Monday, February 11, 2019

The etymology of Jack Kerouac's character names

James Dean (l) and Professor James Moriarty (r)

We know to a certainty that Jack Kerouac's characters represented real-life people. See, for example, Dave Moore's excellent Character Key to Kerouac's Duluoz Legend. We know, for example, that Dean Moriarty in On the Road represents real-life Neal Cassady. But why did Jack use the pseudonym, Dean Moriarty? Was it, as some have suggested, a combination of James Dean -- representing Neal's rebel side -- and Professor James Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes -- representing Neal's dark side? How did Jack pick Rheinhold Cacoethes for Kenneth Rexroth? Where did Jack get James Watson for John Clellon Holmes? Why did Jack use Sal Paradise for himself? And so on.

There are bits and pieces about this in various Kerouac biographies and strewn about the 'Net, but I am not aware of a one-stop, comprehensive, evidence-based source for such information; it makes sense to me that such a resource would be of interest to Kerouac scholars and fans. If you are aware of such a resource -- even piecemeal attempts -- let us know in a comment. We may start collecting such information and posting it in one spot in a future blog post.

1 comment:

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Found out from Dave Moore on the Kerouac Facebook group page that Jim Jones has a chapter about this in his book, Jack Kerouac's Nine Lives.