Vol. 46 No. 4 (1998)
Research Article

From Mocha Dick to Moby Dick: Fishing for Clues to Moby's Name and Color

Published 1998-12-01



Melville's fictional whale Moby Dick appears to derive from the real whale Mocha Dick, yet the differences in names and colors between these two suggest that Moby's name may be intimately connected to his symbolic role. One meaning of mob is ‘to wrap in a cowl or veil’. Creating an adjective by adding -y produces moby ‘having the qualities of being hooded, especially about the head’, a definition reflected in Ishmael's “grand hooded phantom.” Dick may be a shortening of Dickens, a euphemism for the devil. Dick may also suggest Dicky ‘an officer acting on commission’, an appropriate meaning for Ahab's and Starbuck's conception of Moby as God or an agent of God. Lexicons available to Melville reveal the meaning of the name and illuminate the characterization of Moby as both commodity and Zeus of the sea, both “dumb brute” and divine Leviathan.


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