Clement Moore’s eight reindeer and the imagery of their names

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” was on TV last night and a writer has to love the names of the reindeer. Here’s Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark on the imagery of those names:

Poets love the names of things. So do journalists, especially the names of dogs. Fiction writers get to invent names, and some, such as J.K Rowling, do it exceedingly well: Harry Potter, Draco Malfoy, Hermione Granger, and so many more. An introduction to the Rudolph song names the eight reindeer made famous in the poem by Clement Moore, the work now known as “The Night Before Christmas.”

There was Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner and Blitzen. Recite those names and experience a little feast of sound imagery: including alliteration, assonance, meter, and rhyme. Rudolph (he was almost Reginald or Rollo) shares two syllables with the herd, but the initial R and final F sounds find no connection with the others. Starting with his name, Rudolph is a creature set apart.

From the song, we know nothing about the appearance of the other reindeer, but Rudolph has a single distinguishing characteristic, what Tom Wolfe might call a “status detail.” Like his name, that shiny, glowing nose sets him apart. But in a good way, or a bad? For me as a kid, that schnozz was great because of its practicality, like Edward Scissorhands’ hands. I was afraid of the dark, so how cool would it be to have a flashlight right in the middle of your face. In that way, Rudolph was like a comic book superhero with a superpower, an X-creature.

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