By Alberto Cox Délano | TV | May 17, 2023 |
By Alberto Cox Délano | TV | May 17, 2023 |
This title is bait. Well, mostly. It’s only bait in the sense that this is not an article on the etymology of the characters’ names, or more specifically, the Roy children’s names, and whether they are symbolic or something. This will sound harsh, but giving your characters symbolic names is the second stupidest thing a writer can do after writing about what they know. The only thing you need to think about when naming a character is who gave them the name and why within the story. But just to quickly address this, Connor is Gaelic and means “Lover of Wolves” or “hound master” (basically, “hunter”); Kendall, as a name or surname, is of either British or Welsh origin, referring to the river Kent, itself probably Celtic; Siobhàn is obviously Celtic and Irish in origin, essentially a derivation of Joan; while Roman’s etymology breaks this pattern, though it is not related in any way to the common Celtic name and surname ‘Ronan’.
I’ve read a number of conjectures on the siblings’ names alluding to their eventual roles: Roman, aka Romulus, will ape his legendary namesake and kill his brother while founding a new city/taking over the company; ‘Shiv’ alludes to her being the ultimate hidden traitor, just like a short blade, though maybe her shortened moniker is more about Siobhan being a pain to spell. So on, so forth, ideas that glide over the fact that the writers have made a concerted effort, season after season, to avoid tired tropes and plot structures, being consistent with the psychological reality of the characters and never, ever dropping a twist that wasn’t foreshadowed. However, when we stick with the premise that Succession’s writers’ room is not for Basics, then the names of the siblings actually do have a meaning when it comes to their characterization and the care they have put into developing this world of Freudian, fascist sad sacks. There is indeed a “meaning” to the siblings having names that are distinctively Celtic or Roman Catholic in their inspiration.
We know so little about Connor’s mom’s background (and whether she was really mentally ill or she was just reacting like anyone would being married to Logan) that we are going to have to skip him, once again, from consideration. The one thing that is noticeable is that he wasn’t Logan II; in fact, only Kendall was given his father’s name and only as a middle name. Consider the kind of person Logan already was at the time of Connor’s birth (he is in his mid-thirties according to Alan Ruck): Probably well-off already, in the very early process of expanding his businesses, but the future is looking bright. It would only make sense for a dominant, narcissistic character like Logan to want to shove his firstborn, and male, into the narrative of him building a dynasty, and yet Logan couldn’t bring himself to pat his own ego on the back by christening Connor after him. As if he could already intuit that he would be the first pancake. As if he already felt that his first wife wasn’t “prime material” to build a legacy. These are all suppositions, but consider how devoted Connor is to his father; now consider that Kendall was born when the former was a teenager (he is supposed to be in his 50s); right in the prime years to develop foundational traumas, his father goes and confers on his half-brother the paternal name he was denied. That’s the kind of thing that can either turn you into a hate gremlin or someone obsessed with gaining his approval.
We don’t know much more about Connor’s mom, but we do know a lot about Kendall, Shiv, and Roman’s mother. And now their very Celtic-Catholic names gain a whole new meaning. Lady Caroline Collingwood (played by Harriet Walter, having the time of her life) is the kind of English aristocrat who makes jokes about people who buy their own furniture and who are only the sons of doctors. She is the kind of British aristocrat who is mentally incapable of not being in a perpetual state of smirk. A member of an aristocracy that bases a big portion of their identity on their contempt for everything Celtic and Catholic (like… how many times can Prince Harry make self-deprecating jokes about being a ginger?). An aristocracy of very insular, repressed, and bitter people who only christen their children from a very limited selection of names. Seriously, other than Albert, English aristocrats just cycle around the same meh selection of names (George, William, Hugo, Henry, Beatrice, Lois, not unlike Chile’s elite and its cavalcade of José Luises, Juan Pablos, Trinidades, and Pías), so many times that they can’t tell themselves apart without nicknames.
With that in mind, the children of an English Lady having very Celtic names is not a break with tradition: It’s Logan leaving his imprint on them, marking territory. Granted, in Logan’s defense, Celtic names are glorious (except for Kendall, ruined by Kardashian association). Everyone should be glad to have one. In fact, regardless of the scenario, if you have to choose between an English name and a Celtic name for a baby, make sure the Celtic name wins. But for the Roy children, their names created a gap between them and their mother from the very day they were born: Their children are not really hers, and in turn, they could never really be part of her world, with their mixed-plebeian ancestry and their way-too-Fennian names. Or shortly thereafter. The biggest chasm between them, of course, was carved by the fact that Lady Caroline belongs to a sociocultural group that considers physical affection and the display of any emotion other than smiling smugness as subhuman. Logan knew exactly what he was doing by making sure his kids had those names, knowing that it would be one more thing, though a very important one, to drive a wedge between the siblings and an emotionally unavailable mother, while driving them closer and closer to his orbit. That’s the trick abusive parents play on their children: They are present.
It’s details like these that allow us to reconstruct the kind of home the Roy siblings had to endure and the economic abuse their mother herself had to deal with. In an interview for Season 3, Harriet Walter explained that in developing the character, she considered how women like Lady Caroline were born only to inherit a title but never an estate, and even in the late ’70s/early ’80s when she married Logan, she was but the pawned-off pretty girl to the wealthy (slightly) older man. It could’ve been worse, though; she could’ve married into the British Royal Family.
The divorce between Logan and Caroline is the foundational trauma in the siblings’ lives, but it is also the moment where they became part of the company, as their mother gained them seats on the board and a participation in the trust that made them “independently” wealthy. Or at least, that they couldn’t be cut off from the inheritance. Perhaps she thought that was the ultimate and sole act of love she could do for them: Yielding custody to Logan in exchange for security. Logan had won once again, Caroline was wrong to assume Logan would ever cut them off if, for example, she had gained custody. It was all in the names; Logan would never cut off what he considered his property. For their part, the kids simply assumed that she was pawning them off for a good payout, which isn’t totally untrue. And since British aristocrats’ emotional repression gives them the emotional intelligence of a ten-year-old, Caroline responded in kind with a barrage of passive aggression (you don’t serve your children pigeon with buckshot … hell, you don’t serve them English food at all if you actually want them close).
I used to think the Roy siblings were f**ked up by their father, but emotionally destroyed by their mother’s absence. But I was wrong. It was always Logan; they got everything from their father.
Alberto Cox would like to ask the Murdoch siblings if they actually need a hug. (This is an expansion on a post I wrote in r/SuccessionTV some time ago).