This is post number 6 in my 2016 symbol series. Last week I mentioned origins of names and names that were deliberately chosen to convey a meaning. If you’re here for the first time, scroll down for some interesting tidbits on the meanings behind well-known character names from the imaginations of J.K.Rowling and William Shakespeare. Then keep scrolling for more!
Today I’m examining the interesting naming style of Charles Dickens. From 1836 to 1870, Dickens completed 14 novels, several novellas and assorted published pieces, and was in the middle of another novel when he died. As with J.K. Rowling and Shakespeare, so many of Dickens’ characters possess distinct personalities and names that hint at specific traits. Names are symbols!
Symbol: an object, person, idea, etc, used to stand for or suggest something else with which it is associated either explicitly or in some more subtle way.
Dickens went to work at age twelve because he had to. The rest of his family was locked away in debtor’s prison. As a result of his personal experience, the man had quite a knack for describing imbalances in society. A Christmas Carol and Oliver Twist are two novels that so defined society of his time, today we use the word Dickensian to describe either a jovial Christmas or squalid poverty.
He also had a keen knack for satire and this is obvious in the names he chose. How could Mr. M’Choakumchild not be a schoolteacher? Or Captain Cuttle not have a hook instead of a hand? Even Miss Rosa Bud’s name suggests she’s delicate and lovely. And Uriah Heep sure draws an image in one’s mind.
It’s said Dickens knew a miser who was landlord to two tradesmen lodgers by the names Goodge and Marney. Dickens scholars believe the real Goodge and Marney lent their names to Scrooge and and his partner Marley. Of course this borrowing from life ruffled a lot of feathers as some took exception to their obvious, and often unfavorable, presence in his story. Dickens often borrowed character traits from friends, relatives, and people possessing some trait or attribute he wanted to see in his characters. Disapproval didn’t stop him. He just made slight alterations.
Turning the name Smith into Billsmethie.
As a writer, I like how he played with words to help paint pictures in the minds of his readers. If you look closely, you can see a lot of symbolism and metaphor.
The overly thin servant in Domby and Son is named Withers.
The gnarly and twisted old bottle shop owner in Bleak House is named Mr. Krook.
The wiry detective is named Sergeant Straw.
Mat Jowl the gambler from The Old Curiosity Shop has “broad cheeks, a coarse wide mouth, and bull neck”.
Mr. Fezziwig from A Christmas Carol is a jovial man wearing a powdered wig forever askew.
His names are memorable, I think, more for the appearance, quality, and personality of the character they belong to, than the actual name itself. The name Nickleby is said to have come from his own name. The alteration was so slight that Dickens’ own mother missed the fact the loquacious Mrs. Nickleby was based upon her talkative self.
According to the Dictionary of British Literary Characters, Dickens created 989 characters during his career as a writer. Wiki has a long list. How many suggest habits, appearance, or occupation to you?
“Opportunities do not come with their values stamped upon them.” ~Maltbie Babcock
Today’s guest is Author Ciara Gold
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