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Gogol is the son of Ashima and Ashoke, named after the Russian author Nikolai Gogol. He changes his name to Nikhil the summer before starting college.
In the beginning of the story, the name of Gogol is given to the newborn baby. At the time, it is not a good choice because the parents, originally from Bengali, are not able to name the baby according to their tradition. The baby get the name of Gogol because it is the name of his father's favorite (Russian) author. The father also was involved in an accident when he was reading a work by Gogol. It seems a bad choice for much of the child's life because he is teased about it. However, as he discovers who he is and begins to respect his parents and their choices, he finds it less offensive. Even though he does legally change his name, he include Gogol as a part of his new name.