If you like names with a hint of mystery, a vintage British feel and a splash of the exotic, come and join me in the drawing room and I shall reveal my deductions about names from Agatha Christie’s novels.
Christie is known as “the Queen of Crime” for good reason. In a career spanning over fifty years and over seventy novels, she shaped modern crime writing. Not just books, but also detective dramas, murder mystery parties, and the board game Cluedo (called Clue in North America) wouldn’t be the same without her.
Even if you haven’t read any of her books, you probably recognise the basic elements. There’s the genteel setting (like an English country home), the suspicious death, the trail of clues and red herrings, secrets and scandals, and the brilliant detective who rounds up all the suspects and explains how they’ve cleverly worked out whodunnit.
Christie’s character names, like the characters themselves, are eccentric and memorable, but also true to their time.
Let’s start our investigations with the names of Christie’s detectives. The first two are familiar household names, and possibly more famous than the author herself.
Hercule Poirot is everyone’s favourite moustache-twirling Belgian detective. Hercule is the French form of Hercules. If if you like it but think it’s too strongly associated with the character, may I interest you in Achille? As the French form of Achilles it’s equally heroic, and in The Big Four it’s supposedly the name of Poirot’s twin brother – a clever choice.
Jane Marple is a prim-and-proper name that suits the shrewd elderly spinster. Its similarity to Maple makes me wonder if Marple would make a good name for a boy or a girl. Or would it condemn a child to a lifetime of whodunnit jokes?
Tommy and Tuppence is how the crime-solving couple Thomas and Prudence Beresford are better known. They make a lovely pair: Tommy the endearing everyman diminutive, and Tuppence the jaunty, quirky nickname (more of those later). Tuppence occasionally appears in birth announcements in the UK; its best known bearer is British actress Tuppence Middleton.
Harley Quin is Christie’s most mysterious detective, with almost supernatural talents. He’s not to be confused with the female comic book character Harley Quinn – sorry, Marvel, but Agatha Christie made that pun first. Unusually for a Christie character, both his names feel modern, unisex, and very on-trend. Harley and Quinn (with two N’s) are well-used for both sexes on both sides of the Atlantic, but they lean a little more boy in the UK and a little more girl in the States.
Ariadne Oliver is a crime novelist who sometimes helps Poirot. She has a lot in common with Agatha Christie, including a Greek name beginning with A. The name Agatha was well-used around the turn of the 20th century, dropped out of use, and is now creeping back as a vintage revival. Ariadne is more of a timeless rarity – although perhaps not for long, as it jumped into the US Top 1000 in 2014.
The genteel and jaunty:
Christie’s novels are perfect for lovers of vintage names. Most of her characters are from the British upper and middle classes and would have been born in the late 19th or early 20th century. That makes their names ideally placed for a comeback today. In fact, many already have: plenty of her characters have names that are currently popular or rising, like Emily, Lily, Adelaide and Arthur.
Here are more Christie names with a genteel turn-of-the-century feel:
The British love a good nickname, and Christie was a master of the long, formal name with a cheerful, quirky nickname, especially for women. Some of these might be better left off the birth certificate, but for your entertainment and possible inspiration, here are her best.
Jolly (Juliet Bellever)
Socks (Vera Daventry)
As you might have noticed, Christie had a great ear for first name-surname combinations. This really puts the icing on the cake of her character names. Some of my personal favourites are Cedric Crackenthorpe, Elspeth McGillicuddy, Felicity Lemon, and Sir Oswald Coote.
International and exotic
Christie loved the exotic, and she set many of her stories abroad, like Death on the Nile and Murder on the Orient Express. A lot of her characters come from foreign countries (or claim to). This reflects the reality of migration and mass travel at the time, and it also brings an extra air of mystery to the stories. Do they really come from where they say they do? Could they be spies?
Here are some of Christie’s character names from around the world:
Not forgetting the Americans:
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