Character Names in Dan Brown’s Inferno—and Their Hidden Meanings

Every character in a Dan Brown novel has a name chosen with care by the author. Most names have a multiplicity of meanings and allusions—some profound and some playful. In our book, Secrets of Inferno: In the Footsteps of Dante and Dan Brown, Glenn Erickson, a philosophy professor at Brazil’s Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte, explains some of the character names in his marvelous essay, “Letting the Genre out of the Bottle: Dan Brown’s Inferno as Modern Parody.” Below is an excerpt:

The names of the characters have significance on a number of levels. For example, five important character names include the letters that spell out “sin” within their names. Three share the letters for “reason,” while one contains Faith, Reason, and Treason. The standard list of the seven deadly sins are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth (as named by Brown on p. 58). However, at various points the novel turns treachery into one of the seven deadly sins, as an equivalent to pride (see pp. 103, 215, 276 of Dan Brown’s Inferno, 2013 US hardback edition). Even though this is a mistaken reading of Dante as well as the classical list of these seven sins, treachery or treason is on Dan Brown’s list all the same. It seems reasonable, meanwhile, to equate wrath with anger and sloth with laziness. Given this much…five characters have specific deadly sins hidden in their names:

“treason” is in the name Jonathan Ferris

“greed” in the name Agent Brüder

“envy” in Vayentha

“anger” in Robert Langdon

“laziness” in Elizabeth Sinskey

All of these persons were at one time or other in contact with the cylinder seal on which was inscribed the acronym for the seven deadly sins: SALIGIA (p.58). There were two more characters that also came in contact with the seal, other than its designer Zobrist. One of these, Sienna Brooks, has letters in her name spelling Eros, the personification of carnal love, or lust. The other is Ignazio Busoni, a.k.a. il Duomino, who has the letters of the Latin word for gluttony, gula (also cited p. 58), in his name plus nickname. What is more, some, if not all, of these characters seem to embody their particular semi-anagrammatic vices: Sinskey, because of her medication, is always dozing off (“laziness”), Busoni is very fat (“gula/gluttony”), Sienna has reveries of lovemaking (“lust”), Ferris is two-faced (“treason”), and so on.

Bertrand Zobrist is another character who has the letters for “reason” in his name. But there are other layers of meaning here as well: Zobrist is a Prussian name that derives from names like Ober and Obermann; these latter names, in turn, conjure up Nietzche’s Übermensch ( a kind of “overman” or “superman”) who can define the values for a world in which “God is dead” (just as Zobrist believes he can do). In uber, we have several of the letters contained in superbia, which is Latin for the sin of pride. With the inclusion of Zobrist and “pride/superbia,” we can say that all seven of the traditional sins are covered by a character name, with treachery/treason added as Brown’s eighth sin to cover all bases.

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2 Responses to Character Names in Dan Brown’s Inferno—and Their Hidden Meanings

  1. Treachery is not a capital sin, but it is a very important sin in the Divine Comedy; if I remember correctly, Dante reserved the lowest place in hell for the treacherous, or at least a very unpleasant place. That is why it merits a place with the capital sins. The capital sins are not “main” sins, as we might mean in English; they are “head” sins, as in the Latin root “caput”, meaning the source sins from which other sins flow. Treachery is the result of the capital sins, not a cause of other sins as they are.

  2. Kota Sára says:

    Also, it might be far-fetched, but I realised that Sinskey’s name can be read as “sin’s key”. She was infertile, and the point of Zobrist’s virus (the “sin” here) was that it made people infertile.

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