This book is chock full of some very strange names.
First, there's our Sal's full name, Salamanca Tree Hiddle, which is downright normal compared to the name her mother wanted to give her – Salamanca Sugar Maple Tree Hiddle. Then there's her mother's name, Chanhassen "Sugar" Pickford Hiddle. That's quite the mouthful. And how could we forget Mrs. Cadaver? And we have to add in all those nicknames, like chickabiddy and gooseberry.
All these quirky names certainly get our attention, and that's a surefire sign that names and naming are important in the story. Of course, names tell us a lot about the people who have them (for more on this, see "Tools of Characterization"), but they serve a more symbolic purpose as well.
Names are a symbol of one's roots, one's family. The fact that Sal is a Hiddle means that she will grow up to be quirky and loveable, if she isn't already. The fact that Chanhassen wishes she were more like a Hiddle tells us she's a bit uncomfortable with her own roots.
Plus, what we name things has a kind of power. Ben chooses to name the chicken he gives Sal "Blackberry" because he knows what that name means to her. It's a gesture of how much he understands her and feels for her.
Sometimes, though, the names we give things aren't so good. For example, Sal's mom doesn't like the term Native American. She prefers to say American Indian.
My great grand-mother was a Seneca Indian, and I'm proud of it. She wasn't a Seneca native American. Indian sounds much more brave and elegant." In school, our teacher told us we had to say Native American, but I agreed with my mother. Indian sounded much better. My mother and I liked this Indian-ness in our background. She said it made us appreciate the gifts of nature; it made us closer to the land. (10.21)
It seems like Chanhassen is basing her opinion on the sheer sound of the words alone, and not what they mean. That's because she understands that a word or a name itself can have enormous power over how we see the thing to which it's referring. Think about it – it's easy to think of Mrs. Cadaver as evil because, for Pete's sake, look at her name! It's much harder for Sal to see beyond the name though, and realize that Mrs. Cadaver is actually quite wonderful.