I recently had a discussion about how authors go about deciding on names for characters in their novels and plays. This, of course, led to a quick perusal of the Internet, a lively debate and a top-ten list. Or several top-ten lists. This is what happens when librarians have too much time on their hands (which admittedly isn’t very often).
We must, of course, start with the Bard of Avon, who, for the record, I believe actually did write his own plays! Shakespeare is at his wittiest when coming up with clever, charming and apropos names for his characters.
Shakespeare’s Top Ten Character Names:
1. Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Twelfth Night) Post nasal drip, anyone?
2. Sir Toby Belch (Twelfth Night) ‘nuff said.
3. Dogberry (Much Ado About Nothing) All constables should be as much of a hoot!
Dogberry on watch
4. Iago (Othello) Just saying the name leaves an evil taste in the mouth!
5. Launcelot Gobbo (and his dad Old Gobbo) (The Merchant of Venice) Shylock’s fun-loving, crude servant
6. Mistress Overdone (Measure for Measure) Shameless hussy
7. Mistress Quickly (Merry Wives of Windsor) Overdone’s equally shameless colleague
Falstaff and his Doll
8. Doll Tearsheet (Henry IV, Part 2/Henry V) Falstaff’s favorite hussy and BFF with MQ
9. Dr. Pinch (The Comedy of Errors)
10. Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) Devious trickster fairy
Honorable mention to Christopher Sly (The Taming of the Shrew) (Oops, guess this one goes to 11!)
But what about Charles Dickens? His fans will stage a thrown-down for the championship between Chuck and Will at the turn of a page.
Dickens' Top Ten Character Names:
1. Uriah Heep (David Cooperfield) Could there be a better name for a villain? (Darth Vader excepted, of course) I mean, you can't think the name without conjuring up images of body waste.
2. Pumblechook (Great Expectations) Pip’s guardian -- his name sounds as loud-breathing and rotund as he is.
3. Mr. Sowerberry (Oliver Twist) Say the name and you will have the very image of the cruel, ugly undertaker on your tongue -- yuck!
4. Paul Sweedlepipe (Martin Chuzzelwit) Can you say “eccentric?”
5. Wackford Squeers (Nicholas Nickleby) also daughter Fanny, son Wackford, Jr. and Mrs. Squeers. The nasty caretaking family who run the orphanage. Possibly the origin of the phrase “wack-job?”
6. Polly Toodle (Dombey and Son) Plump, jolly nurse -- what else could she be with a name like that?
7. Bumble (Oliver Twist) True to his name
8. Fagin (Oliver Twist) Another perfectly named villain
9. Harold Skimpole (Bleak House) Notorious tightwad -- and his name evokes that character defect
10. Seth Pecksniff (Martin Chuzzlewit) One of the biggest hypocrites ever imagined with a wonderfully evocative name.
Ebenezer with the twins Ignorance and Want
But we can't possibly exclude the one we all know and love: Ebenezer Scrooge (A Christmas Carol). It's a name that has entered the vernacular; everyone knows how miserly a “scrooge” is...
Oops, guess this one goes to 11, too!
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