Why did Ashima and Ashoke name their son Gogol?

Long before Gogol was born, Ashoke was in a train accident that killed many other passengers. Before the accident and during the train ride, Ashoke was reading a collection of short stories by Nikolai Gogol, whose work Ashoke loved and followed closely. After surviving the accident, Ashoke equated the author whom he was reading with a good luck charm, a symbol of survival, and a promise of a future to come. In the same way that the train accident was a fresh start for Ashoke, so was the birth of his son. When the letter from Ashima’s grandmother, which was supposed to contain the then-unnamed infant’s chosen name, never arrives, Ashima and Ashoke decide to name their son Gogol as a reminder of both Ashoke’s experience and of the importance of living life fully.

Why does Gogol wish to change his name to Nikhil?

Gogol views his childhood name as a point of shame and embarrassment for many reasons. Primarily, Gogol finds the uncommon nature of his name difficult during his childhood. The only other instance of the name lies with the author loved by Gogol’s father and taught to Gogol’s class in high school. The author’s past is a tragic one, and Gogol does not want that to reflect his own identity. Gogol also believes his original name to be childish, as it is the name he associates with his childhood. Even his sister adapted the name into an even more childish nickname, “Goggles.” Finally, as Gogol prepares to move to college, he desires a name that is both mature and in line with his desired identity. Gogol wants his peers and superiors at Yale to take him seriously, and he feels that Gogol lacks the level of seriousness he seeks. Similarly, Gogol wants to establish an identity not tied to his family or Bengali background. By choosing his own name, he is attempting to claim that identity for himself. 

Why did Ashima and Ashoke name their daughter Sonali?

Unlike Gogol, Ashima and Ashoke name Sonali, or Sonia, based on the meaning of the name. Sonali means “she who is golden,” and Ashima and Ashoke want this image to follow Sonia throughout her life as a symbol of hope and prosperity. The name’s promise is fulfilled, as Sonia both assimilates to America much more successfully than Gogol and establishes a successful and happy marriage.

Why is Sonia described as being more “American” than Gogol as a child?

During an early childhood ceremony, a then-infant Sonia is given food to eat as a symbolic gesture. Sonia, unlike Gogol, immediately rejects the food into the dirt. Similarly, when Sonia is then given a dollar as a ceremonial act, she takes the dollar and puts it into her mouth. During Gogol’s own ceremony, he compliantly accepted both the food and the dollar. The attendees of the ceremony see Sonia’s disobedience as a distinctly American quality, as many Americans do not adhere to the traditions or requirements of any culture. Gogol’s behavior, however, was considered more in line with what’s expected of an Indian child.

Why does Ashoke want Gogol to remember the day at the beach?

Ashoke has learned many lessons throughout his life. One of these lessons, which he learned on the day of his near-fatal train accident, is to treasure life as a gift and to live enthusiastically. Ashoke wants to instill this same appreciation for life in his son. Afraid that Gogol may take the moment for granted, Ashoke tells Gogol to remember the moment as an act of preservation and appreciation. Ashoke understands that life can be taken from one without warning and wants his son to give life its deserved attention.