The Onomastics of Cooper’s Verbal Art in The Deerslayer and Elsewhere

Leonard R.N. Ashley (Brooklyn College, City University of New York)

Presented at the 3ʳᵈ Cooper Seminar, James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art at the State University of New York College at Oneonta, July, 1980.

Originally published in James Fenimore Cooper: His Country and His Art, Papers from the 1980 Conference at State University College of New York, Oneonta and Cooperstown. George A. Test, editor. (pp.40-51).

Copyright © 1980, State University College of New York at Oneonta.

[May be reproduced for instructional use by individuals or institutions; commercial use prohibited.]

Don’t suppose I would underrate Cooper’s Abilities;

If I thought you’d do that, I should feel very ill at ease.           

— James Russell Lowell (1848)

I trust that with The Deerslayer as my chief exhibit I shall be able to demonstrate that Cooper, the butt of Mark Twain’s mockery and indeed “the best-abused author of his generation,” deserves great credit for an aspect of his fiction which many, even in this group of Cooper editors and critics, may not fully have appreciated: I mean the onomastic devices in this novel, the last-written of the famous Leatherstocking tales on which this author’s reputation so largely rests.

James [Kent] Cooper was, as many of you know from biographical studies, much involved in his personal life with names. Born James Cooper, eleventh child of a man who was to figure importantly in the settlement of this part of the country, he came at a very early age with his family from Burlington, the old capital of New Jersey, where he was born in 1789, to Otsego Lake at the head of the Susquehanna, where Judge Cooper founded Cooperstown. After his father’s death, James attempted to acquire his mother’s property by changing his name to Fenimore and by legal means and common use came to be known as James Fenimore Cooper. He also gained a nickname, Effingham, derived from one of his novels and derisively used against him by the enemies he made in legal squabbles which marred his declining years.

Thackeray declared that The Prairie was better than most of the work of Scott and, in fact, the title of “the American Scott” would not have been refused by Cooper, despite the fact that he declared that his best work, the stories of Leatherstocking, was “written in a very desultory and inartificial manner.” I shall argue here that an examination of onomastic devices in one Leatherstocking novel clearly proves that disclaimer part of a pose with the ambition to be regarded as a serious novelist never far from his mind, for Cooper’s use of names is both deliberate and artistic.

The mention of place-names, both novelistic (Glimmerglass for Lake Otsego) and real (Albany, Hudson, Claverack, Poughkeepsie, Montreal, “York colony,” the Canadas [Upper and Lower Canada], New York, New England, even far-off Yorkshire), situates the novel in place as well as time (about 1740). Cooper’s naval experience and the reliance of the time on waterways for travel causes the novelist to put a lot of his emphasis and a lot of his action on the water: we hear of great rivers (Mohawk, Susquehanna, Mississippi), and “the distant waters of Ontario,” “the Great Sweet Lakes,” even The Atlantic (referred to as “the great salt lake” in one speech supposedly in the Indian language). Side by side are familiar names (York), others less familiar (Schoharie), some perhaps existing only in the fiction though now pointed out by Cooper fans (Rat’s Cove, Muskrat Castle — the “ark” that plays so large a part in the story). Combined with careful descriptions of the lay of the land, even if occasionally hyped up with references to “Rembrandt-looking hemlocks” and Salvator Rosa lighting, toponyms help to create verisimilitude, evoke history, and bring the setting vividly before us.

The historical aspect is underlined by the mention of some real-life characters (the Greenbush Van Rensselaers, “a sartain [Captain] Kidd,” “Chairlie Stuart,” and the Moravians, the Spanish, the French in Canada, Indian tribes of which we have heard, etc.), though these wisely are not brought upon the scene to contrast too sharply with the rather theatrical, even archetypical, personages of the novel. The use of their names is enough; it evokes the outside, real world sufficiently well and does not interfere with the imaginative, symbolic world of the forest.

In the fictional forest we meet Nathaniel (Natty) Bumppo. His name combines a reference to Puritan traditions (softened by the nickname) and a suggestion of roughness, plainness in the surname. A white hunter brought up among the Delawares, Natty is embroiled in a war with the Hurons (a French name, often said to be mocking but really only an allusion to their hairstyle, for the Indians who called themselves Wendat, which the British rendered as Wyandot). The language of the Delawares was related to that of the Iroquois, whose Five Nations (Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca) as early as the seventeenth Century inhabited New York from the Hudson north to the St. Lawrence and west to the Genesee. In the course of the tale we also hear of the Iroquois (whose name suggests their French connections, and they are called “Canada wolves” and “Canadian blood-suckers”) and the Mohicans (Mahicanni, with whom Cooper was to deal in full in The Last of the Mohicans some fourteen years later than The Deerslayer in its setting). The Delawares called themselves Lenne Lenapi and spoke a sort of Algonquian language, but “Delawares” relates them to the river of that name, itself named by Sir Samuel Argall for Thomas West, Baron de la Warre, governor of the Virginia colony in 1610. The enemies of the Delawares are the treacherous Mingos (once called Mengwe by Cooper), associated with the Hurons.

The Delaware chief Chingachgook (Great Serpent, a reference to totemic traditions), accompanies his friend Natty Bumppo on an expedition to rescue the Indian’s betrothed, Wah-ta-Wah (Hist-oh-Hist), carried off by the Mingos. The heroes meet at a rock still famous in Cooper’s time at Lake Otsego, called Glimmerglass in the novel, as I have reminded you, and stressed as being unnamed on the maps of civilization. They follow different routes through the wilderness to overtake the Huron raiders and they take on two white renegades as allies. One is Henry March (Hurry Harry, Hurry Scurry), a handsome giant but without principles; his name underscores his impatience and wildness. The other is Thomas Hutter (Old Tom, Floating Tom because he lives on that “ark,” and Muskrat because of his amphibious habits), an ex-pirate or “free-liver” who has turned settler and has two “daughters,” Judith and Esther. Judith (Jude) is a beautiful young maiden whom Chingachgook and others dub Wild Rose and whom even the Hurons see as a Flower of the Woods. Her sister is most often called Hetty, even Feeble-Mind (Cooper in one of his awkward phrases refers to “mental imbecility”), though she also gets the title of Drooping Lily and a lot of sympathy.

Early in the story The Deerslayer kills his first Indian; the redskin’s French (or enemy) connections are seen in his name, Loup Cervier (Lynx), which also underlines his sharp eye, but his is no match for our hero who, in killing him, proves his claim to the title Hawkeye. This is one of many names given him in Indian style in the long career which begins in this novel and ends in The Prairie, which involves Leatherstocking (Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Long Rifle, The Pathfinder) with still another Esther (this time a formidable pioneer woman, well deserving the name for “star” and the Biblical resonances of “queen”) and good and bad redskins (especially Hard Heart the Pawnee and Mahtoree the Sioux). Other Indian names in The Deerslayer are those of Great Serpent’s Delaware relatives (Tamenund, a chief and prophet; Uncas, a name given to chiefs, Chingachgook’s father) and enemy Injins (Rivenoak; Catamount; Le Panthère or Panther; Le Sumach, wife of the Lynx shot by Hawkeye, whom he almost has to marry; Corbeau Rouge or Red Crow; Raven; Moose; Bounding Boy; Briarthorn). Many of the latter names emphasize connections with the French-Canadians to the north. The Indian habit of conferring occasion names is seen in Chingachgook’s calling Wah (Hist), Wren of the Woods; himself Great Serpent of the Delaware (Cooper perpetrates “Apollo of the Wilderness”); Old Tom Hutter, Muskrat; Hetty, Honeysuckle; and, of course, our hero, Hawkeye. The Indian naming system fits perfectly this tale of a man making a name for himself: Natty’s names mark the stages of his growth, the milestones of his career, and are the keys to his identities and to the roles he plays.

The soldiers who come to the rescue include Captain Thomas Warley (a name in which war is obvious), Ensign Thornton, Dr. Graham (whose surname Cooper reminds us indicates he is a “North Briton,” or Scot), and Wright, Davis, and Craig (suggesting English, Welsh, and Scottish troops). We hear of the regiment’s colonel Sir Edwin (the name of the drowned son of King Edward the Elder, an early tenth-century Anglo-Saxon king) and of Sir Robert Warley back in Yorkshire on his estates (with or without Judith we are not to know for certain). With this last gentleman’s name, Cooper seems to have slipped up. The same soldier who doesn’t want to marry (“I, Tom Warley, turn Benedict!”, he cries, referring to the Shakespearian character who has made his name synonymous with “married man, The 20ᵗʰ — don’t marry”) fewer than twenty pages later is “Sir Robert Warley ... on his paternal estates,” probably still unmarried. But why has his forename changed from Thomas to Robert just because he was knighted (or, more likely, inherited a baronetcy)?

Cooper may have erred there but generally his handling of names is careful and effective. He does not use them satirically (as he does with Puritan names in some other novels, mocking Yankees) but he does create puns, as when he calls Floating Tom Hutter’s old ship the Snow so that Hurry Harry can reply:

“I’m your mate, Floating Tom, and your comrade, but have nothing to do with any snow. It’s summer now, and Harry March always quits the hills as soon as the frosts set in as is convenient.”

Harry is a fair-weather friend indeed. Earlier in the novel Cooper confected “a family of German descent on the Mohawk, to whom Hurry had a great antipathy, and whom he had confounded with enemies of “Judea” just to make a joke about Master March “out of the hands of the Philipsteins.” Elsewhere what H. L. Mencken saw as Cooper’s “complete repudiation of democracy” or (more supportable) what we can easily see as his mockery of Yankee traders can and should be studied in terms of the aristocratic and other names he gives his characters and especially the punning and satiric names of New England characters. Cooper may make nothing of the Biblical implications of names such as Judith and Esther in The Deerslayer or even of Nathaniel (“Gift of God”), but a search of his techniques rewards the student of literary onomastics and illuminates points in his fiction.

That fiction was not artless. He sprinkles his pages with foreign words and phrases (dénouement, melee, terra firma, vis inertia) like other show-off and self-educated writers of his period, however American his themes. He uses very few literary allusions such as the one from Shakespeare I have noted, but there are the inevitable Biblical references (standard in a period when the Book was The Bible and sermons were frequent), a little myth (Cupid and Apollo and other bits considered “classical education”) and some snatches of culture and history from cheap popular reading such as keepsake books and Christmas annuals (Cooper mentions “Gesler’s apple” from the story of Wilhelm Tell).

The quotations and allusions may be sometimes as clumsy as Cooper’s prose, but his way with names is deft. An Indian woman can be She Bear, or March “Big Pine,” and the latter is rendered as “Great Pine” when Indian dialect is supposed to be spoken, just as in Iroquois exchanges “Deerslayer” becomes “Killer of the Deer,” a nice touch. Moreover, Cooper can do this without being reminded of some classical counterpart. Had Cooper had Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations at hand his epigraphs might have been more apt and his prose more decorated with borrowed plumes, but Bartlett did not publish the results of his browsing in his Cambridge bookstore until 1855, and by then the Leatherstocking series (1823-1841) was over. Cooper had to create a homespun hero — Arthur Hobson Quinn says rightly that Natty is “the symbol of the pioneer spirit of America, yet he is real” — with a few famous models such as Dan’l Boone, Lewis and Clark, Davy Crockett, Joe Meek, Kit Carson, and other real frontiersmen and Indian fighters and without Achilles or Aeneas or even Christian. It was left to Quentin Anderson to draw parallels with The Iliad, to delve into the mythical implications of the “culturally impoverished heroes” he finds in Hemingway. Academic critics such as Marjorie Pryse (The Mark and the Knowledge: Social Stigma in Classic American Fiction, 1979) discuss the purified outcast and the archetypal hero in language that university presses approve but that Cooper never knew.

He liked to tell a story and his purple patches are chiefly confined to descriptions of nature, in the style of Scott. True to his time, he regarded novels as vehicles for opinion, but luckily the Leatherstocking books (which he described as “light literature”) were not loaded with the prejudices and political observations he was able to air in such different works as Notions of the Americans (1828), A Letter to His Countrymen (1834), The American Democrat (1838), and History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839), all written in the period in which he was producing this series by which he is today best known. Later he was to permit argument to intrude upon fiction: then propaganda made Satanstoe (1845, and the two other anti-rent novels The Chainbearer and The Redskins) quite unreadable, Homeward Bound (1838) and its sequel Home as Found of the same year very unpopular (though I can recommend the latter as especially interesting), and such vehicles as The Sea Lions (trinitarianism) and The Ways of the Hour (trial by jury) as forgettable as the disastrous novel on Columbus, Mercedes of Castile. Late in life he was driven by his critics to redouble his cantankerous, curmudgeonly, aggressive and repulsive traits (only part of a complex and in many ways admirable personality), but fortunately for us all these faults did not enter into his best stories of the forest or his rousing tales of the sea (such as The Pilot of 1823 and Red Rover of 1828). When he took himself too seriously he was narrow-minded and overbearing, litigious and ridiculous. He was never a “critical mind.” When he concentrated on telling tales he endeared himself to a wide and faithful public. When he started out to be an author, he labored at Precaution; it was a failure. The next year he wrote with a more facile pen a story that John Jay had outlined for him; The Spy was a success.

The fact is, like many another American author (Melville, Dreiser, et al.) he was all thumbs as a stylist and he got by on sheer power, his other gifts overcoming a decided lack of a way with words. The Beacon biographer wrote (1900):

The gist of the matter is that Cooper was not a verbal artist, and that his endowment of what we are pleased to call literary conscience was scant. With no special training as a writer, when, at thirty or thereabouts, it accidentally came into his head to try his hand at a novel, he struck boldly out, not particularly considering whither. Some of his early books, written for his own pleasure, brought him popularity which surprised no one more than himself. The art of writing engaged his attention far less than the panorama and the story. Robust and impetuous, he disdained details of style and academic standards. To apply to him academic standards is as if one should inquire whether Hard-Heart’s horsemanship conforms to the rules of the riding-school; for nobody cares. It is to miss the point that, heaven knows how or why, he struck — Heaven be praised! — a new trail which, admitting all the shortcomings in style that any one may choose to allege, the world is not yet weary of following. The indisputable, the essential fact is that, entering unheralded and possessing the land, he founded a realm, and became by divine right king of American fiction.

W. B. Shubrick Clymer (for it was he) was right: without much of what Cooper would call “judgmatical thought,” Cooper’s “unpretending legend” was created. His prose is pompous, prolix, ungrammatical, clumsier than Melville’s (though some sense keeps him from copying out huge chunks of the Encyclopaedia Britannica). We may add that he has a tin ear for dialect perhaps equalled only in our serious literature by the Eugene O’Neill of Anna Christie and Desire under the Elms; this is, I said recently in an article on Cooper’s onomastics published in Names, Northeast (proceedings of the first annual Northeast Regional Names Institute, 1979), “a devastating disadvantage with characters such as people The Deerslayer,” but I confess I have already changed my mind: on second thought, since we know comparatively little of the speech of frontiersmen and even less of how Indians really spoke our language, Cooper is in a position to define what is credible. He made it up.

What he made up, made up for his awkward prose. His writing is not much superior to the “uncouth dialect” he mocks in Hurry Harry. His slapdash style might earn Cooper the soubriquet of Hurry James: every chapter yields some howler such as “she ejaculated mentally” or “his ears and nostrils almost dilated” or several words used in utterly impossible ways or unconscionable padding. You disagree? Consider this equivalent of “it was midnight:” “Had there been a temple reared to God in that solitary wilderness, its clock would have told the hour of midnight as the party set forth on their expedition.” It would he unkind and unnecessary to enumerate his faults. You know he is as vulgar as Poe, as clumsy as Dreiser, as gushing as Wolfe, as intrusive as Mailer.

But you know also — and that is why you are gathered here today — that he is a masterful writer, an authentic American genius. Somehow Deerslayer, Hawkeye, Pathfinder, Long Rifle, Leatherstocking is as deathless a creation as (say) Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Bram Stoker’s Dracula — to mention two other clumsy writers whose work is loved and lives. Brander Matthews wrote:

Cooper’s men of the sea, and his men of the forest and plain, are alive now though other fashions in fiction may have come and gone. Other novelists have a more finished art nowadays [1896], but no one of them all succeeds more completely in doing what he tried to do than Cooper at his best. And he did a great service to American literature by showing how fit for fiction were the scenes, the characters, and the history of his native land.

Indeed in the depiction of scenery he was outstanding and his America was deeply impressed upon Continental readers, especially those who read him in French (like Balzac, who admired his painterly qualities) and in German (like Schubert, who called for Cooper novels on his deathbed). In translations the infelicities of Cooper’s style disappeared, silently corrected, and the grandeur of his backdrop lent importance to the human figures who moved against its majesty. The melodrama that made Red Rover a sensation on the stage and the romance that intoxicated the French with le wild west (from which even to this day they have not recovered) were seen against a vast panorama of truly nineteenth- century proportions. As Poe to the French sounded like a great poet and not the “jingle man” that Emerson perceived, so Cooper to Europe looked like the American Scott.

Percy Whipple’s estimate in American Literature and Other Papers (1886) is this:

This primal quality of robust manhood all men understand, and it shines triumphally through the interposing fogs of French, German, Italian and Russian translations.

Personally, I think Cooper rather loses in the original: his characters loom much larger in the “fog” of translation — and the scenery and the action survive.

I have been at pains to find, in the light of what I have been saying, at least one admirable aspect of Cooper as a “verbal artist,” arguably as significant as his power with mythmaking and description of nature, and I believe I have found it in the onomastic element, hitherto sadly neglected, which I stress here.

Let us examine The Deerslayer, the last-written and best-executed of the Leatherstocking tales, to prove that Cooper was not only conscious of the literary possibilities inherent in names but exploited them fully and effectively in his work.

Of course names elsewhere in Cooper have special emphasis. I have alluded to his manipulation of Yankee names and you will think of many more examples. In Homeward Bound there are two Sir George Templetons, one real and one false. In The Pilot the name of John Paul Jones is played upon neatly but never articulated. In Red Rover (a pirate, Captain Heidegger) the mysterious identity is not settled until the end of a character variously known as Harry Ark, Wilder, and de Lacey. In The Chainbearer much is made of the nickname “Thousandacres.” In Wyandotté the eponymous hero is also known as Nick, and the heroine Maud Willoughby is also called Maud Meredith. Similarly, in The Deerslayer nicknames are significant and we anxiously await (in the style of nineteenth-century melodrama) the truth about Floating Tom Hutter (or Hovey) and we eventually discover that the two girls who bear his name are not really his daughters at all. Identities (as those familiar with The Importance of Being Earnest and the melodramas it mimics and mocks will know) are the very stuff of nineteenth-century plots: in The Spy, said Cooper, the revolutionary hero is a man whose real name he never knew.

One of the very few studies of names in Cooper is L. H. Cohen’s “What’s in a Name? The Presence of the Victim in ‘The Pioneers’” (Massachusetts Review XVI, 1975) but The Deerslayer is Cooper’s most interesting novel onomastically. “It is wisest always to be so clad that our friends need not ask us for our name,” asserts The Deerslayer, playing with Shakespeare’s “a rose by any other name” with Wild Rose. A few pages later he tells Judith:

“It matters not whether the Father of us all is called God or Manitou, Deity or Great Spirit. He is none the less our common Maker and Master; nor does it count for much whether the souls of the just go to Paradise or happy hunting-grounds. ... “

But names do matter. Chingachgook is told he is aptly named “Sarpent,” that he is “one that’s already got a name for being wise.” He is belittled by an enemy who asks, “Who has ever heard of the name of a young Delaware?” Name and reputation, name and word are linked: “Their words shouldn’t be feathers so light that a wind, which does not ruffle the water, can blow them away” nor should names be misleading or unearned. Other Indians are despised for being without “souls or names” though “one is accountable for the other,” and throughout the novel good names are more valued than riches, the names of ancestors hallowed and revered, warlike names earned in brave exploits and honored even by enemies. Rivenoak is addressed by The Deerslayer as “Huron, or Mingo, as I most like to call you” and the Indian replies: “The pale-face — but my brother has a name? So great a warrior would not have lived without a name?”

Judith, confronting The Deerslayer’s captors, is told that the Indians “will be ashamed to go back to their village and tell their people that they let their prisoner go on account of the song of this strange bird, and not be able to give the name of the bird,” and Judith replies there is much about her name in “the pale-faces’ best book, the Bible. If I am a bird of fine feathers, I also have my name.” Hurry Harry is said to be well named when he exhibits characteristic haste. Judith and Wah-ta-Wah (called Wah by her lover Chingachgook and Hist by her friend Hetty) and Hetty (Esther) herself are given loving nicknames. People are expected to live up to the qualities a name promises or records:

... the last was called Le Panthère, in the language of the Canadas [French]; or The Panther, to resort to the vernacular of the English colonies. The appellation of the fighting chief was supposed to indicate the qualities of the warrior, agreeably to a practice of the redman’s nomenclature; ferocity, cunning, and treachery being, perhaps, the distinctive features of his character. The title had been received from [translate into?] the French, and was prized so much the more from that circumstance, the Indian submitting profoundly to the greater intelligence of his pale-face allies, in most things of this nature. How well the soubriquet was merited, will be seen in the sequel.

The whole story of The Deerslayer, in fact, is how he was given and then proceeded to earn the name of Hawkeye. Various attitudes toward him are shown in such names as Nathaniel and Natty, Master Natty and Master Deerslayer, Friend Deerslayer and “good Deerslayer,” and Hawkeye:

“I’ve been known by different names, at different times. One of your Huron warriors whose spirit started for the happy hunting-grounds as late as yesterday morning, thought I desarved to be known by the name of Hawkeye; and this because my sight happened to be quicker than his own, when it got to be life or death atween us.”

Whereupon the author tells us “the young hunter was universally known among the Delawares by an appellation so honorably earned. All this, however,” he continues, “was a period posterior to all the incidents of this tale, we shall continue to call the young hunter by the name under which he has first been introduced to the reader,” which is to say Deerslayer.

Early in The Deerslayer Hetty Hutter (as she then thinks her name to be) meets Natty Bumppo and he tells her he has already “borne more names than some of the greatest chiefs in America” though he has not yet gone on the warpath with the Delawares. “Tell me your names,” says Hetty, “and maybe, I’11 tell you your character.” The hero responds:

“There is truth in that, I’ll not deny, though it often fails. Men are deceived in other men’s characters, and frequently give ‘em names they by no means desarve. I put no great dependence, therefore, on names.”

But Hetty replies, “Tell me all your names ... I want to know what to think of you,” and Natty says he was first called Nathaniel Bumppo, after his father; then (when the Delawares found he never lied) Straight-tongue; later (when he proved swift of foot) The Pigeon; then briefly Lap-ear (for he was good at finding game, like a dog); and finally Deerslayer (a hunter). This was the name he gave Le Loup Cervier, whom he shot.

“Deerslayer is the name I bear now, though the Delawares have said that when I get back from this war-path, I shall have a more manly title, provided I can ‘arn one.”

And the dying Indian says:

“No Deerslayer — Hawkeye — Hawkeye — Hawkeye. Shake hand.”

Even the excellent rifle that belonged to Old Tom Hutter, which Judith gives to Deerslayer, has a name (Killdeer), Like Curtana in Le Chanson de Roland and Excalibur in the tales of King Arthur, emphasizing the epic aspects.

Though Deerslayer says he puts “no great dependence ... on names” and names are mysteriously cut from the documents in the “chist” of mementoes that eventually gives up the secrets that Old Tom was a pirate and not the father of the two girls, names figure prominently in The Deerslayer. When Judith discovers the truth, for instance, she starts to refer to Old Tom not as Father but as Thomas Hutter, while Hetty continues to call the man her father, showing a distinct difference in their characters and attitudes. Similarly, Judith’s distance from Henry March is marked by shifts from “Hurry Harry” and such to “March” or even the formal “Harry March” in addressing him. The author has promised to call the hero Deerslayer and not Hawkeye but he slips toward the end: “Hawkeye never knew.” March’s attitude toward Hutter is expressed in terms of endearment such as “Old Tom” and “Floating Tom” and even the formal “Master Hutter” as well as “Uncle Tom” and “Friend Hutter.” In this informal frontier society, “Master” is a distancing device and nicknames are common: Wild Rose, Honeysuckle, King of the Lake, Great Serpent, Big Pine, Drooping Lily, Wren of the Woods. Epithets connected to animals can be honorific or derogatory: “skunk of the pale- faces” screams Le Sumach in what Cooper calls “semi-poetic fury,” and she (why not La instead of Le then?) goes on to berate The Deerslayer as the killer of her Lynx: “Dog — skunk — woodchuck — mink — hedgehog — pig — toad — spider — Yengee.” This last “exhausted her epithets” of scorn.

Half a dozen times or so “Yengeese” crops up and Cooper even has a footnote on Yankee, one which modern scholars would certainly find unacceptable and yet which serves to underline his interest in the etymologies and significances of names:

It is singular that there should be any question concerning the origin of the well- known soubriquet of “yankees.” Nearly all of the old writers who speak of the Indians first known to the colonists make them pronounce the word “English” as “Yengeese.” Even at this day, it is a provincialism of New England to say ” English” instead of ” Inglish,” and there is a close conformity of sound between ” English,” and “Yengeese,” more especially if the latter word, as was probably the case, be pronounced short. The transition from “Yengeese,” thus pronounced, to “Yankees” is quite easy. If the former is pronounced “Yangis,” it is almost identical with “Yankees,” and Indian words have seldom been spelt as they are pronounced. Thus the scene of this tale is spelt “Ot sego,” and is properly pronounced “Ot sago.” The liquids of the Indians would easily convert “En” to “Yen.”

Cooper here is wrong about most things, with the possible exception of the recording of Indian names. In The Deerslayer he discusses Indian names often. “I think Hist prettier than Wah,” says Hetty to Chingachgook of his loved one’s name, “and so I call her Hist.” Chingachgook retorts: “Wah very sweet in Delaware ears!” Hetty admits, “You make it sound different from me.”

As love makes the beloved’s name sound like the song of a bird, so friendship alters the way a name is perceived. Says Deerslayer of Chingachgook (also called The Delaware, as Hamlet’s father is The Dane):

’Now I’m nat’rally avarse to sarpents, and I hate even the word, which, the missionaries tell me, comes from human natur’, on account of a sartain sarpent at the creation of the ‘arth, that outwitted the first woman; yet, ever since Chingachgook has ‘arned the title he bears, why the sound is as pleasant to my ears as the whistle of the whippoorwill of a calm evening — it is. The feelin’s make all the difference in the world, Judith, in the natur’ of sounds; ay, even in that of looks, too.’

So Judith dislikes the handsome Henry March and would rather be Judith Bumppo than Judith March; but, of course, The Deerslayer (who in his prime evades Mabel Dunham in The Pathfinder, who cannot boast she has done him in) has to flee the clutches of matrimony to answer the call of the wild. Judith has lost, we may say, the only playboy of the Western World; Deerslayer cannot give Judith his name. He goes off into the forest, leaving behind the civilization of the Marmaduke Temples, Edward Effinghams, Cornelius Littlepages, and Herman Mordaunts who appear in other novels; he is the simple Deerslayer, a Pathfinder. In his world there are deeds to do and names to be made, not inherited from the old culture of Europe, names to be earned “in the presence of this continent,” as a later writer would put it. In the world of The Deerslayer, names like Oneida and Chingachgook are “melodic,” and reputations as deerslayer or leatherstocking are all the name a man seeks or needs.

The novel in which Nathaniel Bumppo makes a name for himself, The Deerslayer, is appropriately chock full of evidence of how onomastic devices can be employed artistically in fiction, and I offer it to you in this conference of scholars who love and study Cooper for two reasons: to prove to you that, whatever you may say about other aspects of his work, he is indeed a considerable and conscious “verbal artist” and to suggest to you that the study of names offers a fresh frontier in Cooper studies which is well worth your further investigation.


In transcribing this paper a number of errors in Cooper’s names were found and silently corrected, e .g., Harry March was uniformly referred to as Harry Marsh. Whether these were errors by the author, or typists transcribing his paper, is not known; given the topic of the paper, we must assume the latter. [Hugh C. McDougall ]