Names With Incongruous Associations

Enola, Cluny, Gilead and Samaritans – what connects these names?

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The other night my wife and I watched Enola Holmes 2. It was great – a fun and adventurous film with great characters and a good plot, that didn’t take itself too seriously. But what I still can’t get over is the decision to call the main character Enola.

Prior to the Enola Holmes films coming out, my sole association with the name ‘Enola’ was with the Enola Gay bomber that dropped the atomic bomb upon Hiroshima. What do we want our viewers to think of when they watch this plucky young Victorian heroine?(1) Atomic warfare, that’s what. Of course, I know that Enola is a perfectly valid woman’s name of the period – indeed, the Enola Gay itself was named after the pilot’s mother – but it is, let us say, relatively uncommon, both in the current day and in history. This is not just my lack of historical knowledge: a Google search for ‘famous enolas’ turns up, beside the Enola Gay and Enola Holmes, only the mysterious ‘enola bean’ occurs on the first page of results.

Another name I can’t quite get over, whenever I come across it, is that of the Monastery of Cluny. I mean, why would you name a monastery abbey after an infamous warlord, particularly one who’s best known for attempting and narrowly failing to capture a famous abbey? You might as well call it the Monastery of Attila!

In this case, of course, the fault is entirely mine, by a millennium or so. The Monastery of Cluny had existed for over 1000 years before the rat warlord Cluny the Scourge leaped from the mind of Brian Jacques on to the pages of Redwall. Unfortunately, while the Cluniacs of France have a long and distinguished history, they are perhaps less well known today than many other monastic orders meaning that for me, as for many others who grew up reading the Redwall books, the name Cluny has one primary association, and one only.

Similarly, I’ve heard it said that teachers today teaching about the Good Samaritan have to explain the story to their confused children who not only do not know (understandably) what a Samaritan was, think that a Samaritan is, by definition, someone who helps others. I mean, they have a phone number you can call and everything. And I wonder how many people today have a primary association of Gilead as a place from which healing comes, or as a hellish and misogynistic dystopia? In this case, of course, Atwood was well aware of the significance of the name when choosing to represent a place that was the complete opposite.

In case anyone is trying to take this post too seriously, none of this is intended to suggest that there is a problem in reusing names, or when a newer use gains greater fame than that of the original – simply that it can create amusing or incongruous connotations!

(1) I’m aware that the film is based upon a series of novels, so I should technically be saying ‘our readers’ rather than ‘our viewers’.