The naming of names

Regency couple planning trip
Emil Brack ‘Planning the Grand Tour’ (Wikipedia Commons) — a vision of Sir Willoughby and Lady Green before their trip to the Canaries?

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is set in the early 1830s, the period between the novels of Jane Austen and those of Charles Dickens. The names of her principal and supporting characters haven’t yet reached the baroque proportions that they were later to, but already we have inklings of character-full epithets amongst the more genteel Austenesque names like Willoughby (from Sense and Sensibility) and Green (from Emma). What are we to make of Mrs Shubunkin, its Japanese origin lurking behind a name straight from the pages of a Dickens’ novel? Or Mr Grimshaw, surely grim by nature as well as by name? Mrs Brisket who takes her name from a cut of meat? And of course Letitia Slighcarp, who is both sly and apt to carp at her poor charges?

The avid reader can have fun with the remaining names, with their lively mix of Biblical forenames, funny-sounding old English terms and inappropriate or incongruous sobriquets. A few of the personages reappear in the sequels — most touchingly in the last title of all, The Witch of Clatteringshaws — but for the moment we may rejoice in the feeling that here is created a whole world of individuals identified by name, many with significant parts to play and identifiable characters to match.

The Green family
Sir Willoughby Green (born circa 1780?) Owner of Willoughby Chase and, according to Josiah Grimshaw, “the richest man in five counties,” with no near neighbours
Lady Sophia (‘Sophy’) Green Sir Willoughby’s wife whose delicate health required a sojourn abroad at the beginning of this tale on board the Thessaly
Bonnie Green (born circa 1820?) Only child of Sir Willoughby and Lady Green; described as harum-scarum by Sir Willoughby, she is slight with dark black hair and blue eyes
Miss Jane Green (born circa 1752?) Sir Willoughby’s aged and frail sister living in Park Lane, London, overlooking Green Park near the court of St James; attic lodgings are sparse but provided with gas for cooking and furnished with Sheraton and Hepplewhite furniture
Sylvia Green (born circa 1820?) Fair-haired, blue-eyed ‘delicate’ orphan whose parents died of a fever when she was an infant. Lives with her Aunt Jane until taken into care of Sir Willoughby late 1832: in 1855 (when Sylvia is 35) her Aunt Jane would be 103

Willoughby Chase
Letitia Slighcarp Tall and thin forbidding spinster, said to be Bonnie’s fourth cousin once removed; taken on as Bonnie and Sylvia’s governess
Mrs Shubunkin Housekeeper
Pattern Maid
James Footman
Doctor Morne Elderly physician living 5 miles beyond estate boundaries, fee 5 guineas
Josiah Grimshaw Former clerk with Abednego Gripe, dismissed for forgery; Miss Slighcarp’s associate
Groach Gamekeeper
Marl Steward; Porson Former Steward
John Groom; Prout Undergroom (saves Bonnie’s pony Feathers from being sold, and donkey Caroline)
Solly Coachman
Timon, reinstated April 1833 along with John and Solly
Simon (born 12th April 1818) Fourteen years old, asked to live in cave in park one autumn ‘four to five years’ before (1827 or 1828); friends with Bonnie and Sylvia

Mrs Gertrude Brisket Proprietor of Brisket’s Charity School
Diana Brisket 15-year-old daughter of Mrs Brisket
Mrs Moleskin Charity School cook
Mr Friendshipp Blastburn school inspector
Lucy (No 6); Alice (?); Julia (?); Emma (No 18) Girls at Charity School

Abednego Gripe Attorney, Lincoln’s Inn Fields; the Greens’ family lawyer
Marmot Clerk in Gripe’s chambers
Dr Gabriel Field Physician and Chirugeon of Park Lane, London; amateur painter
Sam Cardigan officer of Bow Street Constabulary
Spock Another Bow Street officer

In addition there are one or two unnamed individuals, such as the anonymous station-master of Willoughby Chase train station, and the landlord of the Snake & Ladder Inn; and I shouldn’t omit the kindly blacksmith Mr Wilderness at the village in Herondale where Sylvia recuperates.

11 thoughts on “The naming of names

    1. Clearly a satisfied customer! So pleased I’ve found a convert in you, Simon — Joan Aiken’s fiction often slips under the radar because she’s regarded often as ‘just’ a children’s author when it often has a richness that stands repeated visits.

  1. Each one deserves an essay…take Marmot, (‘a clerk’ ) for instance –

    “All marmots closely resemble each other with a few differences in colour, coat and size.”

    Mr. Grimshaw, the villain, is confronted by the Bow Street Runners in the Lawyer Gripe’s office:

    “Cardigan looked thunderously disbelieving and was about to burst out with his suspicions of Mr Gripe, when the little clerk who had let the party in, and who had been standing in the doorway with eyes like saucers, piped up:
    ‘Please, sir, I saw him.’
    Mr Grimshaw darted a furious look at this speaker.
    ‘Who are you?’ said Cardigan.
    ‘Please sir, Marmot, a clerk. Yesterday while Mr Gripe was out having dinner, th-that gentleman as is tied up there came and asked me to give him the address of Miss Jane Green, sister to Sir Willoughby.’
    ‘And you gave it him?’
    ‘Yes, sir. He said he wished to take her some dividends.’
    ‘Dividends, indeed!’ growled Dr Field. ‘Wanted to murder her more probably.’

    Little Marmot has one scene, but will always be remembered for his moment of glory, and his name!

    The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (The Wolves Chronicles series) (pp. 197-198). Random House. Kindle Edition.

    1. You’re absolutely right, Lizza, about each name deserving more than the mere notice I’ve given in this post. Not only do marmots have that undistinguished coat (indeed clerks used to be similarly accoutred) but they have that distinctive squeak which I can Marmot having when he pipes up with his comment.

      One can similarly expound on the others, such as Wilderness: the ‘wilderness’ feature in formal gardens which was wild only by name exactly matches the smith who is generosity and gentleness personified, in contrast to the savage treatment the girls got from governess and charity school owner. And so it is over and over again with succeeding episodes in the sequence; I suspect I shall be going to town on them!

  2. Mr Wilderness is a wonderful name! And Briskets, Gripes, Friendshipps and Moleskins – makes me want to read the books more and more. Nice post, thanks Chris

    1. Thank you, Laurie, names are a bit of an obsession with me — I suppose choice of names reflects a lot on the intentions of the author as much as it does on the personal taste parents with what they opt for with their own newborns!

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