of characters from A Confederacy of Dunces.

I think hearing the names in audiobooks makes you a lot more aware of the music of the names.

Some of Rushdie’s names have strange roots. Max Ophuls is the name of a German director who died in 1957. Bombur Yamberzal is the name of the first Kashmiri opera.


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