Proper Names in Plays, by Chance or Design?

Article

Contents

Readers of fictional material are generally subconsciously impressed with names given to characters in a play or story by an author without being aware of any underlying motivation on the part of the author for having given them. Such names are ostensibly given through the creative process in an attempt to produce such symbolic representation of that character which best expresses a personal estimate or understanding of it insofar as the author is concerned. This understanding takes place, in part, in the mind of the reader by his instinctive reaction to the name, a process of which he is seldom aware.

It is logical to assume that these names, like any other appellations given to any person, place, or thing, are created from a combination of factors, deriving whatever connotations they may have from the combined total experiences of the author and of the reader. Names are likely to be derived from any background or environmental pattern which may have stimulated the author at one time or another, such patterns sometimes being intentionally acquired through intellectual pursuit or accidentally acquired through social activity. The author may not be able to explain how he named a particular character or even to trace the source of inspiration for use of any singular type name, but we can assume that the inclination for so recognizing a character (even in a nebulous way at first) is an initial factor in establishment of personal identification for the author.

Names take on even greater significance when given oral expression, since the word itself is composed of syllables which have their beginnings in all of the traditional and derivational usages connected with particular phonations. Although the word meaning or intentional meaning carries the first impression, something new is added when vocal interpretation of a name gives it an audible and inflectional personality. The author and the reader, and in the plays, the dramatist, each give a particular and differentiating connotation to the name, according to the individual differences which affect their interpretation.

Titles and names of people are a fascinating part of any written material; they intrigue us into exploration and as we discover facets within their personalities, we experience things with them, until finally we have vicarious associations with them. These associations are vitally connected with relationship to names, and since names have always shared the essence of the personalities of the people who bear them, we apply readings into character because of them. It is known that people often receive distorted impressions of a given name because of their own association with it; these distortions may have been repeated in the giving of nicknames or terms of relationship which have long been used in lieu of given names, other than surnames, to distinguish certain peoples from others who bear the same name. Although such distortion of names was a common practice during the time of the writing of Restorational plays, other technically contributive changes have developed which have had a profound influence in this respect.

Changes in intellectual understandings through broader educational privileges have brought about an equanimity of social standards among people, resulting in psychological freedom in bestowing of names. This has in turn, resulted in a variety of phonetic impressions being used. In this regard, Ernest Weekley has outlined the major phonetic changes occurring most frequently in the etymology of name giving:

Aphesis is the loss of the unaccented first syllable, as in ’baccy and ’tater. It occurs almost regularly in words of French origin, e.g. squire and esquire, prentice and apprentice. When such double forms exist, the surname invariably assumes the popular form, e.g. Prentice, Squire. . . . Many names beginning with n are due to aphesis, e.g. Nash for atten ash, Nalder, Nelms, Nock, atten oak, Nokes, Nye, atten ey, at the island, Nangle, atten angle, Nind or Nend, atten ind or end. . . . Epenthesis is the insertion of a sound which facilitates prounuciation, such as that of b in Fr. chambre, from Lat. camera. The instrusive sound may be a vowel or a consonant as in the names Henery, Hendry, perversions of Henry. To Hendry we owe the northern Henderson, which has often coalesced with Anderson, from Andrew. These are contracted into Henson and Anson, the latter also from Ann and Agnes. . . . Epithesis, or the addition of a final consonant, is common in uneducated speech, e.g. scholard, gownd, garding, etc. I say “uneducated,” but many such forms have been adapted by the language, e.g. sound, Fr. son, and we have the name Kitching, for kitchen. . . . Assimilation is the tendency of a sound to imitate its neighbor. Thus the d of Hud (p. 3) sometimes becomes t in contact with the sharp s, hence Hutson; Tomkins tends to become Tonkins, whence Tonks, if the m and k are not separated by the epenthetic p, Tompkins. . . . The same group of names is affected by dissimilation, i.e. the instinct to avoid the recurrence of the same sound. Thus Ranson, son of Ranolf or Randolf becomes Ransom by dissimilation of one n, and Hanson, son of Han (see p. 3), becomes Hansom. In Sansom we have Sampson assimilated to Sanson and then dissimilated. . . . Metathesis, or the transposition of sound, chiefly affects l and n, especially the latter. Our word cress is from Mid. Eng. kers, which appears in Karslake, Toulmin is for Tomlin, a double dim., -el-in, or Tom, Grundy is for Gundry, from Anglo-Sax. Gundred, and Joe Gargery descended from a Gregory.1

Since we might assume that christening names given to their offspring by parents are generally given them because of impressions, real or imaginary, it might also follow that such impressions may be related to the euphonious associations which the name bears, or through environmental experiences of the donors with the phonetic factors of the name. Names also have been given through a favorable association with trifling or important incidents, or from states of affairs, or from festive occasions, or they may be patronymic or matronymic—suggesting identity with forbears.

Such knowledge should have some influence upon the author as he is a “parent” of a kind, through fostering a literary “child,” and should be affected by these same factors as he chooses names for the characters in his play or story. The creative process which goes into the name giving of some children is only an attributable factor, adding lustre to the otherwise conformative method of bestowing proper names as a result of choosing the most desirable from among a number of names found to be nonobjectionable. The author, however, expresses in certain degrees some conscious or subconscious hopes or intimations for those characters in the names he chooses for them, without relying upon the direct or personal reaction of relatives or contradictory factors derived through ancestral traditions. Though some exploratory work has been done occasionally in this area by a few interested writers, an exhaustive study substantiated by literary evidences could be significantly rewarding. One can be certain that a great number of variable influences would be found through further research in this direction. Languages, in their systemization and colloquialization through usage, have advanced their peculiar accents and phonemes through a repetition of communication, respective of individualism or formalism, as time and setting demanded.

In the following study of fourteen plays of the Restoration period, eight comedies, four tragedies, one heroic drama, and a musical comedy, a listing of the names of characters have been categorized and a few comparisons made which might indicate what may have influenced the minds of the men who wrote during that period. It should be readily apparent that there seemed to be a discrimination on the part of the respective authors to distinguish certain “types” by appending “Mr.,” “Mrs., “Lord,” “Count,” and other parts to ordinary names. Separate listings have been made to suggest that some prompting in the author’s mind influenced him to attach this other part to the name, rather than to use the single name as in the other cases, mainly to achieve an effect.

Examples cited in this study should indicate that the bestowal of purposeful and stimulating names is either a purely subjective gesture or an artifactual and subconscious process in which all the techniques, learned and unlearned, are employed, one having a direct relationship to the creative powers of the author, the other having little or none at all. Names and authors have been listed on either side of titles so that comparisons and similarities might be noted among separate works.

 

MEN (Double names, including Mr., and titles)

Names of Characters

Title of Play

Author

(Don) Alonzo d’Aguilar

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Thomas Aimwell

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farguhar

Mark Antony

All for Love

John Dryden

(Duke of) Arcos

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Francis Archer

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

(King) Arthur

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

(Robin of) Bagshott

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Count) Bellair

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

(Old) Harry Bellair

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

(Young) Harry Bellair

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

(Sir) John Bevil

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

John Bevil, Jr.

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Jerry Blackacre

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Mahomet Boabdelin

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Ben Budge

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Roger Bull

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

William Catesby

Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

(Sir) Tumbelly Clumsey

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

(Sir) Charles Easy

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

(Old) Novelty Fashion

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

(Young) Thomas Fashion

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

(Sir) Fopling Flutter

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

(Lord) Foppington

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

(Sir) Charles Freeman

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

(Sir) John Friendly

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

(Duke of) Gloster

Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

(Lord) Grizzle

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

(Lord) Hastings

Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

(Crook Fingered) Jack

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Matt (of the Mint)

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Edward Mirabell

Way of the World

William Congreve

(Lord) Moerlove

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

Charles Myrtle

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Nimming Ned

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Major) Oldfox

The Plain Dealer

John Gay

Harry Paddington

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Lord) Plausible

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

(Sergeant) Plodden

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

(Sir) Richard Ratcliffe

Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

(Mr.) Sealand

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

(Mr.) Smirk

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

(Ghost of) Gaffer Thumb

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Tom Thumb

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Jimmy Twitcher

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Edward Worthy

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Anthony Witwoud

Way of the World

William Congreve

(Sir) Wilford Witwoud

Way of the World

William Congreve

MEN (Single names)

Names of Characters

Title of Play

Author

Abdalla

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Abdelmelech

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Abenemar

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Alexas

All for Love

John Dryden

Almanzor

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Antonio

All for Love

John Dryden

Bagshot

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Bayes

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Bedaman

Venice Preserved

Thomas Otway

Beggar

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Bellamour

Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

Blunder

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Bonniface

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Brabe

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Brainwell

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Buttongown

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Cimberton

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Cordelio

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Coupler

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Daniel

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Decius

Cato

Joseph Addison

Dollabella

All for Love

John Dryden

Doodle

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Dorimant

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Drawcansir

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Dumont

Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

Durand

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Eliot

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Fainall

Way of the World

William Congreve

Ferdinand

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Filch

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Foigard

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Foodle

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Freeman

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Gibbet

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Gomel

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Hamet

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Handy

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

Harry

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Humphrey

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Hounslow

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Jaffeir

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Johnson

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Juba

Cato

Joseph Addison

LaVerole

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Lockett

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Lory

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Lucius

Cato

Joseph Addison

MacHeath

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Marcus

Cato

Joseph Addison

Medley

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Merlin

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Mezzana

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Myris

All for Love

John Dryden

Noodle

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Novil

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Ozmyn

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Peachum

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Petulant

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Petulant

Way of the World

William Congreve

Pierre

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Portius

Cato

Joseph Addison

Pretty-Man

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Priuli

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Quaint

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Retrose

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Revillidio

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Scrub

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Selin

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Sempronius

Cato

Joseph Addison

Serringe

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Serapion

All for Love

John Dryden

Smith

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Spinosa

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Splitcause

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Sullen

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Syphax

Cato

Joseph Addison

Ternon

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Theodore

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Tom

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Tugg

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Zulema

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

WOMEN (Double names, including Mrs., and titles)

Names of Characters

Title of Play

Author

(Widow) Blackacre

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

(Lady) Bountiful

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Molly Brazen

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Mrs.) Callicoe

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Betty Doxy

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Lady) Easy

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

(Mrs.) Edging

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

(Mrs.) Arabella Fainall

Way of the World

William Congreve

Diana Frapes

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Lady) Graveairs

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

(Miss) Hoyden

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Lucy Lockit

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Mrs.) Marwood

Way of the World

William Congreve

(Mrs.) Millamant

Way of the World

William Congreve

(Lady) Betty Modish

The Careless Husband

Colley Cibber

(Mrs.) Peachum

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Polly Peachum

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Mrs.) Sealand

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Jane Shore

The Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

(Mrs.) Slammekin

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Mrs.) Sullen

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Suky Tawdry

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Lady) Townley

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

Dolly Trull

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Mrs.) Vixen

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

(Lady) Woodvill

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

WOMEN (Single names)

Names of Characters

Title of Play

Author

Abigail

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Alicia

The Jane Shore Tragedy

Nicholas Rowe

Almahide

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Amanda

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Amaryllis

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Aquilina

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Belvidera

Venus Preserved

Thomas Otway

Bellinda

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

Benzayda

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Berinthea

The Relapse

John Vanbrugh

Betty

The Way of the World

William Congreve

Busy

The Man of Mode

William Congreve

Charmion

All for Love

John Dryden

Cherry

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Cleopatra

All for Love

John Dryden

Cleora

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Cloris

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Dollalolla

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Dorinda

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Eliza

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Emilia

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

Esperanza

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Fidelia

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Foible

The Way of the World

William Congreve

Gipsey

The Beaux Stratagem

George Farquhar

Harriet

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

Holyma

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Indiana

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Isabella

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Isabella

All for Love

John Dryden

Iras

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Jenny

The Beggar’s Opera

John Gay

Lettice

The Plain Dealer

William Wycherly

Lucia

Cato

Joseph Addison

Lucinda

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

Lydaraka

The Conquest of Granada

John Dryden

Mincing

The Way of the World

William Congreve

Mustacha

Tom Thumb

Henry Fielding

Octavia

All for Love

John Dryden

Parlas

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Parthenope

The Rehearsal

George Villiers

Pert

The Man of Mode

George Etherege

Phyllis

The Conscious Lovers

Richard Steele

It should be noticed that there is a frequency of those names which begin with the letter “B.” Twenty names in the men’s division outnumber the next most frequent, those which begin with “A,” “C,” and “P,” numbering six in each. Names beginning with two plosive sounds, two open vowel sounds, and two fricatives might have significant meaning in a technical study.

It is interesting to note that in the “B” classification in the men’s division approximately half of the characters are humorous in personality projection, and the other half are romance and background, or secondary personages. Among these of the women in the “B” area there is an equalization of humorous and expositional characterizations.

The drama or speech student could wish to know in an analysis of this kind what effect the sounds of these names will have upon the speaker and upon the audience. It has already been mentioned that to speak the names and to “feel” the sound of them as they are articulated, sometimes creates a different effect than when the names are read silently. For instance, the name “Alicia,” in The Tragedy of Jane Shore by Nicholas Rowe, is a genuine and original sounding name contrived by the author for an important secondary character. In a footnote in the written copies of this play in the text by Nettleton and Case, it is pointed out that there is no historical warrant for her presence in the play.2 She contributes little in the development of the major plot line nor in the exposition or denouement of the ensuing action. We may therefore venture that the name was chosen because of a whim on the part of the author which gave him reason to believe it suited the character in the play.

On the other hand she was important enough to the action not to be innominate or commonly named; “Alicia” is euphonically satisfying and distinctively adequate for its purpose, particularly because of that quality which makes it unique, and for the use of soft and enjoyable sound syllables employed in construction of the name. Such a name might bear nothing by way of association for people of this day but perhaps would have connotations of other names or words which conveyed an emotional distinction. For instance, “Alicia” might have for one reader the same connotative accents which are found in the word “delicious,” or “militia,” or even “vicious,” according to the individual response. That response of course would depend upon the background experience of the reader or dramatist and also upon his ability to react—imaginatively or without a great degree of emotion. The name itself is composed of three syllables, each of them easily articulated. The final syllable has a slightly false tone, almost one of indecision, but considered wholly, it lacks extreme complication and has no sudden turn in articulatory directions. We trust the name. (This is misleading, because she proves to be heartless in the final scene of the tragedy.)

“Amanda,” “Bellinda,” “Benzayda,” “Cleora,” “Dorinda,” “Emilia,” “Fidelia,” “Holyma,” “Lucia,” “Lucinda,” and “Octavia,” all might have similar elements of like qualities in them, although any association with one of these names would determine the extent of the stimulus which it might have upon the hearer.

“Mustacha” is another captivating name, and here we find a definite association with its common denominator, “moustache”; upon the discovery of its use for a feminine character, the effect is startling. This word alliteration must have been intended by the author, for the imagery seems too vivid for us to dismiss. It is possible that the author has given us opportunity for a preconception of character before we become further acquainted with the personality; this is perhaps exactly what the author intended, since turnabout is an applicable technique in writing comedy.

Some sounds bear personality connotations; these are the obvious and capricious names used to label characters in a positive manner. Occasionally we discover some artful ones such as Mrs. Callicoe, Miss Hoyden (which has something of the hoi-polloi in it and is an obviously veiled “hoiden,” which means inelegant, rude, bold!), Mrs. Peachum, Sir Fopling Flutter, John Friendly, Major Oldfox, and Lord Plausible.

Some of the more contrived names which indicate that they may have been sounded out rather than reconstructed from traditional sources are the delightful Dollalolla, Lord Foppington, Sergeant Plodden, Drawcansir, and Dollabella; the interesting Abdelmelech, Almanzor, Abenemar, Bellamour, Cordelio, Hounslow, and Syphax; Mrs. Slammekin, Mrs. Millamant, and Lady Graveairs. All are so intriguing that they command our respect and our attention because they sound intriguing. Who would not wonder whether a Mezzana or an Azmyn were not priests or priestesses in jeweled costumery, silently waiting beside a temple while a rose sky blushes around an enormous moon?

There is a certain relationship between Dorimant and the voracious cormorant, a greedy, rapacious web-looted bird of the pelican family. This comparison is made apparent after reading the play and observing the similarities of the two. We see some of that same rapaciousness in Dorimant in the scene where he is attempting to break relationship with his mistress, Mrs. Loveit. He is cruel and outrageous in his use of her.

Attention should be drawn to the fact that there is a correlation between the nature of the name given and the theme which is to be developed. This is unavoidable since the author knows what he wishes to say and attempts to develop a theme through expositional contrasts in dialogue and between characters, and the names of the characters come to him as the play is fashioned. Names having romantic imagery or curious, musical variations in the syllable construction are seldom used in the straight, sophisticated type of comedy such as The Rehearsal, by George Villiers. In the comedy of manners, such as The Man of Mode, by George Etherege, where the satire is more evident but the names less conspicuous this idea finds logical support. Certain names if not handled skillfully would transpose a play from one category to another—creating one effect where another was desired.

A footnote to The Beggar’s Opera, by John Gay, appears on page 534 in British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan, stating the following:

Most of the names given to the characters are “label” names, based largely upon the canting language of the underworld. Peachum (to “peach” is to inform against one’s accomplices) probably represents Jonathan Wild, a notorious “thief-taker” of the period, who was the head of a band of criminals, some of whom he occasionally betrayed to the police for pay. He had been executed in 1725 for acting as a receiver of stolen goods. “MacHeath” (“son of the heath”) alludes to the fact that the open heaths surrounding London were the favorite haunts of the highwaymen who halted and robbed stagecoaches. A “twitcher” is a pickpocket. Bagshot is the name of one of the heaths, lying to the west of London, on the road to Winchester and Salisbury. “Nimming” means stealing. Paddington and the Mint were disreputable districts of London, the latter, south of the Thames, being especially famous because it preserved until the reign of George I the characteristics of a medieval sanctuary, in which the officers of the law could not arrest persons for debt. A “budge” is a sneak-thief. “Trapes” and “slammekin” are synonyms for a slovenly woman; “trull” and “doxy” for a prostitute. A “diver” is a pickpocket. The other names are self-explanatory.3

Although assignment of proper names to characters in a story or play can be made merely as a response to necessity, having no logical or developmental or sequential motivation other than that the characters must be called something, it follows that there is still some psychological incentive for a “proper” or “appropriate” name. Authors have been known to change names of characters from otherwise previously acceptable ones to those more in keeping with theme and setting or style as the play matured. People sometimes do this with their own names when they find them no longer fitting, possibly for similar reasons. The author, being indulgent in his creative privileges, exercises that prerogative in this exciting and amazing process of giving names to fictional personalities.

About the author(s)

Mr. Golightly is instructor in speech at Brigham Young University.

Notes

1. Ernest Weekley, The Romance of Names (London: John Murray, Albemarle Street, W., 1914), p. 33.

2. George H. Nettleton and Arthur E. Case, British Dramatists from Dryden to Sheridan (Toronto: George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., 1939), p. 509.

3. Ibid., 534.

 

Purchase this Issue

Share This Article With Someone

Share This Article With Someone