What significance does a name have in Empire?

Well for starters it is a way to identify ourselves and others, names are also remembered throughout history. Your name is a representation of self whether you change it, identify with a nickname, or embrace the name given to you. Changing the name given to you is like a resistance to Empire.

During the Inca Empire, the name Tupac Amaru was and still is a recognizable name. The name itself has great meaning to it already- give to an Inca and it is that much more powerful. Tupac Amaru was the last Inca in the Empire after the rest died off or executed during the Spanish conquest.

Tupac Amaru
The execution of Tupac Amaru by the Spanish conquistadors. Poster created by the Incans.

He started a colonial uprising in Cuzco against the Spanish until his execution in 1572. As an Inca and the one who started the rebellion, Tupac Amaru was used to set an example of someone who resisted the colonization. This execution was done as a public spectacle (of course) to bring fear to the civilians. A poster from the execution was passed around depicting the fear in the Incas eyes while Tupac Amaru was executed in 1572 in the city where it all started, Cuzco. Later, came a man named Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui who was a mestizo having Spanish and Inca bloodlines. Being a descendant of an Inca gave him the standing of a kuraka, a wealthy one at that too. He owned a cocoa plantation and after witnessing the exploitations of the Andean workers he started a rebellion against the Spaniards. He chose to call himself Tupac Amaru II as a way to bring pathos to the Andeans. As I mentioned in the beginning, the name itself already had a great significance with Tupac meaning Royal and Amaru referencing the serpent deity that would come seek revenge upon the Spanish wrongdoings.

While they were able to pick and choose their name, Oroonoko was not so lucky. Oroonoko by Aphra Behn is a story about an African Prince whose love interest gets him sent away to become a slave. When he gets to the English captors he is given the name Caesar. When someone higher in power (Master vs Slave) is forcefully applying a name on someone takes away their identity. The book states the reason,

“…they give them some name of their own, their native ones being likely very barbarous and hard to pronounce”(Behn 43),

giving someone a new sophistiUnknown.jpegcated name that can be used by westerners is more civilized and easier to pronounce.  This is a recognition of power because the name chosen comes from the powerful Roman rulers; Augustus and Julius Caesar. Augustus Caesar, otherwise known as Octavian, was known for his administrative reforms like the Pax Romana. For Oroonoko to be renamed Caesar he was received more like a governor than a slave and as stated in the book he was like a royal slave. His name is the only thing that distinguished him as a slave.

Furthermore, Shakespeare carefully chose the character’s name Caliban in The Tempest to build the character and add structure to the relating themes throughout the play. Caliban is the native on the “uninhabited” island, and with other character’s dialogue in the book, there’s a uniform description about Caliban as a savage, uncivilized being. His name can be interpreted as the Caribbean and in Shakespearean times the Caribbean was seen as the “island of the devils” because of the Spanish root caribe which translated was the cannibal. It makes sense for Shakespeare to give the name  Caliban to the savage, fish-like, ‘hag-seed’ slave character in order to extend on the meaning of the root.

Giving someone a name can come from a negative connotation or a positive one. Being bullied is a negative way of identifying a person and giving a nickname is a fun and friendly way. As my parents told me the story of how they came to an agreement to my name I was shocked to hear that my father was the one who chose it. Of course, I asked why he chose to give me the name Esmeralda, and he said, “You are a precious gem that’s why.” With that said, my name comes from the rare green gem called Emerald. As of recently, I found out that the beginning of my last name translates as a diamond in Russian.


Walker, Chuck, Who is Tupac Amaru, Blog post (February 10, 2014 )

Herman, Judith, Mental Floss: “12 English words derived from an Extinct Caribbean Language” (March 5, 2015)

Watkins, Thayer, “Timeline of the Life of Octavian Caesar Augustus”, San Jose State University.

Robins, Nicholas, Genocide and Millennialism in Upper Peru: The Great Rebellion of 1780 and 1782; “1780-1782 Rebellion in Peru and Upper Peru”, Greenwood Publishing Group, (2002)

Behn, Aphra, Oroonoko, Penguin Classics,(2008)

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