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:
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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).
- 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.
- 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’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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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.
- 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!