American Names · Classic, Old, and Traditional Names

Emma: Character [Sur]names


I’ve just finished reading Jane Austen’s Emma.  Normally I love anything Austen wrote, but this book was a chore.  The first third of the story (Volume 1, actually) was unimaginably boring, and I perceived Emma Woodhouse herself as annoying.  Amazingly, I persevered to Volume 2, at which point I started to enjoy it more.  Having finished it (there are 3 volumes), I can actually say that I liked it…but for a while I hated it.  This, coming from someone whose favorite book is Pride and Prejudice and who adored the obscure but deliciously scandalous Lady Susan

The character names were excellent but nearly as boring as I found Volume 1.  Almost everyone was named some classic like Henry or Isabella.  The only really unusual names of interest were Hetty and Augusta, but overwhelmingly there were few rarities.  To be fair, most characters were referred by their surnames.  So, why don’t we look at those and their usage?

Bates: 8 boys in 2015.  I considered Miss Bates was an interesting example of the Regency-era spinster.  She’s not especially old, but is unmarried at a much later age than most women would wed.  Her community regards her highly for a kind and optimistic personality, even if she tends to ramble.

Campbell: 224 girls and 136 boys in 2015.  There is some mention of a Colonel and Mrs. Campbell. 

Churchill: Under 5 uses in 2015, if any.  Churchill hasn’t been used regularly since World War II (not that it was ever common), but it did appear in the extended data back in 2012.  I am looking at American data, so there’s that too.  However, I think Winston Churchill tends to be a more likely namesake than Frank Churchill.  Speaking of which: Winston is experiencing a revival – he ranked #523 last year! 

Cole: 3475 boys (#115) and 14 girls.  The Coles are a newly wealthy and up-and-coming family in Emma’s town who seem mostly to serve as social catalysts – i.e., they host parties.  The name Cole always makes me think either of Cole Porter or Nat King Cole. 

Dixon: 70 boys.  Mr. Dixon never actually appears except in passing mention, though one mention was apparently enough to upset Jane Fairfax.

Elton: 62 boys.  I can’t say I liked Mr. Elton very much, and I was even less fond of his wife.  Even so, any child called Elton will surely be associated with Elton John long before the rude vicar. 

Fairfax: Unknown usage, though I did encounter one several years back who’s probably around my age.  If you want some Austen-Brontë crossover material, I think Mr. Rochester’s second name was Fairfax.  The most probable namesake, I imagine, is not literary but historical.  In the 18th century, the 6th Lord Fairfax once owned over 5,000,000 acres of land stretching across what are now Virginia and West Virginia. 

Hawkins: 57 boys.  Mr. Elton marries Miss Hawkins, who frequently errs and refers to Jane Fairfax by her “Christian name.”  Proper protocol was to address her as ‘Miss Fairfax’; calling her ‘Jane’ was considered vulgar. 

Knightley8 girls in 2015.  Although the book refers to Mr. Knightley and his brother Mr. John Knightley (with the one Mrs. Knightley often and simply designated Isabella), Americans usually treat this as a girls’ name.  Knightley is even more modern than it is rare, having only officially entered the naming pool seven years ago.  The sound and style of the name may be responsible for its usage, though curiously other Austen-related names like Fitzwilliam (8 boys) are very new to the data too.  

Martin: 1332 boys (#276).  Emma soon persuades Harriet to turn down a proposal from Mr. Robert Martin and disastrously attempts to set her up with Mr. Elton. 

Perry: 139 boys and 87 girls.  I believe Mr. Perry was the physician. 

Smith: 154 boys and 11 girls.  Harriet Smith is an illegitimate child, which is one of the only things I found particularly interesting about the first third of the book. 

Weston: 3305 boys (#120) and 5 girls.  Easily the most popular character surname from the story, Weston is taking off – possibly responding to the exponentially increasing popularity of counterpart Easton (#78).  In a couple years, Weston could be a top 100 baby name! 

Woodhouse: Unknown usage.  Emma’s surname hasn’t inspired parents in any decade.  If any baby Woodhouses exist, they’re more likely named after Sterling Archer’s butler. 

Thoughts?  Have you read Emma, and if so, how did you like it? 

2 thoughts on “Emma: Character [Sur]names

  1. It’s been years since I’ve read Jane Austen’s works, though I remember that I didn’t like Emma very much when I read it. I haven’t read Lady Susan though. My favorite Jane Austen book is Persuasion.

    Knightley for girls is an interesting name. I see it more as a masculine name. Maybe it has something to do with actress Keira Knightley?

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s