Looking at What’s in a Name

Looking at What’s in a Name

Well, I had my baby five weeks early, but he is a real trooper! He didn’t have to spend any time in NICU and has been doing great. (Now, if he would only let me sleep at night instead of forcing me to be a vampire who sleeps during the day! Ha!)

Naturally, any time one has a baby, the topic of names is on the mind. At one point, I even considered using the name “Darcin” for my baby, though I hesitated in part since it’s the name of a pheromone that attracts male mice to female mice. (It was named after Mr. Darcy, believe it or not.)

Because of my recently renewed interest in names, I decided to look at names in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in a general sense to note some of my impressions. I won’t be going deep here, but I thought it would be fun to do a surface-level look!

In my opinion, names are such an interesting aspect of any novel. Charles Dickens, who of course wrote later than Austen, had some especially great names with interesting meanings to them. For instance, Miss Havisham in Great Expectations can be seen as Have-is-Sham (meaning that having something doesn’t bring you happiness and is a sham) or as Have-Shame (for she has a sort of “shame” upon her). While Austen didn’t typically make her names stand out quite so obviously, I do believe she put thought into what names she used.

And now, without further ado, here is a look at some of the names in Pride and Prejudice:

Bennet

  • This is a solid last name. Think of other words that end in -et or even in -it, like market, budget, jacket, pocket, deficit, and explicit. There is just something solid about the sound. Putting the name Elizabeth with other last names just doesn’t have the same feel – Elizabeth Hurst, Elizabeth Williams, Elizabeth Jones, etc. I believe that “Elizabeth Bennet” sounds like a strong name that fits the character.

Collins

  • While this is just a solid last name, try to imagine the pompous Mr. Collins with a last name like Williams or Jones! I think it may be the hard C sound that makes his last name work as being just slightly pompous (but not nearly so pompous as the next name!).

de Bourgh

  • To make this name suitably pompous for Lady Catherine, we bring in a name with a French origin! While “of the borough” isn’t an especially impressive meaning, the House of De Burgh (note the variation in spelling) was an ancient Anglo-French family, so that gives it more weight.

Bingley

  • It is here that I think Austen has a bent with the sort of flavor to it that Dickens later liked. While the name quite frankly makes me think of a dingbat, I think it would be more appropriate to compare “Bingley” to “dangle.” Something that dangles is something that is easily swayed and moved around, and I think that fits Mr. Bingley perfectly, as he is much too easily swayed by Darcy to leave Netherfield. I am also reminded of the word “bungle” – for Bingley certainly messes up his relationship with Jane!

Hurst

  • A hurst is a small hill or mound. But the name Hurst also sounds like “hearse,” which of course is a vehicle used to carry a dead person to a grave. Mr. Hurst is what we might call a bump on a log – he is boring, not active, and not interesting. One might call his personality “dead.” Or one might just say he is as interesting as a lump of dirt! In any case, words like mound and hearse seem rather fitting comparisons.

Gardiner

  • The Gardiners do a bit of emotional “gardening” with Elizabeth, supporting her and encouraging her to grow her relationship with Mr. Darcy. As a result, I feel like the name is reflective of their characters.

Wickham

  • To put it simply, Wickham is wicked. I think his name is perhaps the most on-the-nose of them all after a reading of the novel, though one might not pick up on it at first!

Denny

  • I have a soft spot for Denny. I think part of it can be attributed to his name. I don’t know if it is because of the restaurant Denny’s or what! Regardless, I think the name just makes it feel like the character is a safe and soft one (as opposed to wicked Wickham).

Jane

  • I rather think that Austen chose to give Jane Bennet her own first name because Austen is so dissimilar to Jane Bennet. There often seems to be a sort of hubris whenever an author uses their own name in a book (even if said name is quite common), but I think Austen bypasses this by making it so that the character, who is meek and hates to criticize anyone, could not be accused of being like her. I think in so doing, Austen is playing with us.

Elizabeth

  • The character of Elizabeth Bennet is such a delightful one that one cannot help but draw parallels to Austen – and the name Elizabeth seems like it must be a homage of sorts to her beloved sister, Cassandra Elizabeth. I think the fact that Elizabeth has two nicknames in the novel serves to further add depth to her character as well as warmth. Elizabeth Bennet is a character that will always fascinate me, and I think her name suits her well.

Mary and Lydia

  • I see these as just typical solid names. The contrast then seems to come with Kitty. (See below.)

Kitty

  • Kitty’s real name is Catherine, much like the pompous Lady Catherine de Bourgh. However, the nickname “Kitty” serves to infantilize her, making her seem to be a silly / less serious sort of character. Whereas Kitty is a year older than Lydia, she nevertheless follows Lydia’s lead in things, thus demonstrating her immaturity.

Caroline / Anne

  • These just seem to be solid names typical of the era. I do believe the hard C of Caroline makes her character seem harsher, though, and since Anne begins with a vowel and is short, it seems to be a bit muted.

Georgiana

  • Because we have both Georgiana Darcy and George Wickham, it seems likely that the indication is the elder Mr. Darcy was named George Darcy, and Georgiana and George Wickham were both named after him. That aside, the name Georgiana has a sort of elegance to it that seems fitting for a Darcy, yet it does not make a harsh sound like Caroline or Catherine.

Lady Catherine

  • Names that begin with a hard C tend to attract notice. The differences between Lady Catherine and Kitty are also interesting to think about – as are the similarities. Both of them are immature and don’t handle it well when they don’t get their way. They both remind me of my three-year-old in that aspect!

Charles

  • Austen’s beloved younger brother was named Charles, so she likely had him in mind with Charles Bingley. But there is a sort of immaturity to Mr. Bingley that a sister would probably see in her younger brother! In addition, Mr. Bingley is a younger brother himself.

Darcy

  • The name Darcy has its roots in D’Arcy, which is of French origin. But our Darcy, despite being proud like Lady Catherine, has that pesky French-seeming apostrophe removed from his name, which sets him apart slightly from the de Bourgh family. Even setting all that aside, the name Mr. Darcy is perfect because it just is. Even before I had read Pride and Prejudice, I knew the name “Mr. Darcy,” and just the sound of it was enough to add feelings and meanings to it that can scarcely be described in a logical way.

While I believe that Jane Austen did well in picking all of her names, I do believe that Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are in particular just perfect. What are your favorite names (in Austen’s works and in other works)? Do you have any additional impressions of any of the names above (or any I did not list)? There are so many great fictional names out there – Phineas Finn, Nicholas Nickleby, Albus Dumbledore, and Katniss Everdeen, to name a few! I would love to hear about any names that always catch your eye!

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24 COMMENTS
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Shelley Hoisington
August 31, 2021 8:13 PM

Congratulations on your new son. Thank goodness he did not have to stay in the NICU. Take care of yourself and rest when you can. Names! I wanted a Sarah Elizabeth or just Elizabeth but, I got a Hailey and Bryanna.

Jean Stillman
Jean Stillman
August 29, 2021 8:50 AM

Congrats on your new son! So happy for you! Names. My favorite for a girl has been Elizabeth since I first read Pride and Prejudice while in high school, so that became my daughter’s name. I watched a movie long ago about football player Brian Piccolo, and loved it so much that Brian was what we named our son when he arrived.

But in Austen world, my favorites are Elizabeth, Darcy, and Bennet.

Get some sleep and stay safe!

Rebecca L McBrayer
Rebecca L McBrayer
August 28, 2021 5:14 PM

While Jane, Elizabeth, Mary and Catherine are classic names, of British queens even, Lydia is a romantic name, in my opinion. I know that Lydia is a middle Eastern name (think of the seller of purple fabric in Acts in the Bible). It just feels less practical, less traditional, which shows in both Mrs. Bennett and in Lydia herself. Mrs. Bennett has romanticized her youth and perhaps Austen is mocking her by giving her youngest daughter a romantic name. Could Austen also be giving us a hint that THIS daughter is not like the others and will not share the same fate as the others who may achieve respectable marriages? Lydia herself is overly romantic and I see this reflected in her name and in her actions. Kitty could have been named by a lisping Lizzy who could not handle the entire bulk of Catherine, but I agree that it makes her seem young and juvenile.

Lest anyone think I dislike the name Lydia, I considered it for our 4th child before I found out he was a boy. 🙂

Congratulations on your precious baby!

Buturot
Buturot
August 28, 2021 2:11 PM

Congratulations!!! I hope your baby is allowing you to have more sleep now. Amazing you found the time to write this, your book and tending to your baby. (I know it is also hard to keep your eyes away from your baby – just so enticing to watch them sleep)

Mirta Ines Trupp
AuAu
August 28, 2021 12:58 AM

Congratulations! I don’t know how you managed to write such a fun and well-thought out post with a newborn and no sleep, but you did it! Best wishes to you and your family.

JanisB
August 27, 2021 2:45 PM

An interesting post.

I have been under the impression that many Regency/Georgia-era babies were named after King George. Not so?

Diana J Oaks
AuAu
August 27, 2021 12:14 PM

I have a couple I enjoy. Frank Churchill is the absolute opposite of what his name represents. Frank, meaning honest, and Churchill, which is the composite of Church and hill – literal and spiritual high ground. She couldn’t name him “Liar Hellditch,” so she went with the opposite. Fairfax, on the other hand, means fair-face, which is accurate with no strange twist at all.
I thought you might also mention that Darcy means “dark”. Austen tells us that he is tall and handsome, and by naming him Darcy, she made him tall, dark, and handsome. His brooding manner is dark as it casts a shadow wherever he goes (at least in the first half of the book.) He is also something of a dark horse, in that we know little of his true self and he faces long odds after his disastrous Hunsford proposal.

Riana Everly
AuAu
August 26, 2021 8:53 PM

Congratulations! I hope you’re reading him lots of JA for bedtime stories. Photos????

I like the name Wentworth. He was poor, then WENT away and is now WORTH a lot. John Wentworth was also the governor of the Nova Scotia colony for a while right around 1800, so she may have heard the name and liked it.

One little bugaboo I have is that I won’t call a character George, unless it’s part of canon. I have nothing against the name, but oy, there were just SO many people named George. The last thing we need is another one!

Shana Jefferis
Shana Jefferis
August 26, 2021 2:42 PM

Fun post!! I agree with your supposition about Georgiana and George Wickham likely being named after a Mr. George Darcy (father of Fitzwilliam). I also agree with your conclusion that ‘de Bourgh’ is supposed to be pompous sounding. I’ve read the same thing about Fitzwilliam d’Arcy (Darcy), he is a fancy pants!! I’ve never considered that Wickham is symbolic of ‘wicked’ but I like your hypothesis!

As a self-published author of two books (don’t get excited, they were self-published after all), I can tell you that we authors have research materials available to us so that we can name characters in such a way that is appropriate to the times. Whether or not we can do it with panache, like Jane Austen, remains to be seen! But five minutes of research will give you a list of all the common first names as well as last names. Mary, Jane, Anne, Emma, Catherine, Charlotte, Maria, Charles, William, Richard……they are all covered. This is true of last names as well. It is hard to say where practicality ends and creativity begins.

So my new book that I am working on is based on the premise of Elizabeth inheriting a small estate (near Pemberley, of course) from a third cousin (Mr. Collins’s estranged aunt, no less). Mr. Bennet puts in a good word for his Lizzy who has something of a quickness about her and convinces the owner of the estate, Mrs. Geoffrey, to leave the estate to his second daughter instead of to all five of his daughters as co-heiresses. Let me just say that if property was left to daughters, the custom during the Regency was to leave it to daughters equally as co-heiresses. Another reason for property owners to be against leaving property to women!!

But back to naming conventions, the estate inherited by our Lizzy is named Fairhurst and the name was carefully selected. ‘Fair’ refers, of course, to the female sex. ‘Hurst’ as you have already explained, refers to ‘on a hill’. My maiden name is ‘Jefferis’ and I was told by my father decades ago that it is a British derivation of ‘Geoffrey’. I did a little more research and it is also a French derivation of “Jeffroi’. So I could not resist inserting my own name into my story.

Lelia, as you already know, naming characters (and places) can be fun! Thanks for the great post!

Shana

Linda A.
Linda A.
August 26, 2021 10:49 AM

I always liked the name George Knightley – named for a king and his “knight-ly” actions.

Congratulations on the healthy arrival.

Zoe
Zoe
August 26, 2021 8:33 AM

Congratulations on the new and healthy arrival.

Lady Anne Darcy, though no longer alive, casts such a shadow over the story. Not only was her daughter named after her (and her husband), but possibly her niece too, giving sway to Lady Catherine’s assertion that the sisters were very close to plan a marriage between their offspring. Not only that, but the most famous resident of Derbyshire was of course Lady Georgiana Spencer Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. And Chatsworth was of course a location in Elizabeth’s unseen pilgrimage of the north.

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
August 26, 2021 6:28 AM

Elizabeth usually catches my eye or Emma. I like different names because you don’t hear them over and over. Congrats on your little guy, what did you name him? Hopefully you’ll get more sleep soon!

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