Name Game

03 Dec

Names are important. 

I would imagine that for an author the naming of one’s characters is vital to the telling of the story.  If I was an author I know I’d spend a long time stewing over the names of my book’s cast members.  I remember the challenge we had naming our children.  We spent months suggesting names and then ruling them out.  Hey, in our house, even Webkinz’s names are carefully-crafted.  We have a stuffed mouse named Pixie Squeaker and a stuffed pig named Isabella Mudbath.  See what I mean?  Thought-out names.

So when I got to chapter XI and met Mr. Fang, I couldn’t ignore the names in Oliver Twist any longer.  It looks like Dickens is playing a little name game.  Mr. Fang is the magistrate that deals with Oliver when he’s falsely accused of stealing Mr. Brownlow’s handkerchief.  Isn’t Dickens clever?  Mr. Fang likes to show his teeth by displaying his power in the courtroom.  When Fang asks Oliver his name and he’s too ill to respond, the official/lawyer/bailiff (what is his position anyway?) answers for Oliver and says his name is Tom White.  I like that.  White!  as in innocent or pure!

What about the names of other characters?

Remember the funeral director and his wife?  The Sowerberrys?  Sour berries?  Maybe dealing with death all the time has made their lives sour?

What about our Beadle Mr. Bumble?  For sure he is bumbling in his religious position of protecting the parish children and showing them God’s love and mercy.

In chapter XIV I met Mr. Grimwig, Brownlow’s friend.  This gentleman certainly has a “grim” disposition.

Oliver Twist.  The orphan’s journey through life is taking twists and turns.  It’s not the life anyone would want for any child.  Circumstances have twisted what should have been a beautiful, peaceful childhood.

Speaking of peaceful, I looked up the name Oliver.  It’s comes from the Olive Tree which symbolizes fruitfulness, dignity, and beauty.  Offering an olive branch signifies an offering of peace.  Hmmmm…  At this point in the novel, Oliver hasn’t experienced much peace.  I certainly hope there’s more peace to come for the orphan.

Alright, Dickens.  I’ve got my eye on you.  What other messages will you be giving us in the names of your characters?


Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Oliver Twist


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3 responses to “Name Game

  1. Christina

    December 3, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    I love this, and I don’t have any more to add, but I did just look up “Fagin” to see if there was anything clever there, and found that it’s first use in OT, but because of Dickens it now is actually defined (by Merriam Webster online) as “an adult who instructs others (as children) in crime.”

  2. Christine

    December 3, 2011 at 5:21 pm

    I think I read somewhere that that Fagin’s name was related to someone Dickens knew. I shall search for that reference.

  3. Classical Madness

    December 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Love. This. Post. Very insightful, Christine.


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