Literary Baby Names: What the Dickens! Part 1

Literary Baby Names: What the Dickens! Part 1

By K. M. Sheard, Nook of Names

Charles Dickens is probably the greatest of all nineteenth century novelists — and a contender for the greatest novelist of all time. His works also provide a mine of wonderful names. Here is a selection of those which have fabulous potential for a baby born two hundred years on…

  • Abel — a name which features in more than one Dickens novel; there’s Abel Garland in The Old Curiosity Shop, and Abel Magwitch in Great Expectations. Abel is a biblical name still waiting in the wings somewhat, though he has been rising steadily for years and broke the US Top 1000 for the first time in 2010.

  • Affery — Affery Flintwinch is a maid in Little Dorrit. Dickens was an avid collector of names, and Affery was one of his finds. A form of Aphra.

  • Agnes — Agnes Wickfield is David’s childhood friend and second wife in David Copperfield.

  • Arabella — buzzing round the baby name boards as a successor to Isabella, Dickens used Arabella in Pickwick Papers for Miss Arabella Allen. In the UK, a name which until recently was regarded as rather archetypical of the Upper Class.

  • Barnaby — eponymous hero of Barnaby Rudge. Barnaby is another name mostly heard in British public (i.e. very expensive fee-paying) schools. It has never reached the US top 1000, but 211th in England and Wales in 2013.

  • Belle — yes, there is another Belle besides the one in Beauty and the Beast. Belle was Scrooge’s fiancée in A Christmas Carol.

  • Betsy — with unpretentious and old fashioned charm, Dickens used Betsy more than once. The best known is Betsy Trotwood, David’s crunchy but kind old great-aunt in David Copperfield.

  • Caddy — pet-name of Caroline Jellyby in Bleak House.

  • Charles — how can I leave out Charles? Dickens used his own name a few times, including Charles Darnay in A Tale of Two Cities, and Charles Cheeryble in Nicholas Nickleby. Use of Charles is surprisingly consistent on both sides of the Pond; in 2013 it was ranked 57 in America, and 62 in England and Wales.

  • Cherry — traditional pet-form of Charity, and used as such in Martin Chuzzlewit for Charity Pecksniff.

  • Clara — a favorite of Dickens’s, borne by both David’s mother and nurse in David Copperfield and Clara Barley in Great Expectations.

  • Darnay — Charles Darnay, the son of a French marquis, is one of the heroes of A Tale of Two Cities.

  • Dodger — once I would have said Oliver Twist’s “The Artful Dodger” fell firmly in cat name territory, but actually, in today’s climate, maybe the world might be ready for Dodger as a bona fide name? The Artful Dodger’s real name was Jack Dawkins.

  • Dorrit — the surname of Amy Dorrit, invariably known as “Little Dorrit” in Little Dorrit. Could make an interesting variation on Dorothy — but is it too similar to Doritos?

  • Ebenezer — Ebenezer Scrooge is one of Dickens’s best-known characters, and although at the end of the tale he becomes a kind, happy and philanthropic old gentleman, his miserly former self has blighted Ebenezer ever since. But is that changing? With a number of great nickname options, such as EbenBenEb and Zer, and the meaning “stone of help,” it’s a great name.

  • Estella — the rather tragic Estella Havisham is Pip’s great love in Great Expectations.

  • Fan — a short form of Fanny, the well-known pet-form of Frances, Fan was Scrooge’s sister in A Christmas Carol.

  • Fern — Will Fern, a character in The Chimes.

  • Granger — Edith Granger is one of the characters in Dombey and Son.

  • Herbert — the genial Herbert Pocket is Pip’s best friend in Great Expectations.

  • Hexam — the surname of more than one character in Our Mutual Friend, including the beautiful and good Lizzie.

  • Hominy — Mrs Hominy is a rather stereotyped “brash American” in Martin Chuzzlewit, her name no doubt a direct pluck of hominy, the dried kernels of corn (maize) used a lot in Southern, Latin American and Caribbean cooking.

  • Jarvis — Jarvis Lorry appears in A Tale of Two Cities, bearing a name which originated both as a medieval form of Gervais and a surname derived from it.

  • Jemima — a name which gets a number of minor mentions in the works of Dickens, such as Lady Jemima Bilberry in Little Dorrit.

  • Job — borne by Job Trotter in Pickwick Papers, Job is a suprisingly neglected biblical name (although it was 114th in Holland in 2013), presumably hindered so much by the fact it looks like the word “job,” even though the pronunciation is different (rhyming with “robe”). Roll it around a few times — I think it makes for a distinctly contemporary choice if you want a simple, one-syllable name with heritage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have the greatest of meanings (“persecuted”), but that’s not stopped many another name…

  • Jupe — the wonderful CeciliaSissy” Jupe is a daughter of a circus clown in Hard Times.

  • Kit — Kit Nubbles (Nubbles makes a great name for a cat) is a character in The Old Curiosity Shop.  A classic, old short form of Christopher, Kit has been in quiet independent use in the UK for some time.

  • Lillian — Will Fern’s little niece in The Chimes.

  • Lowten — a clerk in Pickwick Papers.

  • Lucretia — Lucretia Tox is found in Dombey and Son.

  • This is adapted from a blog on K. M. Sheard’s Nook of Names.  Stay tuned for Part 2 on Friday.

    About the Author

    Nook of Names

    Nook of Names

    A graduate of the University of Cambridge, the late K. M. Sheard was the author of the encyclopedic reference Llewellyn’s Complete Book of Names, and wrote Nook of Names, a blog on all things onomastic.