Names in So Far From God by Ana Castillo, are very important. I mean, you know when three of the four sisters are named Faith (Fe), Hope (Esperanza), and Charity (Caridad)–and their mother is Sophia (Sofi)–that their names are symbolic. Next, add in the fact that the fourth is called Crazy (La Loca)–everyone has called her that for so long that not even her mother can remember her given name. You know the names are important.

But as you read the book, you see Hope imprisoned, Faith blindly believing what she is told, Charity taken advantage of and mutilated, and Charity’s Heart tied up and, later, killed. The story is peppered throughout with tidbits that show that the names are more literal than symbolic.

Caridad had always been charitable. She had faith and hope. Soon, she would have wisdom from which she had sprung.

faith hope and charity saintsThe mother’s name is Sofia, but she is referred to interchangeably as Sofia, Sofi, and Soft, which threw me off track at first. But Sofia is from the Greek Sophia, meaning (as the quote above says) wisdom. More importantly, though, is the story of the three Christian saints Faith, Hope and Charity (Charity is sometimes referred to as Love), and their mother Sophia. In reading the story from the site above, one can see many parallels to So Far From God.

First, the woman Sophia is widowed shortly after her daughters are born, and in our story Domingo leaves shortly after Sofi’s fourth daughter is born–although he is not dead, and we learn later that Sofi told him to leave because of his gambling, he disappears from their lives for close to twenty years. As they grew, the martyr girls “earnestly occupied themselves with spiritual reading, prayer, and household chores,” (quoted from the Full of Grace & Truth blog). In the book, Esperanza reads a whole lot of self-help books, looking for parallels to her family; Caridad apprentices with Doña Felicia in the curandera’s work, which includes much prayer and faith; and Fe at one point devotes herself to taking cooking lessons from La Loca.

Continuing to read the Saints’ legend, there are several details reminiscent of the attack on Caridad in So Far From God (though in the Saints’ tale it was Faith rather than Charity). But all three of the girl Saints escape multiple life-threatening events and/or torture unscathed before their eventual martyrdom by beheading. And in So Far From God, La Loca is resurrected on the first page; Caridad undergoes a miraculous recovery from her injuries (which could certainly be called torture), as well. The afflictions that Fe suffers as a result of all the chemicals she works with at Acme International, could certainly be considered torture as well–the removal of her skin cancers seems particularly reminiscent of flaying. And Esperanza is imprisoned in the Middle East while she is there as a journalist. It is hinted that the government recovers her body but dares not return it to her family. Yet her spirit returns to Tome, and Caridad and La Loca both see and speak with her, more even than when she was alive.

It was hard for Caridad to miss her older sister, having become closer to her after death than in life.

But in terms of names, Sophia has some other interesting and pertinent meanings as well. At times the word Sophia (as in Wisdom) has been used to refer to the Holy Spirit–an aspect of God–and even, at times, to a feminine aspect of God, or occasionally to refer to Christ.

There are other naming quirks too. Names like Rubén are occasionally spelled oddly as Rubεn with an epsilon (not to mention that this character at one point changes his name to Cuauhtémoc–after the last Aztec emperor).

And the men’s names are symbolic, as well, although mostly they are symbolic for not meaning much of anything! Reuben, as a name, simply means, “A boy child,” or “A son,”  (although according to Urban Dictionary, Ruben has more of a suave, ladies’ man meaning–even so, it’s used in a very “generic man” way). Domingo, basically just means, “Born on a Sunday”–another nondescript name for another generic, boring man.

Memo, too, is an appropriate man’s name for this novel. In Central America and Mexico–and presumably New Mexico–it is a diminutive or nickname for Guillermo, which is the Spanish language version of William. However, in Spain, Memo is a derogatory word used to refer to someone as an idiot–and a that’s a pretty clear indication of how we are meant to feel about Caridad’s cheating husband whose infidelities drove her to give herself indiscriminately to any man she met.

Charity can be seen as an altruistic form of love–love for others without expectation of its being returned. Obviously, this can be seen in Caridad’s sexual encounters after her annulled marriage to Memo, but also in her new vocation of curandera.

I think most people associate Francis of Assisi with animals, and he is considered the patron saint of animals and the environment, however, I think the Francisco in our story is named more for the saint’s giving up a life of luxury and living in poverty, and for the legends of the saint’s receiving “stigmata” or marks resembling the wounds of the crucified Christ–especially considering that our Francisco becomes a Penitent Brother, carrying the cross in Holy Week pilgrimages. (Although our Francisco also shows great empathy for God’s creatures, letting them crawl on him uninhibited while he keeps vigil over Caridad!)

I enjoy a book that makes one think, knowing the author had a reason for every decision she made in how she told the story, and So Far From God definitely fits that description. Does anyone have any other names I missed? Or have a good explanation for the oddities like Rubεn with an epsilon? If so, leave a note in the comments!

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