‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ Author Said Why Offred’s Real Name Wasn’t in the Book

Many fans of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale are fascinated by the character of June, who was given the name Offred. However, author Margaret Atwood’s book The Handmaid’s Tale mentions the character was called Offred without mentioning her true name. Here’s a look at why the acclaimed author didn’t mention Offred’s real name in her book The Handmaid’s Tale — and how she reacted to Hulu giving the character a name.

Elisabeth Moss with people dressed like Handmaids from The Handmaid's Tale
Elisabeth Moss |

‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ author didn’t think June was Offred’s real name

Withholding a character’s name is quite common in old books. For example, readers never learn the name of the protagonists of H. G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds or Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. In Atwood’s book, audiences learn the name the protagonist was assigned — Offred — but not her true name. The author explained why this was the case in an essay she wrote about the reasons she wrote The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Why do we never learn the real name of the central character, I have often been asked,” Atwood wrote in The New York Times. “Because, I reply, so many people throughout history have had their names changed, or have simply disappeared from view. Some have deduced that Offred’s real name is June, since, of all the names whispered among the Handmaids in the gymnasium/dormitory, ‘June’ is the only one that never appears again. That was not my original thought but it fits, so readers are welcome to it if they wish.”

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Why June has a real name in series but not the book

Of course, adaptations need not be faithful to Atwood’s book. The first screen adaptation of The Handmaid’s Tale was the 1990 film of the same name starring . In this version of the story. Offred’s true name is Kate. In a similar vein, Hulu’s version of The Handmaid’s Tale gives Offred the real name “June” which she reveals at the end of the first episode of the first season. In that scene, June mentions her true name while Lesley Gore’s feminist anthem plays, sending a clear message: June might be oppressed, but no one truly owns her.

During an interview with Insider, The Handmaid’s Tale producer Bruce Miller discussed this scene. “I felt like it is in the first episode, it’s an important thing that she has a name because part of the show is that she’s not going to let that go,” he revealed. “She is strong and stubborn, even though she has to be on the outside kind of content looking and silent and meek and keeping ahold of her identity was such an important part that it needed the name to do it.”

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According to The Atlantic, Atwood took no issue with Hulu giving her character a name. She understood it would be difficult if everyone said “Hey you” rather than referring to her by her real name. Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale isn’t extremely faithful to the author’s work in this regard but Atwood was fine with that.

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