Frankenstein: What’s in a name?

This project would be developed for college students in an introductory literature course. In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, there is the question of visibility in characters when they are not addressed by their name but rather an identifier. How are foreign languages treated in the text and how does this affect the way foreign characters are identified? This project will look specifically from the monster’s point of view in Chapters 13-14 in particular, and how the cottagers interact. An example of this is when Safie is referred to as “the Arabian” while her father is referred to as “the Turk” with subtle mentions of their names a few more times throughout the text. Quantitative analysis would work well in teaching students to find patterns in texts versus merely looking at authorship (“Quantitative”). This method is useful as we start to accumulate more electronic texts, and it helps build on increasing critical analysis apart from author’s intent.

Students will begin by pairing up in either groups of three or four and once assigned with a character, they are expected to go through and find places in the text where their character is not referred to by their name. They will discuss with one another why Shelley did that, and why the narrator would make these choices. By focusing on single variables (such as word length or sentence length), students can examine the interactions and tones that come out of how these unnamed characters are approached. In fact, in Frankenstein, as Safie starts to pick up the language of the cottagers, so does the monster, although it is not always explicitly shown.

Assigned readings and articles are mandatory for students, some of which will begin with the origin of language and then leading to practicing with the primary tools/modules for the course. The first tool students will explore is Juxta, where they will learn to compare the 1818 and 1831 editions and the changes that Shelley took. Each group will look at places where their characters are addressed and how the changes/edits affect the reading of the text. They are expected to write a reflection (or blog!) on their experience and interesting shifts they noticed.

The primary tool students will use antConc to look at the variance of certain names preferred over others for their assigned character. antConc performs corpus analysis which will allow students to learn distant-reading. Often, freshmen come into these courses and struggle with developing their own analysis of the text versus simply writing down what the author’s intent was. Students, who are not English majors, will develop critical writing skills and attain diversity in how they approach 18th century texts (or any old text really!) .


Allen, Sidney. “Ancient Ideas on the Origin and Development of Language.” Transactions of the Philological Society, 47.1 (1948): 35-60. Web.

Choudhury, G. Sayeed and David Seaman. “The Virtual Library.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens, Oxford: Blackwell, 2008,

David, Hoover. “Quantitative Analysis and Literary Studies.” A Companion to Digital Literary Studies, ed. Susan Schreibman and Ray Siemens, Oxford: Blackwell, 2008,

Rifkin, Benjamin. “Attending to Learner Diversity in the Lesson Plan: Planning for Intensity of Engagement.” NECTFL Review, vol. 61, 2007, pp. 99-108, ProQuest. 

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein, or, The Modern Prometheus. Ed. D.L. Macdonald and Kathleen Scherf, 3rd ed., Broadview Editions, 2012. Print.


4 thoughts on “Frankenstein: What’s in a name?

  1. This seems like an interesting topic to explore; however, I’d be curious to know what specifically you mean by “visibility of characters.” Also, you bring in the idea of comparing the 1818 text and the 1831 text… do you know whether significant changes were made between these two editions as it relates to the use of identifiers vs. names? It looks like you have the details of the student assignment figured out pretty well – going forward, you might want to include additional notes about how long you expect this project to take or how much weight it would be given for the class.

  2. Nhu— this is an interesting idea, though rather undefined right now. Like Alec, I’m unsure what you mean by the visibility of characters. I think that this project might better be served less as a teaching exercise and more as a project that you pursue using digital means, which can be then extended into pedagogy. You’re drawing on a lot of tools and activities, but I’m not sure how they fit together specifically. To do a pedagogical project, you need a very clear understanding of your topic and your purpose, so you can frame it appropriately. You might consider using the juxta collation, for instance, to analyze the differences in editions, and frame that as your specific lesson. Can you explain how your research has been chosen, and how they connect to deepen your understanding?

  3. Super interesting idea and one that would easily span across many time periods of literature. It could be an interesting way to locate and highlight prejudice within narratives and allow students to formulate interpretations based on those instances. I think you drive a good point about students being unsure of how to analyze text with their own interpretations. I like the idea of using antConc but I would like to know which tools in antConc you’d suggest students use. Great project idea!

  4. I think this is a very great research idea. Since you will be researching the issue with identifiers, will you be using a theoretical approach during this research since one of your examples was about one of the characters being identified as the “Arabian” so that cultural studies and historicism can help you with this research.

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