The Significance of Names in Wuthering Heights
Author Emily Bronte
Mysteries, Clues, and Deeper Meanings
In the sweeping saga that is Wuthering Heights, very little appears to be random. The story abounds with mysteries and tantalizing clues that hint of deeper meanings, and this has kept readers hooked and coming back for more, and why this work has seen so much analysis. Far more than just another Gothic novel, this complex story has many, many layers, and peeling them back leads to interesting and startling discoveries.
One of Bronte's greatest strengths as a writer was her willingness to not spell out everything for her readers but to weave her story in such a way as to draw readers inexorably in, capturing them in a mysterious interconnected web.
While the book initially received mixed and at times harsh reviews, as time went on, awareness grew that it was, in fact, one of the absolute greats in literature.
As she did with so many other elements in the story, Bronte also used names to good and powerful effect.
Heathcliff and Catherine
There is so much in the name Heathcliff. Not only does it speak to location but to parentage and even to passion.
The British meaning of the name Heathcliff means literally heath near a cliff.
The name is also suggestive that this is where this child came from (much closer to home and not in far-off Liverpool).
Mr. Earnshaw lost a son in death by the name of Heathcliff and when he brings a strange child home, he chooses to give him this same name, which has led to speculation that the boy was really his own child (and there are many other clues that support this idea).
As touched on, the name conjures an area near cliffs and subtly reminds readers of Penistone Crags, a rocky cliff-like outcropping near to Wuthering Heights and a romantic spot Heathcliff and Catherine went to, to be alone together.
While the name perfectly captures the haunted, wild, untameable, unforgiving landscape, it also perfectly characterizes Heathcliff's persona.
Repetition of the Name
The name crops up a number of times in the novel: the deceased son, the foundling treated as a son, and as the last name for Heathcliff's only son (Linton Heathcliff)). It is also seen in Catherine's daughter, Cathy Linton who also gains the names Heathcliff and Earnshaw. She's a Linton from Thrushcross Grange, marries Linton Heathcliff (Heathcliff's son who is from Wuthering Heights), then marries Hareton Earnshaw (Her uncle Hindley's son and her cousin who is also from Wuthering Heights). Her alliances with Heathcliff's son and with her cousin, connects the two houses, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcoss Grange.
Before passing the threshold... I detected the date ‘1500’, and the name ‘Hareton Earnshaw’.— Mr. Lockwood
What is truly interesting is that at the very start of the novel, the name Hareton Earnshaw is seen over the door into Wuthering Heights. This isn't random but is there for an important reason. It establishes that Wuthering Heights has been in the Earnshaw family for some time. At the very end of the novel, Hindley's son Hareton reclaims his birthright and becomes owner of Wuthering Heights.
This is fitting. Heathcliff has taken his vengeance on his enemies, so justice has been served. He dies and is finally with his love, Catherine, eternally, so his torment and anguish is resolved. Now it's time that peace finally comes to Wuthering Heights in the form of the next generation and that Hareton receives his birthright.
If we look at the name itself, it sounds uncannily like "heir" and indeed, Heathcliff is said by Nelly Dean to have cheated Hareton out of his birthright by becoming master at Wuthering Heights. In the end, Hareton becomes the heir to property that has long been in his family.
Being unable to remove the chain, I jumped over, and, running up the flagged causeway... knocked vainly for admittance, till my knuckles tingled and the dogs howled. ‘Wretched inmates!’ I ejaculated, mentally, ‘you deserve perpetual isolation from your species for your churlish inhospitality. At least, I would not keep my doors barred in the day-time.— Mr. Lockwood
Lockwood (Heathcliff's Tenant Who Rents the Grange)
It can be no accident that Bronte chose this name for Heathcliff's tenant, and indeed, when he tries to visit Wuthering Heights, he is locked out by a gate, and is locked out in other ways: he is given a chilly reception by Heathcliff, Joseph and the inmates, he is out of his element, he is attacked by the dogs.
On his second visit, he faces a locked door and in spite of his pounding and hollering, no one will open to him. Later, infuriated at his treatment, when he tries to leave, he is not only pinned to the ground by the dogs but effectively forced to stay by a snow storm.
When he has to spend the night, he has to sleep in a wooden paneled bed that is closed and confining and he besieged with nightmares and haunted by Catherine's ghost who seizes his hand and won't let go.
When he tries to return home the next day, he sinks up to his neck in snow, so he is trapped again.
Detached and out of touch with reality
Additionally, Lockwood is emotionally and psychologically locked and may in fact be a sociopath. He craves acknowledgement and ego strokes and goes out of his way to seek out those who do not notice him or pander to his vanity and yet he rejects those who finally show interest in him (bait and switch), so he is trapped in his own strange psychological prison, where he leads a vacant, loveless existence, on the fringes but never truly part of anything.
An extremely interesting example of Lockwood's being so locked in his perception is seen right at the end of the novel. Readers will remember 1) how terrified Lockwood was when haunted by Catherine's ghost and how in the last chapter he is resentful that Cathy and Hareton seem fearless: "Together, they would brave Satan and all his legions." So on the one hand, when something affects Lockwood personally, he notices and acknowledges it.
On the other hand... 2) he is fully acquainted with the tortured history of the Heights and 3) Nelly has just recounted that others (Joseph, country folks, church folk, and a lad have seen Heathcliff's and Catherine's ghosts), plus 4) she has just related that Hareton placed sods over Heathcliff's grave so that it matched the others and was as smooth and verdant (green) as its companion mounds but... because none of this affects Lockwood personally, what absolutely detached and oblivious conclusion does he come to?
He seeks and discovers the three mounds and he sees that Catherine's grave is only half buried and Heathcliff's grave is bare (it's obviously been disturbed by something), and Lockwood in his typical fashion wonders how anyone could ever imagine "unquiet" slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.
The Earnshaws had to "earn" their money and work hard at farming to retain their holdings. While they appear to have been reasonably well off, they certainly were not as well-to-do as the Lintons.
Both Cathy and Hindley display a desire for wealth. Cathy earns it by going against her heart and her love for intense and passionate Heathcliff and marrying vanilla and bland Edgar.
Hindley seeks money from Heathcliff and earns it by having to swallow his pride and allowing Heathcliff to stay at the Heights in Catherine's old room, even though Hindley still hates Heathcliff and wishes him dead.
The latter syllable of the name, "shaw" is interesting too. The British meaning being, the tops and stalks of a cultivated crop. Perfectly in tune with Wuthering Heights being owned by farmers.
Lint Clings to Fabric
When we look at the name Linton, the first syllable is "lint." Now what does lint do? It sticks to a garment. Edgar Linton is like lint that is attached to Catherine (the garment). Edgar is unswerving in his pursuit of Catherine. The inevitable happens and Catherine marries Linton instead of Heathcliff, but while Linton is attached to Catherine externally, readers know that Heathcliff has her inwardly.
When Heathcliff, in revenge, marries Edgar's sister, Isabella Linton, their only son is named Linton Heathcliff, which also shows the connection between the two houses.
Catherine leaves Wuthering Heights to marry Edgar Linton and they have one child, Cathy, who marries and ends up returning to Wuthering Heights.
A Cliff-Like Rocky Outcropping About One Kilometer North of Wuthering Heights
Perhaps no other spot mentioned in Wuthering Heights captures our imaginations as much as Penistone Crags. Penistone Crags appeals to the romantic in all of us.
Who of us hasn't pictured it as the premium romantic spot for Catherine and Heathcliff? As children, they go there to escape Hindley; as they get older and the love and attraction between them grows, it becomes a place for them to be alone together. Movie versions show them embracing and sharing intensely romantic moments at the base of Penistone Crags.
The likely inspiration for Penistone Crags is an actual place called Ponden Kirk. It is an outcropping of gritstone rock and is about one kilometer north of Top Withens. The Kirk has an opening in its base, which corresponds to the Fairy Cave in the book.
Local legends claim that women who pass through the opening will marry within a year.
When we look closer at this name it has sexual undertones. One only has to loosely separate the syllables: penis tone or form two words, "penis" and "stone" to picture "rock hard" passion in Heathcliff.
Now, let's take the ball and run with this a bit further. When we think of the name Heathcliff, we think of a heath area near a cliff. Penistone Crags was a cliff-like area, rising out of the moors. It seems obvious that Penistone Crags was suggestive of Heathcliff's passion and it was the key spot for a liaison.
We know that Catherine and Heathcliff went there when they wanted to be alone. Whether or not they consummated their love there, is open to debate, but there is likely not a reader alive who hasn't thought that if those two made love, Penistone Crags would have been the place.
The Fairy Cave
The Fairy Cave
If Penistone Crags puts us in mind as to Heathcliff's state of arousal and as being the premier "make-out spot" for the two lovers, there is another name that is part of this picture.
The Fairy Cave is part of Penistone Crags. It was an explorable opening at the bottom of the Crags.
The Fairy Cave amply portrays the female, Catherine, and her particular physical attributes.
Because the Fairy Cave is part of the Crags, this is suggestive of union between Heathcliff and Catherine.
The whole structure, Crags and Fairy Cave, could also symbolize that Heathcliff and Catherine were made of the same material and were forever joined, both from a genetic standpoint (if he was her half-brother) and from a soul mate one.
Catherine famously said, "Nelly, I am Heathcliff."
Heathcliff said of Catherine, "I cannot live without my life! I cannot live without my soul!"
Location Believed to be the Setting for the Wuthering Heights Farm Owned by the Earnshaws
Wuthering is an actual word and means tempestuous, stormy, which perfectly describes the wild, windswept chilly location of the Heights farmhouse at the top of the moors and perfectly characterizes most of the inhabitants. The place seems cursed.
Thrushcross Grange is in Thrushcross Park, a lush green sheltered location at a lower altitude than the Heights.
When the words of Thrushcross Grange are looked at, a picture emerges of a bird-filled country residence of someone wealthy. This name perfectly depicts the Linton's station in life.
- Thrush: one meaning is: any of numerous migratory songbirds.
- Cross: While this word has a number of meanings, it can denote a crossing from one place to another (which is exactly what Catherine did when she left Wuthering Heights to move to the Thrushcross Grange). A cross can also mean a trial or affliction and certainly Thrushcross Grange was that for Heathcliff.
- Grange: residence or country house and various outbuildings of a gentleman farmer.
Bloodlines Between Both Houses
Catherine Earnshaw leaves Wuthering Heights to marry Edgar Linton at Thrushcross Grange
Heathcliff marries Isabella Linton
Hindley Earnshaw has Hareton
They have a daughter, Cathy Linton
They have a son, Linton Heathcliff
Hareton marries Cathy (his cousin)
Cathy marries Linton Heathcliff and moves to Wuthering Heights
Heathcliff's bloodline dies out with death of Linton
Cathy is thus a Linton Heathcliff Earnshaw
- Heathcliff and Cathy are buried together in the Kirk-yard on a slope close to the moors.
- Hereton inherits Wuthering Heights.
Do you think Bronte's use of names provided for greater insights as to the characters?
© 2017 Athlyn Green