What is “Moby?” Does it say what that’s supposed to mean? Was that a common name at one time?
Per the Melville Society, no one’s quite sure. It’s essentially just a spin on the historical whale nickname “Mocha Dick”, named for the Mocha islands, where he was frequently seen. Whether Melville had some specific meaning in mind for “Moby”, or the book might as easily have been named “Shmocha Dick”, is lost to history.
I credit peepthis with originally answering this back in April, 2002 in a somewhat broader thread in General Questions.
I seem to recall that the true event that the book was loosely based on (the Essex tragedy) had a similarly-named whale. But, I’m failing to find anything via Google so maybe my memory is faulty.