Part of Frankenstein's rejection of his creation is the fact that he does not give it a name, which causes a lack of identity. Instead it is referred to by words such as "wretch", "monster", "creature", "demon", "devil", "fiend", and "it". When Frankenstein converses with the creature in Chapter 10, he addresses it as "vile insect", "abhorred monster", "fiend", "wretched devil", and "abhorred devil".
During a telling of Frankenstein, Shelley referred to the creature as "Adam". Shelley was referring to the first man in the Garden of Eden, as in her epigraph:
- Did I request thee, Maker, from my clay
- To mould Me man? Did I solicit thee
- From darkness to promote me?
- John Milton, Paradise Lost (X. 743–5)
Although the creature would be described in later works as a composite of whole body parts grafted together from cadavers and reanimated by the use of electricity, this description is not entirely consistent with Shelley's work; both the use of electricity and the cobbled-together image of Frankenstein's monster were more the result of James Whale's popular 1931 film adaptation of the story, and other early motion-picture works based upon the creature. In Shelley's original work, Dr. Frankenstein discovers a previously unknown but elemental principle of life, and that insight allows him to develop a method to imbue vitality into inanimate matter, though the exact nature of the process is left largely ambiguous. After a great deal of hesitation in exercising this power, Frankenstein spends two years painstakingly constructing the creature's body (one anatomical feature at a time, from raw materials supplied by "the dissecting room and the slaughter-house"), which he then brings to life using his unspecified process.
The creature has often been mistakenly called "Frankenstein". In 1908 one author said "It is strange to note how well-nigh universally the term "Frankenstein" is misused, even by intelligent people, as describing some hideous monster". Edith Wharton's The Reef (1916) describes an unruly child as an "infant Frankenstein." David Lindsay's "The Bridal Ornament", published in The Rover, 12 June 1844, mentioned "the maker of poor Frankenstein." After the release of Whale's cinematic Frankenstein, the public at large began speaking of the creature itself as "Frankenstein". This also occurs in Frankenstein films, including Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and several subsequent films, as well as in film titles such as Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Furthermore, future renditions and adaptations of the story include an evil laboratory assistant Igor or Ygor, who does not actually exist within the original narrative.
Victor Frankenstein's name
Mary Shelley maintained that she derived the name Frankenstein from a dream-vision. Despite her public claims of originality, however, a number of other sources have been suggested as Shelley's actual inspiration. The German name Frankenstein means "stone of the Franks", and it is associated with various places in Germany, including Frankenstein Castle (Burg Frankenstein) in Darmstadt, Hesse, and Frankenstein Castle in Frankenstein, a town in the Palatinate. There is also a castle called Frankenstein in Bad Salzungen, Thuringia, and a municipality called Frankenstein in Saxony. Until 1945, Ząbkowice Śląskie, now a city in Lower Silesian Voivodeship, Poland, was mainly populated by Germans and named Frankenstein in German, and was the site of a scandal involving gravediggers in 1606, which has been suggested as an inspiration to the author. Finally, the name is borne by the aristocratic House of Franckenstein from Franconia.
Radu Florescu argues that Mary and Percy Shelley visited Frankenstein Castle near Darmstadt in 1814 during their return to England from their elopement to Switzerland. It was at this castle that a notorious alchemist, Conrad Dippel, had experimented with human bodies, and Florescu reasons that Mary suppressed mention of her visit in order to maintain her public claim of originality. A literary essay by A. J. Day supports Florescu's position that Mary Shelley knew of and visited Frankenstein Castle before writing her debut novel. Day includes details of an alleged description of the Frankenstein castle that exists in Mary Shelley's 'lost' journals. According to Jörg Heléne, the 'lost journals', as well as Florescu's claims, cannot be verified.
A possible interpretation of the name Victor is derived from Paradise Lost by John Milton, a great influence on Shelley (a quotation from Paradise Lost is on the opening page of Frankenstein and Shelley even has the monster himself read it). Milton frequently refers to God as "the Victor" in Paradise Lost, and Shelley sees Victor as playing God by creating life. In addition, Shelley's portrayal of the monster owes much to the character of Satan in Paradise Lost; indeed, the monster says, after reading the epic poem, that he empathizes with Satan's role in the story.
There are many similarities between Victor and Percy Shelley, Mary's husband. Victor was a pen name of Percy Shelley's, as in the collection of poetry he wrote with his sister Elizabeth, Original Poetry by Victor and Cazire. There is speculation that one of Mary Shelley's models for Victor Frankenstein was Percy, who at Eton had "experimented with electricity and magnetism as well as with gunpowder and numerous chemical reactions", and whose rooms at Oxford were filled with scientific equipment.
Percy Shelley was the first-born son of a wealthy country squire with strong political connections and a descendant of Sir Bysshe Shelley, 1st Baronet of Castle Goring, and Richard Fitzalan, 10th Earl of Arundel. Victor's family is one of the most distinguished of that republic and his ancestors were counselors and syndics. Percy had a sister named Elizabeth; Victor had an adopted sister named Elizabeth.
On 22 February 1815, Mary Shelley gave birth to a baby two months prematurely, and the baby died two weeks later. Percy did not care about the condition of this premature infant and left with Claire, Mary's stepsister, for a lurid affair. When Victor saw the creature come to life he fled the apartment, though the newborn creature approached him, as a child would a parent. The question of Victor's responsibility to the creature is one of the main themes of the book.
The Modern Prometheus is the novel's subtitle (though some modern editions now drop the subtitle, mentioning it only in an introduction). Prometheus, in later versions of Greek mythology, was the Titan who created mankind at the behest of Zeus. He made a being in the image of the gods that could have a spirit breathed into it. Prometheus taught man to hunt, read, and heal their sick, but after he tricked Zeus into accepting poor-quality offerings from humans, Zeus kept fire from mankind. Prometheus, being the creator, took back the fire from Zeus to give to man. When Zeus discovered this, he sentenced Prometheus to be eternally punished by fixing him to a rock of Caucasus, where each day an eagle would peck out his liver, only for the liver to regrow the next day because of his immortality as a god. He was intended to suffer alone for eternity, but eventually Heracles (Hercules) released him.
Prometheus was also a myth told in Latin, but was a very different story. In this version Prometheus makes man from clay and water, again a very relevant theme to Frankenstein, as Victor rebels against the laws of nature (how life is naturally made) and as a result is punished by his creation.
The Titan in the Greek mythology of Prometheus parallels Victor Frankenstein. Victor's work by creating man by new means reflects the same innovative work of the Titan in creating humans.
Some have argued that Mary Shelley saw Prometheus not as a hero but rather as something of a devil, and blamed him for bringing fire to man and thereby seducing the human race to the vice of eating meat (fire brought cooking which brought hunting and killing).
Byron was particularly attached to the play Prometheus Bound by Aeschylus, and Percy Shelley would soon write his own Prometheus Unbound (1820). The term "Modern Prometheus" was actually coined by Immanuel Kant in reference to Benjamin Franklin and his experiments with electricity.