In “Good Country People,” Flannery O’Connor uses symbolism in the choice of names, almost to the point of being ironic and humorous. These names center around the personality and demeanor of the characters. Hulga, once known as Joy, simply changed her name because it was the ugliest she could come up with. Mrs. Freeman’s name is ironic because she is burdened by the land that she works, so she is not really free. Mrs. Hopewell’s name is also ironic, because she tries to provide hope, but is in fact empty in her talk. Each of these characters’ names, Hulga, Mrs. Freeman, and Mrs. Hopewell, all show the symbolism used by O’Connor.
Hulga, the daughter of Mrs. Hopewell, was actually named Joy at birth. At the age of ten, Joy lost one of her legs in a hunting accident, and from that point on became a depressed realist. At the age of twenty one, Joy moved out of the house, went to college, and legally changed her name to Hulga. Hulga changed her name solely to spite her mother, because Joy is such a beautiful name and Hulga is such an ugly one. Hulga had arrived at it first purely on the basis of its ugly sound and then the full genius of its fitness struck her. She saw it as the name of her highest creative act. Hulga also changed her name because of the true way she feels inside. Hulga is the ugliest name she could think of and it shows her inability to love or to become close to anyone.
One of the most important elements of “Good Country People” is the relevance of names. O’Connor’s choice of names seems to give indications about the personalities of the characters and seem to be more relevant to the story than what the reader would commonly overlook as simply being generic character names. For example, Mrs. Hopewell losing her “joy,” both her daughter Joy and her happiness, and the Bible salesman’s own attempt to satisfy himself through her, proves to the reader that, whether by coincidence or not, the names in “Good Country People” were very well selected and have profound meaning in the context of the story. Another example would be Mrs. Freeman. Her name is also ironic because in the story she is “free” from any type of incorrectness because she can never be brought to admit herself wrong on any point she makes.
The chances are very slim that these names fit so well to each character just by chance of assigning random generic names. In conclusion, readers should realize and appreciate the relevance of the names of the characters in “Good Country People,” because the names give significant insight into the meaning of the story, additional to what is seen on the surface by simply reading it. O’Connor chose the names she used very carefully, and the meanings of the names in the context of the story have a profound effect on its theme.