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the "Lost" name game

Lost
With high production values, intriguing plots and complicated characters, Lost is one of the best dramas to hit network television in years.

One of my favorite aspects of the show has been trying to discover the meanings behind the names of the principal characters. I first noticed the character John Locke shared a name with an 17th century philosopher. Then I noticed that Jack Shephard was acting as the shepherd to his flock of castaways. Then they introduced the mysterious Frenchwoman Rousseau, named after Jean-Jacques Rousseau, another famous philosopher. I was hooked.

I began compiling a list of all the characters, researching their names and making connections. The primary source for character names appears to be political philosophers — especially those who advocated or criticized the theory of a social contract. Since the castaways are completely cut off from outside society — much like the English schoolboys in Lord of the Flies — they must construct their own political and societal systems. The producers took this theme and ran with it.

You certainly watch the show without reading 17th-century political theory, but it is interesting to get inside the heads of the producers and writers a little bit. By attempting to decode some of the hidden messages in the show, we might get a deeper understanding of the themes Lost attempts to explore.

the castaways

Kate Austen

Kate Austen

John Austin (1790 – 1859)

John Austin is best known for his work developing the theory of legal positivism. He attempted to clearly separate moral rules from “positive law.” Austin was greatly influenced in his utilitarian approach to law by Jeremy Bentham. Austin defined positive law as commands from the government that create a duty in the governed and are backed by a threat of sanction from the government should the command not be followed. In this way he defined law primarily in terms of the power to control others.

Source Wikipedia

Boone Carlyle

Boone Carlyle

Thomas Carlyle (December 4, 1795 – February 5, 1881)

His belief in the importance of heroic leadership found form in his book Heroes and Hero Worship, in which he compared different types of heroes. … For Carlyle the hero was somewhat similar to Aristotle’s “Magnanimous” man — a person who flourished in the fullest sense. However, for Carlyle, unlike Aristotle, the world was filled with contradictions with which the hero had to deal. All heroes will be flawed. Their heroism lay in their creative energy in the face of these difficulties, not in their moral perfection. To sneer at such a person for their failings is the philosophy of those who seek comfort in the conventional. Carlyle called this ‘valetism’, from the expression ‘no man is a hero to his valet’.

Source Wikipedia

Obviously, some parallels can be drawn between the idea of hero worship and Boone’s adulation of Locke. By the time Boone dies, he had all but become Locke’s valet.

Ana Lucia Cortez

Ana Lucia Cortez

Juan Donoso Cort̩s (1809 Р1853)

In his Speech on Dictatorship, Donoso described two different types of repression which he saw as necessary for the survival and maintenance of civilization-political and religious. These two forms of repression must exist in an equilibrium in order to be effective. With a decline in religious repression must come a corresponding and proportional rise in political repression, and vice versa. … All political and religious regimes must be repressive if political and religious order are to endure. Donoso emphasized that the legitimacy of a regime is not based upon heredity, but upon the capacity of a regime to be repressive.

Source Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Ana Lucia definitely believed in the power of dictatorship. Her “law” was enforced by the threat of the gun, with disastrous results.

Desmond Hume

Desmond Hume

David Hume (April 26, 1711 ““ August 25, 1776)

Hume expressed suspicion of attempts to reform society in ways that departed from long-established custom, and he counseled people not to resist their governments except in cases of the most egregious tyranny. … He believed that we should try to balance our demands for liberty with the need for strong authority, without sacrificing either. He supported liberty of the press, and was sympathetic to democracy, when suitably constrained. … He was also, in general, an optimist about social progress, believing that, thanks to the economic development that comes with the expansion of trade, societies progress from a state of “barbarism” to one of “civilization”. Civilized societies are open, peaceful and sociable, and their citizens are as a result much happier.

Source Wikipedia

Sayid Jarrah

Sayid Jarrah

Edward Wādi Sa”˜id (November 1, 1935 – September 25, 2003)

Said is best known for describing and critiquing “Orientalism”, which he perceived as a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East. In Orientalism (1978), Said described the “subtle and persistent Eurocentric prejudice against Arabo-Islamic peoples and their culture.” He argued that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture had served as an implicit justification for Europe and America’s colonial and imperial ambitions. Just as fiercely, he denounced the practice of Arab elites who internalized the American and British orientalists’ ideas of Arabic culture.

Source Wikipedia

The link to Edward Said has been put forth a few times — notably on Lostpedia. But it seems a bit thin to me. He was a political theorist, but he didn’t really delve into governmental systems like all the other namesakes. And hte name is spelled much differently, although pronounced the same. I include this for completeness. I think the translation of his name is a stronger possibility.

Arabic Translation

Sayid (Arabic: سيد ) is a common Arabic name meaning ‘Master’ or ‘Lord’ (Also often used in the Arabic language as an honorary title for addressing respected people and those of higher positions, much like ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr.’ in English). However, Sayid, as pronounced in the show, sounds more like the Arabic name spelled Said (Arabic: سعيد ) which ironically means someone who is happy / cheerful and lucky in life.

Jarrah (Arabic: جراح), originally meant a ‘Cutter’ or a ‘Wounder’ in traditional Arabic, is currently the typical Arabic translation for the word ‘Surgeon’.

Source Lostpedia

Sayid Jarrah = “Master Butcher.” Now that makes sense. A man practiced at torture, who has both renounced its use and given in to the temptation to use it on multiple occaisions.

John Locke

John Locke

John Locke (August 29, 1632 – October 28, 1704)

The Second Treatise of Government provides Locke’s positive theory of government – he explicitly says that he must do this “lest men fall into the dangerous belief that all government in the world is merely the product of force and violence.” Locke’s account involves several devices which were common in seventeenth and eighteenth century political philosophy — natural rights theory and the social contract. Natural rights are those rights which we are supposed to have as human beings before ever government comes into being. We might suppose, that like other animals, we have a natural right to struggle for our survival. Locke will argue that we have a right to the means to survive. When Locke comes to explain how government comes into being, he uses the idea that people agree that their condition in the state of nature is unsatisfactory, and so agree to transfer some of their rights to a central government, while retaining others. This is the theory of the social contract.

Source Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Charlie Pace

Charlie Pace

Jordan Scott Pace (May 12, 1744 – January 7, 1824)

Pace strongly emphasized the empiricist tradition, and is often seen as the link between David Hume and John Locke. Although his works are for the most part unknown, he is famous for his statement that “Love is irony.” This profound statement was part of a larger syllogism based on 1 John 4:18 citing that true Christian love was the antithesis of love.

Source Allexperts.com

Ah Charlie. “Love is irony” indeed. I keep hoping the writers will do something to make Charlie likable, interesting or both, again. He really hasn’t had too many good moments for the past season or so. Give him a purpose.

Shannon Rutherford

Shannon Rutherford

Samuel Rutherford (1600? – 1661)

He was a formidable controversialist, and a strenuous upholder of the divine right of Presbytery. Among his polemical works are Due Right of Presbyteries (1644), Lex, Rex (1644), and Free Disputation against Pretended Liberty of Conscience. Lex, Rex was, after the Restoration, burned by the common hangman, and led to the citation of the author for high treason, which his death prevented from taking effect. It presented a theory of limited government and constitutionalism that laid the foundation for later political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke and thus for modern political systems such as that of the United States. He advocates a rule by law rather than rule by men and discusses such concepts as the separation of powers and the covenant, a precursor to the social contract.

Source Wikipedia

Jack Shephard

Jack Shephard

“The Shepherd”

Jack acts as the shepherd and the castaways are his flock. Jack has shown time and time again that he is compelled to lead, compelled to heal, compelled to do the right thing. There also was a notorious thief and folk hero named “Jack Sheppard” in 18th century London, but I’m inclined to chalk that up to coincidence.

the others

The Dharma Initiative

The DHARMA Initiative

Dharma

Dharma refers to the underlying order in Nature and human life and behavior considered to be in accord with that order. Ethically, it means ‘right way of living’ or ‘proper conduct,’ especially in a religious sense. With respect to spirituality, dharma might be considered the Way of the Higher Truths. Dharma is a central concept in religions and philosophies originating in India. These religions and philosophies are called Dharmic religions. The principal ones are Hinduism (Sanatana Dharma), Buddhism (Buddhadharma), Jainism (Jain Dharma) and Sikhism, all of which emphasize Dharma (the correct understanding of Nature) in their teachings. In these traditions, beings that live in accordance with Dharma proceed more quickly toward Dharma Yukam, Moksha or Nirvana (personal liberation). Dharma also refers to the teachings and doctrines of the founders of these traditions, such as those of Gautama Buddha and Mahavira. In traditional Hindu society with its caste structure, Dharma constituted the religious and moral doctrine of the rights and duties of each individual.

Source Wikipedia

Juliet Burke

Juliet Burke

Edmund Burke (January 12, 1729 ““ July 9, 1797)

Irish social and political philosopher and statesman. Although reared in the Enlightenment era, Burke was a severe critic of rationalist theories of “natural law” and social contract. Like David Hume, Burke believed that political and social organization evolved organically over history from a variety of political, cultural and social circumstances. In Burke’s view, current society is a robust organism that emerged piecemeal and slowly over history. For this reason, Burke never trusted abstract “grand plans” for radical political, economic and/or social reorganization of society. … However, Burke wasn’t exactly an apologist of the current order either. Tyrannical kings and parliaments, no less than tyrannical mobs, were an anathema to Burke. It is for this reason that he defended the American Revolution (since, in his view, they were merely “reclaiming” their traditional rights as freeborn Englishmen) and condemned the French Revolution (which, in his view, was based on a rationalist experiment). … But his greatest influence was on social commentators like Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, who invoked Burke’s arguments to condemn the destructive rise of capitalist industrialism.

Source The History of Economic Thought Web Site

Benjamin Linus a.k.a. Henry Gale

Henry Gale (Benjamin Linus)

Henry Gale (Dorothy’s Uncle in The Wizard of Oz)

His pseudonym and supposed way of coming to the Island refers to the children’s book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum. “Henry Gale” is Dorothy’s Uncle Henry, while the hot air balloon refers to the Wizard himself, who landed on Oz (and subsequently left it) on a hot air balloon. This analogy could be taken one step further by assuming that “Henry”, like the Wizard, was the “man behind the curtain”, i.e. the real leader of the Others, while previously we were led to believe that Mr. Friendly, or to a greater degree Alvar Hanso, was in charge. In Ozma of Oz, the third book in Baum’s Oz series, Henry Gale is ordered by his doctor to take a vacation to Australia. He and his niece Dorothy depart on a steamship and, during a storm, Dorothy is blown overboard with one of her uncle’s hens. She and the hen are washed ashore to a place that Dorothy guesses is some sort of “fairy country”, as Oz has no seashores.

Source Lostpedia

Mittelos Bioscience

Mittelos Bioscience

“Lost Time”

The letters in “Mittelos” can be rearranged to spell “lost time.” Juliet Burke is recruited by Dr. Alpert from Mittelos Bioscience to study the case of a woman that Juliet estimates is in her 70s based on the condition of the uterus in a CT scan. Dr. Alpert tells Juliet that the woman is actually 26 — so the woman literally has 40-50 years of “lost time.”

Speculation: The island exists in some sort of “time anomaly.” This woman that is 26 but appears to be 70 actually spent 40 years on the island, but only seconds, minutes or days passed in the outside world. A real head trip would be if it turns out that the woman was Juliet herself, shunted through time. Perhaps she and Jack are even the two skeletons found in the cave? This is utterly unsupported by fact, of course. I just like talking our of my ass.

Ethan Rom

Ethan Rom

“Other Man”

The letters in Ethan’s name can be rearranged to spell “Other Man.” Since Ethan was the first “Other” the castaways encountered, that’s probably all there is to his name. But for fun, I must note that you can also spell “The Roman,” “Ham Tenor,” and my personal favorite: “Meat Horn”

minor characters

Anthony Cooper

Anthony Cooper

Anthony Cooper (1671 – 1713)

His grandfather, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, oversaw Shaftesbury’s early upbringing, and put John Locke in charge of his education. Shaftesbury would eventually come to disagree with many aspects of Locke’s philosophy (such as the latter’s empiricism, his social contract theory, and what Shaftesbury perceived to be his egoism), but Locke was clearly a crucially important influence on Shaftesbury’s philosophical development, and the two remained friends until Locke’s death.

Source Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Anthony Cooper, the friend of philosopher John Locke, had a bad liver, which Locke convinced him to have surgery on. The Lost version of Anthony Cooper is Locke’s father, who has a failing kidney. Outside of that, parallels are hard to draw, because the original Locke and Cooper were friends, whereas the Lost version of Cooper is a giant prick.

Danielle Rousseau

Danielle Rousseau

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 ““ July 2, 1778)

Perhaps Rousseau’s most important work is The Social Contract, which outlines the basis for a legitimate political order. Rousseau claimed that the state of nature eventually degenerates into a brutish condition without law or morality, at which point the human race must adopt institutions of law or perish. In the degenerate phase of the state of nature, man is prone to be in frequent competition with his fellow men while at the same time becoming increasingly dependent on them. This double pressure threatens both his survival and his freedom. According to Rousseau, by joining together through the social contract and abandoning their claims of natural right, individuals can both preserve themselves and remain free.

Source Wikipedia

I think the case can be made that Danielle has degenerated into a “brutish condition without law or morality.” I wonder if she’ll make the leap to establish a social contract with the castaways?

Penelope Widmore

Penelope Widmore

Penelope, wife of Odysseus

The Odyssey opens in the tenth year after the fall of Troy, 20 years after Odysseus left Ithaca. Odysseus, owing to the wrath of the sea-god Poseidon, has not been allowed to return home. … But at last Athena, his constant friend among the gods, persuades Zeus, the king of the gods, to allow him to escape. Athena goes in disguise to Ithaca, where Penelope and her son Telemachus are being harassed by a horde of 108 suitors who want to compel the queen to marry one of them.

Source Encarta

Obviously, there are strong parallels between the mythological Penelope, who’s husband was lost at sea, and Lost‘s Penelope, whose boyfriend Desmond is lost at sea as well. Add in the “108 suitors” found in Homer’s version of the story, and I am convinced of the connection.


There you go. That’s my list. I’m especially proud of the work I did on Ana Lucia, Kate and Charlie, because I haven’t seen their names decoded like this anywhere else. I know I also repeated a lot of work that other people had already done, but I enjoyed attempting to “crack the mystery” on my own.I considered putting James “Sawyer” Ford up there. The comparison between Lost‘s Sawyer and “Tom Sawyer” seemed plausible, and there was a famous river pirate named James Ford who plundered ships on the Mississippi, yet managed to maintain the facade of a respectable businessman, but the connections seemed a bit tenuous to me. (Although to be fair, I’m not 100-percent sold on the consensus view on Sayid’s name, which I reprinted above.)

I’d really like to hear what you think, or if anyone else has had a breakthrough on a name not on my list. I want to keep this as complete as possible, and will gladly credit people who present convincing arguments for how other characters got their names.