The Overcoat

The Overcoat The name "Akaky Akakievich"

The name “Akaky Akakievich” is an important and meaningful symbol in the story for the character that Akaky is, although its resonances might not be immediately clear to readers unfamiliar with Russian. Akaky receives his name through a baptismal ceremony at which the church calendar is consulted for corresponding saints’ days. As Alexander M. Martin writes, “the church calendar at the ill-starred hero’s baptism suggests names that ring preposterous and archaic: Mokkii, Sossii, Khozdazat, Trifilii, Dula, Varakhasii… Rather than subject her little boy to any of these, the mother reluctantly gives him his father’s only marginally less awful name, the vaguely scatological-sounding Akakii."

Though, as Boris Eichenbaum notes, Akaky Akakievich is a name derived from real names and so to that extent it is plausible, the narrator of “The Overcoat” is also clear on the point that the name sounds ridiculous: “The reader will perhaps find that somewhat strange and farfetched, but he can be assured that it was not fetched at all, but that such circumstances occurred of themselves as made it quite impossible to give him any other name” (395). Simon Karlinsky notes that in Russian Akaky Akakievich sounds “suspiciously as if it might be derived from okakat’ or obkakat’,” meaning “to cover with excrement” (137). Akaky’s name, is therefore repetitive (meaning “Akaky, son of Akaky”) as well as seeming to refer to excrement. This only reinforces Gogol’s portrayal of Akaky as a ridiculous figure in various ways, hopeless and unlucky in every respect.

However, as Karlinsky also notes, Akaky’s name also contains a hint of a purer origin: the original Greek name, Acacius, from which Akaky derives means “‘immaculate’ or ‘without blemish’” (137). Gogol’s employment of a name with multiple layers of meaning encourages the reader to think twice in assessing Akay—outwardly, he is pathetic, but he also contains a certain innocence and purity.