Throughout his story, history, purpose, and community behind

both Song of Solomon and Roots authors Toni Morrison and Alex
Haley create familial lineage motifs regarding the value of names, giving them
power to create stories, make and reveal history, and to emphasize community.
Morrison’s attitude towards names in Song
of Solomon reveals how influential the meaning of a true name can be. In Roots, Haley’s attitude toward naming
the newborn reveals how the name will be distinguished and preserved. Throughout
Song of Solomon, Morrison illustrates the value and importance of names with the
use of the main character: Milkman. She describes how Milkman learning his real
familial name provides him with knowledge and power. In comparison, Haley
emphasizes the significance of names in Chapter 1 of Roots by describing the importance of the naming ceremony of the
infant and the meaning behind the conclusive name.

The familial lineage motifs in
these two stories directly relate to the power, history, and sense of community
that results from passing down important names. However, Toni Morrison shows
less value in endowing family names than Alex Haley does. Morrison applies more
of an emphasis on the knowledge of familial names as opposed to the literal
procurement of the surname. For instance, Macon Dead Sr., Milkman’s father,
doesn’t find meaning behind deciding his children’s name, selecting them
randomly from the bible. While there is little to no meaning behind those
chosen, Milkman unknowingly sets out to find his family name, discovering his
story, history, purpose, and community behind it. Meanwhile, Haley begins his
story with initial value behind the carefully cherry-picked name. Nonetheless,
Haley does illustrate the history and sense of community behind the name of the
infant, Kunta. This name was chosen for the baby in remembrance of the child’s
late grandfather who died as the village’s hero and holy man, contributing to
the family’s history and the town’s community.

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In both pieces, Morrison’s and
Haley’s attitude describes and underscore the enormous power behind names. The
first few pages of Song of Solomon makes
it evident that the names themselves have meaning, describing the history
behind the renaming of “Mains Street.” The citizens of the surrounding town
began to call this road “Doctor Street” to celebrate Dr. Foster, the first
wealthy influential black man to work at the hospital. Ignoring and mocking the
governmental official’s objections to changing the name of the street at all,
the townspeople honor their hero and celebrate their culture by renaming it “Not
Doctor Street.” In Roots Haley also
emphasizes the importance of names by describing the naming ceremony given to
the newborn. He portrays the ancient custom of the “week of thinking” in which
the father, Omoro seriously occupied himself to select the name of his
firstborn son. The author emphasizes the importance of the ritual by describing
the selection of the name to be “rich with history and promise.”

The two main characters, Milkman
and Kunta both signify value when concerning the importance of their names. In
the beginning of Song of Solomon,
Milkman’s legal last name is Dead, which was given to his family by accident,
starting the story off with little importance regarding names. When Milkman
grows up he feels trapped by his family name, fearing that he is condemned to
live the same life as his father. He even jokes around with his friend and
soon-turned enemy Guitar that he feels like his last name; “dead.” On his trip
to find gold, Milkman realizes the importance of his true familial name,
finding this reward better than the golden treasure he originally set out to
find. In Roots, the infants name
finally given 8 days after birth resembles the power and value of being named
after an ancestor. After the week of thinking of the perfect name and inviting
each family to the ceremony, everyone prays for the infant to bring honor to
the name he is about to receive. When the name is revealed, Haley gives the
audience a backstory of the relative that the son is named after. Not only is
the chosen name the child’s grandfather, but it also resembles the history and
value of the given name. The grandfather, Kairaba Kunta Kinte saved their tribe
from famine, married a righteous woman from the tribe, served honorably, and
died as the holy man. Everyone admired and respected Kairaba Kunta Kinte, showing
that the child will be honored as well.

            There is a strong and well-defined
emphasis on the value and significance of names throughout both stories.
Morrison and Haley both highlight the importance of the familial lineage of
names by emphasizing the significance of Milkman’s true name, Solomon, and the
name given to the newborn son, Kunta. When Milkman discovers his real name, he
gains knowledge and power and also finds the sense of community. Similarly,
when the family gives their son the middle name of the child’s grandfather, Kunta
gains power and honor that will be destined to achieve. The value of a name
gives these two main characters new power beyond what they inherit from
history, also carrying its culture of the past to the present and bringing it all
the way to future.