(Photo: Walt Disney Pictures)
Over the years, the names of these literary characters have come to be associated with negative connotations, and many people, even today, view them as insults when, but nothing about these names could be further from the truth; instead, they best analyzed through the lenses of Jesuit values
In the original story from 1765, Goody Two-Shoes was a poor little girl who established a school for her illiterate neighborhood children. She threw herself into the fostering of individual minds and souls, much as we ourselves are called to raise up our fellow students and friends and support them toward becoming the best and learned people they can be. She promoted the dignity of poor children and their right to a better education just as we, in turn, are meant to stand by those who are also struggling. Thus, Goody is an embodiment of one of our own Jesuit values—Cura Personalis, or Care of the Whole Person. The name of ‘Goody Two-Shoes’ rather than meaning excessively well behaved, should carry the connotation of someone with a great interest and care for their fellow human beings, and the willingness to help them.
The name of Pollyanna, the peppy protagonist from Eleanor Porter’s 1913 novel, has come to derogatorily refer to someone who is excessively and illogically optimistic. In the story, Pollyanna was the secular definition of Magis—always discerning the greater good in the situations she found herself and striving to do her best, be it inspiring the inhabitants of her little New England town to overcoming the loss of her legs. In today’s world, facing the terrors of an inflamed Mother Nature, an uncertain political atmosphere, and the personal crises of private lives, it is too easy to lose sight of the better good and God. It is here that people known as Pollyannas stand as examples, recognized for living the Jesuit value of Magis and pointing the rest toward the better that lies beyond today.
Uncle Tom, a name negatively implying excessive servility, was a vessel of Ignatian Spirituality, finding God’s constant presence in all situations: the deaths of his masters, his falling fortunes, and even his own demise. Of all names that time has changed, his bears the greatest honor because it only means that he lives in our own Jesuit values the most fully. He was a man for others, caring deeply for and loyally serving all of his masters, striving to direct their minds and hearts to God and allowing the Word to unite his own despite the limits placed on his social class.
This world has taken the names of these upstanding and righteous characters and cast them into the shade of shame, but it cannot change the fact that those names can also represent the values and good work of these literary characters. Rather than being negative, these names should carry the connotations of willingness, love, sacrifice, and excellence—all the principles of the Jesuit values.