Study Guide

Looking for Alaska Names and Nicknames

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Names and Nicknames

Probably one of the first things we notice about names in Looking for Alaska is that we don't see given names all that much. Chip Martin goes by the Colonel; Miles Halter is immediately nicknamed Pudge on account of his thin physique; and we hear the names the Eagle and the Old Man so often that we almost forget these characters's given names. Nicknames, either given or self-imposed, usually imply an attempt to form a new identity, and because of this, Miles is able leave his old self behind and become Pudge at the Creek.

But names are still integrally tied to identity, to roots, and to family. The most obvious name meaning is that of Alaska, who got to choose her own name. (What's that tell us about her, by the way?)

"It's from an Aleut word, Alyeska. It means 'that which the sea breaks against,' and I love that. But at the time, I just saw Alaska up there. And it was big, just like I wanted to be. And it was damn far away from Vine Station, Alabama, just like I wanted to be." (100before.5)

More than that, Alaska the state is distant, vast, and almost unknowable… kind of like Alaska the character.

Less obvious but no less important is the name Miles Halter. When Miles first meets the Colonel, the Colonel connects his name to the Robert Frost poem, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" (read the whole poem here). Then he calls Miles "Miles To Go Halter" (128before.60). Say it to yourself, and then think about what it means in relation to Alaska.

Sometimes names identify the most important characteristic in a character. Think about what the nickname the Eagle implies about his character. What are eagles like? What are their defining characteristics? And how do they relate to the character of the Eagle in the novel? Dr. Hyde's nickname has a particular symbolic significance as well; for more on it, check out his write-up in the "Characters" section.

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