Study Guide

Snow Crash Names

By Neal Stephenson


You may have noticed by now—unless you've got your head stuck in the sand—that there are a lot of funny names. Hiro Protagonist…you've said it out loud to yourself, right? It sounds just like hero protagonist, which is a bit redundant. Protagonists don't have to be heroic, but since they're always the main characters, it kind of helps if they are. And in a book that prominently features a handful of characters, Hiro's name makes it clear that he's the our guy when all is said and done.

So while, according to Y.T., it is a "'Stupid name'" (2.60), Hiro's right when he says, "'But you'll never forget it'" (2.61). It's a memorable name for a memorable dude.

Y.T. goes by an acronym meaning Yours Truly so we never learn what her actual name is. We never learn the name of the Mafia dude with the glass eye, either, though Hiro has mentally nicknamed him Fisheye, so that's what we, the readers, get. Other names in the book are also obviously nicknames: We can't imagine that Roadkill popped out of the womb and inspired that particular moniker, for example (though we admit, babies are often not that great-looking when they first show up).

And while Raven is a pretty good name for a bad guy, even that's a nickname. When he swoops in and picks up Y.T. on the Raft, he introduces himself as "'Dmitri Ravinoff […] Better known as Raven'" (47.34). As you wish, sir.

So names are kind of slippery and interesting in Snow Crash. This makes sense for a few reasons: First, identities within the book are kind of slippery and interesting (Hiro's a hacker who wears many hats; Y.T. is mysteriously good at street survival despite coming from such a sheltered upbringing). Second, names and naming are how language works. For instance, when you say I'm hungry, you're putting a name to how you feel. And since language is such an important theme in this book, it makes sense to see it played with throughout the book; naming practices are one way of doing this.

The way characters use language to name and nickname stuff (and people) illustrates how language is a tool. And it's not a neutral tool. either—it's a tool that shows what you value and what your priorities are.

For example, when Y.T. makes a delivery to the local Mafia headquarters under Uncle Enzo's direction, she first sees "a jamboree of Young Mafia […] The boys are wearing tedious black suits. The girls are encrusted with pointless femininity" (21.10). These respectable youths try to get all uppity with Y.T., and she starts thinking of them as YoMa for short. They don't deserve her respect, so why would she waste extra syllables on them? They all act like sheep, too, demonstrating that they've earned a diminutive, homogenizing nickname:

All the other YoMas mumble and nod supportively. (21.21)

Yep. Definitely sheeple.

Giving names is also a way of assigning value, of saying something deserves to be differentiated from other things. With that in mind…how many jeeks and refugees get names? Not a lot. More to the point, how many female characters can you name from the book? We're guessing you got Y.T. (not her real name, remember) and Juanita right away, and then?

Um…yeah. We never learn Y.T.'s mom's name, and other than her, there are just a handful of super-minor female characters whom have names (Y.T.'s mom's boss Marietta, and the two chicks who bring Y.T. to the Raft, Marla and Bonnie). Compared to the huge number of minor male characters who do get names, it kind of makes you wonder what the deal is. We're not saying Stephenson's naming practices are super-sexist (though that's one interpretation)…maybe he just chose to depict a world that is sexist and the naming practices reflect that.