The Names (novel)

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The Names
Thenames cover.jpg
The Names by Don DeLillo
Author Don DeLillo
Country United States
Language English
Genre Novel
Publisher Alfred A. Knopf
Publication date
September 12, 1982
Media type Print (hardback & paperback)
Pages 339 (Hardback first edition)
ISBN 0-394-52814-X
OCLC 8474207
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3554.E4425 N3 1982

The Names (1982) is the seventh novel of American novelist Don DeLillo. The work, set mostly in Greece, is primarily a series of character studies, interwoven with a plot about a mysterious "language cult" that is behind a number of unexplained murders. Among the many themes explored throughout the work is the intersection of language and culture, the perception of American culture from both within and outside its borders, and the impact that narration has on the facts of a story.

Plot summary[edit]



At the core of the book is the problem of language. Language is the way we connect with the world; thus, it is a means of opening the world or of controlling it. It is these two concepts of language which struggle against each other throughout the book. The latter concept (language as a means of control) is embodied in the character of the archeologist Owen Brademas.


One character says, "It is religion that carries language. Language is the river of God."[1] If language is the means of relating to the world, or even making the world,[2] then religion in turn circumscribes or frames language. Language for DeLillo, arises in an awe towards the things of the world. That awe is religion. Religion is thus in some sense a surrender, a concession that things are fundamentally outside one's control.[3]


As a manifestation of language, the written word is the most susceptible to control. Letters are static while spoken words are elusive. Writing can thus be a desire for a full presence "a lost language, free from ambiguity."[4] It is this aspect of writing that appeals to Owen Brademas. He is seeking a language that has been "subdued and codified", simplified into parallel structures.[5] But writing can also be a recovery or articulation of "ancient things, secret, reshapable."[6] In this second type of writing, the mystery of the world is retained. In The Names it is a child, the narrator's son Tap, who most purely practices this type of writing. Unlike Owen, for whom "correctness" in speech is very important, Tap's writing is full of lively misspellings, prompting his father to look at objects in a new way.


The theme of control is also visible in the discussion of politics carried on throughout the book. Politics is where the element of control reveals itself most visibly: as in Empire; in the United States' relations with other countries; in the activities of corporations; in the relationship between men and women; in the behavior of terrorists. Nonetheless, the relationship between the "stronger" and the "weaker" is not simply reducible to "oppressor" and "oppressed". Sometimes the weaker force is complicit with,[7] or distorts the nature of,[8] the stronger.

Film Adaptation[edit]

It was announced on April 7, 2015 that American writer-director Alex Ross Perry has optioned The Names for a film adaptation.[9]


  1. ^ p. 192, original Knopf hardcover edition
  2. ^ p. 152, original Knopf hardcover edition
  3. ^ p. 276, original Knopf hardcover edition
  4. ^ p.174, Cowart, David (2002). Don DeLillo: The Physics of Language. University Press of Georgia Press. p. 274. ISBN 0-8203-2320-9. 
  5. ^ p. 80, original Knopf hardcover edition
  6. ^ p. 313, original Knopf hardcover edition
  7. ^ p. 235, original Knopf hardcover edition
  8. ^ p.317, original Knopf hardcover edition
  9. ^ Newman, Nick (April 7, 2015). "Alex Ross Perry Will Tackle Don DeLillo's 'The Names' In Feature Adaptation". The Film Stage.