Saturday, October 15, 1994

Pulp Etymology

Etymologically, every name in Pulp Fiction is a key to the secret heart of the character. This occurred to me in a blinding flash, I checked out my hunch and discovered I was right. It's more accurate to say Quentin Tarantino left a blindingly obvious clue. (I'm surprised nobody else has noticed it.)

QT drops the clue in the dialogue between Bruce Willis' boxer character (BUTCH) and the improbably drop-dead-gorgeous cab driver (ESMERELDA) in Pulp Fiction.

BUTCH: So....(He looks at her license)Esmarelda Villalobos -- is that Mexican?

ESMARELDA: The name is Spanish, but I'm Columbian.

BUTCH: It's a very pretty name.

ESMARELDA: It mean "Esmarelda of the Wolves."

BUTCH: That's one hell of a name you got there, sister.

ESMARELDA: Thank you. And what is your name?

BUTCH: Butch.

ESMARELDA: Butch. What does it mean?

BUTCH: I'm an American, our names don't mean shit.

OK. Dead giveaway. That's hiding in plain sight.

That's like saying: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain. Or, as Quentin Tarantino might up it: I dare you, I double dare you to dig out the etymology of the names in my fucking picture, motherfucker.

So, just for laughs, I took the dare.

Here's what I dug up:

MAJOR CHARACTERS

Marsellus Wallace
The black crimelord with the bandage on his neck.

Marcellus: Warlike; hammer. Latin origin. From Marcus, which relates to Mars, the God of War.

Wallace: Welshman or foreigner. Derives from Anglo-French Waleis or ME Walisc, meaning "foreign." The term originally meant "Welshman," then was generalized to any foreigner or outsider.(Also see: Sir William Wallace, 13th century Scottish rebel.)

Marsellus Wallace = the warlike outsider. A human hammer who will sometimes use pliers.

Mia Wallace
The Uma Thurman character. Marcellus Wallace's wife.

Mia: belonging to me, bitter. Latin/Hebrew origin.
Mia: contemporary Italian word for "mine."

Marsellus owns her. She's a possession he guards with psychotic territoriality. She plays the free spirit, but deep down in the still dark waters, she's bitter. She's his property and she knows it.

Vincent Vega
The John Travolta character. The hitman who's off his game.

Vincent: conqueror; to conquer. Latin origin.
Vega: the North Star/falling star/falling eagle. Arabic/Latin origin.

Vincent Vega = the fallen conqueror.

More than a hint of Luciferian brightness cast from the heavens. The guy was great once but now he's lost it.

Butch Coolidge
The Bruce Willis character. The washed up boxer.

Butch: American slang, originally masculine, tough. Clipped form of "butcher" derived from Anglo/Norman "boucher" back to "bouchier" and ultimately "boc" meaming male goat.

Coolidge: Cold ledge, meaning high windy cliff top. British origin. (Also, an obvious reference to President Calvin Coolidge.)

A guy who'll cut you up; a sexual goat; a loner on the edge of a cliff.
A real American hero.

Jules Winnfield
The Samuel L. Jackson character. The hitman fond of misquoting the Bible.

Jules: lightly bearded, youthful. Latin/French origin. (Same root as "Julius")
Winnfield: field of spirits, a graveyard. Anglo/Saxon origin.

He's in this world but not -- he's seen something beyond that's slapped him silly.
A young man (who's unnaturally old inside) with one foot in this world and the other in the land of the dead.

Winston Wolf
The dead-body-cleaner-upper.

Winston: joy stone. Old English origin.
Wolf: a wolf. Teutonic/Anglo-Saxon origin.

He's a happy guy who smiles a lot. He likes his job. He's also a wolf with big stones. A very polite wolf, but still a wolf. My what big teeth you have...

Yolanda (Honey Bunny)
The chick who robs the coffee shop.

Yolanda: Flower; a violet; modest. Greek origin.

Which is what she is until she starts hollering, obviously acting. She really is a Honey Bunny.

Pumpkin, Ringo
The Tim Roth character. The dude who robs the coffee shop.

Obvious slang, obviously. We never know his real name. This could blow my theory. Or it could be QT saying he's a cipher, drifting, a lost soul. He has no core identity to reveal yet. Hence, no secret name.

MINOR CHARACTERS

Lance
The heroin dealer. Eric Stoltz' character.

Lance: a small spear, serves. Latin/French origin.

"Lance," even in English, is a kind of spear or harpoon. Lance is the drug pusher who hands Vincent the bigass, heart-stabbing, hypodermic needle full of adrenaline when Mia snorts heroin by mistake and goes into a coma. A heroin aficianado, he's fond of shooting himself up. The joke is pretty obvious.

He also serves. Sells the product. Keeps the customer happy.

Jody
Lance's girlfriend.

Jody: Praised. Hebrew origin.
Related to Hebrew for "pierced."

She's pierced five ways to Sunday.

Raquel
(Monster Joe's daughter)

Raquel: ewe, a pure one. Hebrew/Spanish origin.
Julia Sweeney's unspoiled lamb to Keitel's wolf.

A sweet kid.

Fabienne
Butch's needy French wife.

Fabienne: bean. Latin origin (from faba). Became popular name after Roman general Quintus Fabius Maximus used delaying tactics to halt the invasion of Hannibal in the 3rd century BC.

A cute little bean (she wants a pot!) but always slowing Butch down.

Yeah, I know. That may be pushing it.

Let's stick with bean.

Paul
The bartender.

Paul: humble, small. Hebrew origin.
A small guy, the bartender, stays in the background, doesn't cause trouble.

Captain Koons
The Christopher Walken character who gives Butch his dead dad's watch.

Couldn't find the meaning. All the baby first names you want. Last names? Etymology sites kept trying to sell me coats of arms and shit. I finally gave up. He's a racoon, OK?

Zed
The Deliverance-type hillbilly who traps Butch and Marsellus in his dungeon.

Zedekiah: God is mighty, just. Hebrew origin. "Zed" is also the British way of referring to the letter "Z," the terminal letter of the Roman alphabet -- which implies A-to-Z (suggesting Christ's "I am the Alpha, I am the Omega"). This Zed stands by itself, implying we've reached the end of the series, the final judgment.

You can't escape God's justice. God will get you in the end -- no disgusting pun intended. A heaping helping of instant karma is coming your way.

This etymological/symbolic wordplay strikes me as brilliant, on the level of James Joyce or Nabokov. It may be coincidence, but I doubt it. If QT did this subconsciously, he's got a Joycean subconscious.

2 comments:

leandruss said...

THIS IS A GOODI ONE I LIKE IT!
HAVE YOU TRY TO DO THE SAME WITH YOUR NAME?

Marty Fugate said...

Yeah. Not sure I like it.

Martin derives from Mars, god of war.

Fugate, according to one source, is from the Latin "fugit," to flee. Depending on how you parse it, it's either a noun (fugitive) or an imperative verb (run like hell!)

According to another (dubious) source, it means "Dweller at the Fowl Gate."

So, I am either the Warrior Who Runs Like Hell, the Fugitive Warrior, or the Warrior Who Guards the Chicken Coop.