At the moment I had this thought, it seemed much more profound. Now I’m not sure what to make of it, but I still think it’s weird.
No one on the Pequod has more than one name!
What is that about?
It was Ahab that hit me first – I suddenly wondered what Ahab’s last name was. And then pondered for a minute whether Ahab might be his last name, but that seemed impossible. Ahab has to be his first name. Unless we just consider his first name to be “Captain.” Then there there are all the mates – Starbuck, Stubb, Flask. Those are much more like last names, and this seems confirmed by the fact that they’re sometimes called Mr. Starbuck, Mr. Stubb, etc. The harpooneers are more exotically one-named – Queequeg, Tashtego, Daggoo. The sense is that they come from cultures that don’t even give more than one name. And then there’s Ishmael, obviously, who is only called Ishmael. And there was my dear Bulkington.
Some of the characters onshore have first and last names. Or, at least, there’s definitely Peter Coffin, of the Spouter Inn, and Hosea Hussey of the Try Pots (though I think we only ever meet his wife). Otherwise, still kind of a dearth of extra names, what with Father Mapple, Elijah the prophet, and Captains Bildad and Peleg. Seth and I had a small disagreement over whether Bildad and Peleg are first or last names. He thought last, I think first. Pretty sure I’m right. 😉
So what’s up with that, Melville? Didn’t want to tax your imagination to come up with more names than you really needed? Ha ha.
Maybe the superfluity of first and last names would blur Melville’s intentions. Each name means something – maybe it would mean less, or too much, if it didn’t stand alone. “Call me Ishmael Jones” resounds very differently than “Call me Ishmael.” What other name could Ahab possibly have than Ahab?
Also, because I’m reading King Lear at the moment too, as well as Charles Olson’s argument about Lear‘s influence on Moby-Dick, it struck me that Shakespeare never gives last names. King Lear is just King Lear – and then just Lear. The Fool is the Fool – what name would he need? Disguises and false names Shakespeare may give, but never extra names.