The first time I read The Crucible in grade 12, I picked up on a quote by John Proctor near the end of the play:
Because it is my name! Because I cannot have another in my life! Because I lie and sign myself to lies! Because I am not worth the dust on the feet of them that hang! How may I live without my name? I have given you my soul; leave me my name!
While I fought to decide whom I believed were good or bad in the play, I kept this quote in mind when thinking about Proctor. Morality plays a huge part when reading this text, and it’s hard to side with anybody at all (it’s not hard to determine that Abigail is a horrible person, and Parris is super annoying, let’s just come clean with that now).
So what’s in a name? It turns out that there is a lot that is tied to one’s name. Names identify us, and we, as humans, like to name and classify things in order to give it purpose (Q: What would a stapler be if it didn’t have a name? A: Probably nothing, since we only give names to things we can conceive, or conceive to exist). Aside from that, t is the only thing we have when we have nothing left. After everything comes and goes, we are left, at the end of the (extremely dreadful and theoretical) day, with what we call ourselves.
Proctor, I believe, was so obsessed with refusing to sign his name on the written confession because it is the only thing he had left to pass on. His soul and his body are incapable of being handed down to his children or over to his wife, but his name is. Elizabeth already shares his name, and therefore, if he signed his name upon the confession, he would have “shared” with her his “fault” (if that makes sense). The same applies to his children (and future child). Proctor’s sins would have been carried down through his name.
I think of this like Hitler. The name “Hitler” (and even “Adolf”, as seen in Until the Dawn’s Light) holds very negative connotations because he was associated with the Holocaust in WWII. Imagine if Hitler had kids; imagine the dread they would have had to live solely because of the name they bore. Because the community in which the Salem witch trials took place was highly religious, carrying the burden of sin would have been a big deal.