What’s In A Name? Austen’s Unknown Characters, Part 2, by Christine Combe

What’s In A Name? Austen’s Unknown Characters, Part 2, by Christine Combe

First, let me start off by apologizing for not getting this posted last month when it should have been out. I was really ill then and I simply could not muster the energy to work on this article. Truth is, I’m also ill now — tested positive for Covid — but it feels a lot like a head cold. I’m told that it could have been a lot worse had I not gotten the vaccine, so… I’ll take it, I guess, even though being sick in any case sucks.

But you didn’t come here to read my lamentations about being stuck at home for ten days, you came to read about Austen! And really, I figured what better use of my time than to get some work done, now that the initial fatigue-ridden days are over and I’m feeling a little bit better. So settle in for reading part 2 of my series on nameless Austen characters. This article, I focus on three characters from Persuasion.

Mrs. Smith

(Left: Polly Murch, seated, as Mrs. Smith,w/ Ann Firbank as Anne Elliot from 1971 mini-series. Right: Helen Schlesinger from 1995 film, and Maisie Dimbleby from 2007 BBC film)

Most Common JAFF Name: Unknown / My Choice: None as yet

In the novel, we — along with Anne Elliot — meet with her old school friend Mrs. Smith in Westgate Buildings in Bath. Anne knew her as Miss Hamilton when they were at school together, and the lady later married a man by the name of Charles Smith, who was fairly wealthy. Well, he was until he ran into the young and impoverished Mr. Elliot, Anne’s cousin. It is interesting to note that we are given the first name of the lady’s husband, who has died before the start of the novel and the friends are reunited, but we are never actually given her first name (although the 2007 version does give her the first name Harriet, used once by Anne before the much lamented “Bath Marathon”). I’ve not read many Persuasion variations, and those I have did not give her a first name. What could it be? Honestly, it could be anything appropriate for the era in which she was born, which would have been around 1784, as she is said to be three years older than Anne.


Lady Russell

(Left: Marian Spencer, 1971 mini-series; Center: Susan Fleetwood, 1995 film; Right: Alice Krige, 2007 film)

Most Common JAFF Name: Unknown / My Choice: None as yet

In the very first chapter, we are introduced to Lady Russell as a “very intimate friend” of the late Lady Elliot, who had been expected by their mutual acquaintance to marry Sir Walter after the death of both their spouses. She never did, apparently desiring to maintain her independence (and Sir Walter remaining single “for the sake of his daughters”), though a part of me wonders if life would have been any better for Anne if she had — I daresay that at the very least, Anne would not have been walked all over by her father and sisters and treated little better than the servants. Lady Russell was very influential in the life of her god-daughter Anne Elliot, to the point of persuading her not to marry Frederick Wentworth at the age of 19, and who is still an influence on Anne some eight years later when she and Wentworth meet again. Lady Russell is another character whose Christian name can only be guessed at (as well as her maiden name, which is also never given), though the Jane Austen Wiki article on her gives her name as Anne, and notates that it was a common practice in those days to name children — gender appropriately, of course — after their godparents. Thus, it is possible her first name is Anne, though not officially so. An Author can therefore give her whatever name he or she likes.


Mrs. Musgrove

(Left: Amanda Root as Anne Elliot with Judy Cornwell as Mrs. Musgrove in 1995 film. Right: Stella Gonet from 2007 film.)

Most Common JAFF Name: Unknown / My Choice: None as yet

Here we come to one of the nicer characters of the story: Mrs. Musgrove, mother to Anne’s brother-in-law, Charles. She’s a kind, motherly figure with several children, of whom her son Charles is the eldest. She and her husband, as well as their other elder children, were hopeful of a match between their son and Anne Elliot, who was altogether more likable than either of her sisters, but Anne turned him down and Charles eventually married Mary, her younger sister. Neither her first or maiden name is given in the novel, though given naming conventions of the time, it is reasonable to presume her first name might have been Louisa, as her eldest daughter was named Louisa (the convention being that firstborn daughters were often named after their mothers). Of course, it could also have been Henrietta, or any other name in popular use about the time the lady was born, which we can reasonably presume was between the late 1760s and early 1780s. I’ve not read any Persuasion variations in which she is given a first name.

If anyone has any ideas what these ladies could have been called, feel free to share!

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October 11, 2021 4:05 PM

I would love to see more Persuasion variations so that we could get some jaff common names for them. Thanks for the post, hope you feel better soon.

October 10, 2021 9:37 AM

I hope you’re feeling a lot better now!
Names? I’m afraid I’ve never given any thought to these characters as I rarely read stories based on them. I only read them if they also include Darcy and Elizabeth:)

cindie snyder
cindie snyder
October 8, 2021 2:59 PM

I don’t know. Harriet fits,maybe Anne or Mary they are all good names. Hope you have a speedy recovery!

Christine Combe
Christine Combe
October 8, 2021 5:11 PM
Reply to  cindie snyder

I’ve honestly never really given much thought to Lady Russell’s name, though she could be an Anne. I also think Harriet and Henrietta suit her.

Linda A.
Linda A.
October 8, 2021 2:15 PM

I noticed a lot of that on my family tree, where a daughter was named for the mother, at least on the English side of the family. The most common were Mary, Elizabeth, and Sarah. There are other more Biblical sounding names like Mehitable, plus names like “Thankful” and “Remember”. I also see Agnes, Hannah and Martha duplicated in there too. Even “Thankful” was duplicated.

Sounds like if you wanted to name Lady Russell “Anne”, you wouldn’t be too far off the mark.

Christine Combe
Christine Combe
October 8, 2021 5:09 PM
Reply to  Linda A.

Anne does seem a very suitable name for Lady Russell.

Riana Everly
October 8, 2021 8:21 AM

It was such a different world then, wasn’t it, when first names were so seldom used other than with the most intimate of friends and family.
I’ve got a Persuasion variation in the works where I name these characters, but it’s a modern piece so I have a much wider set of names to choose from.
Hope you’re feeling all better very soon.

Christine Combe
Christine Combe
October 8, 2021 5:07 PM
Reply to  Riana Everly

Yes, a whole lotta characters whose first names we don’t know.

Regina Jeffers
October 8, 2021 8:16 AM

I fear the only Harriet I used in my “Captain Frederick Wentworth’s Persuasion,” was Anne’s maid. She was the name I bestowed on the woman.

Christine Combe
Christine Combe
October 8, 2021 5:09 PM
Reply to  Regina Jeffers

I don’t think I’ve used the name Harriet yet, either. A Henrietta, though, as a maid at Netherfield in “Choice and Consequence”.

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