"No," said Coraline quietly, "I asked you not to call me Caroline. It's Coraline." (1.7)
The fact that everyone gets Coraline's name wrong works as a powerful motif, or repeating theme, throughout the novel. Coraline's tone of voice here emphasizes just how fed-up she is with it. A name can really mean a lot to a person – just think about how many people change their names (especially those A-list celebs!).
"No," said Coraline. "I don't want to do those things. I want to explore." (1.23)
If you asked Coraline what she was, she might answer that she's an explorer. We'd agree. Exploring is central to her identity – if we took that away from her, she wouldn't be the same person.
A woman stood in the kitchen with her back to Coraline. She looked a little like Coraline's mother. Only... (3.44)
We love the way Gaiman trails off here with "Only...," emphasizing how subtly different the other mother is. Can someone's identity be qualified with an "only"? What do you think?
"No" said the cat. "Now, <em>you</em> people have names. That's because you don't know who you are. We know who we are, so we don't need names." (4.25)
Do you agree with the cat? Are names important to a person's identity? If someone started calling you Billy or Sally tomorrow, would you still feel like yourself?
She put her hands in her pockets, and thought about it. Her hand touched the stone that the real Miss Spink and Miss Forcible had given her the day before [...] (4.11)
The stone seems to give Coraline a bit more confidence. Does this change in attitude affect her identity, or is identity a fixed thing that can't be changed because of a silly good luck charm?
There was nothing reflected in it but a young girl in her dressing gown and slippers, who looked like she had recently been crying but whose eyes were real eyes, not black buttons, and who was holding tightly to a burned-out candle in a candlestick. (5.96)
The imagery here is really powerful; Coraline is looking in the mirror, but it's almost as if she's looking at someone else. Her "real eyes" make us certain that it's her, though.
<em>I will be brave,</em> thought Coraline. <em>No I</em> am <em>brave.</em> (5.98)
By the end of the story, being brave is a huge part of Coraline's identity. This seems to be the moment when she realizes this, too.
Sometimes Coraline would forget who she was while she was daydreaming that she was exploring the Arctic, or the Amazon rain forest, or Darkest Africa, and it was not until someone tapped her on the shoulder or said her name that Coraline would come back from a million miles away with a start, and all in a fraction of a second have to remember who she was, and what her name was, and that she was even there at all. (6.3)
Neil Gaiman describes the power of imagination perfectly here. When Coraline is daydreaming, her dreams are so vivid that she can be transported completely out of herself; she even forgets her own name (join the club!).
(Was there an other Coraline? No, she realized, there wasn't. There was just her.) (6.5)
The short sentences help to emphasize the weight of Coraline's realization here. For better or worse, she's the only Coraline. Identity is unique – no two people can be the same (including Coraline's real mother and her other mother).
"Names, names, names," said another voice, all faraway and lost. "The names are the first things to go, after the breath has gone, and the beating of the heart. We keep our memories longer than our names." (7.12)
Here, the ghost children discuss how lost they feel: they've been trapped so long that they've practically forgotten who they are.
"A husk you'll be, a wisp you'll be, and a thing no more than a dream on waking, or a memory of something forgotten." (7.41)
This is one awesome sentence: it's almost lyrical (sort of like a song). This weird speaking style helps us learn a bit more about the ghost children. The words they say give us some insight into how they understand identity: others may forget you, so you must remember yourself.