What’s in a name? Charles Dickens born on this day

charles-dickens-imageCharles Dickens was born on 7 February in 1812. Author of more than a dozen novels, many short stories, plays and non-fiction pieces, Dickens is generally regarded as the greatest novelist of the Victorian era. He was also active as a social critic and used his novels to highlight injustices and inequities suffered by the poor.

T.S.Eliot wrote that: “Charles Dickens excelled in character; in the creation of characters of greater intensity than human beings.” This is shown in the characters who have passed into popular usage as epithets; who hasn’t referred to a miserly friend as a ‘scrooge’?! And others may call someone obsessed with facts and statistics as a ‘gradgrind’.

Charles Dickens had an amazing faculty for creating character names that conjured up entire personalities in just a few words. According to Dickens’ biographer, John Foster, “…[Dickens made his] characters real existences, not by describing them but by letting them describe themselves.” He created over 650 characters for his novels, naming each one with thought and care.

Dickens particularly excelled in inventing names for his villains; using dissonant, awkward-sounding syllables to create names that readers would stumble on and instinctively react negatively to, that would require a performer to hiss or sneer them when read aloud to an audience. Uriah Heep, Wackford Squeers, Daniel Quilp are all names that are so distinctive, so implicitly unpleasant, it’s difficult not to judge them. Of course, it’s not just the villainous names that are memorable to readers of his novels: Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, Charles Darnay, Little Nell, Oliver Twist – all are instantly recognised as Dickens characters.

If Dickens was writing about you today, what would your character name be? Would you seen as a hero or a villain? Why not use the Charles Dickens name generator from namenerds and find out?! Apparently I would be Totty Squilcomb, which I think puts me in the hero, or at least likeable, camp; I love it and may now only answer to this name…

Written by Totty Squilcomb (aka Nicola Weideling, OUP ANZ Marketing Operations Manager)

To purchase copies of any of the Oxford World’s Classics Charles Dickens’ novels go to our website.



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