Where do Dickens' bizarre character names come from?

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6 December
15:09
December
2016

The first thing is that he had a fertile comic imagination and he's particularly alert to sounds and to sights – it's a very visual and aural imagination. He's able to find names that are at once wholly appropriate to particular characters – they just sound right – without being wholly allegorical. 

"I think perhaps the telling thing is he likes names that resonate with his own. Mr Pickwick, Dick Swiveller, Micawber and so on."

If you think of Bunyan's 'The Pilgrim's Progress' you have Mr Obstinate or Mr Pliable, or restoration comedy where you have Lady Woo-all and Mr Would-be-wit or in one of Dickens' favourite novels, Fielding's 'Tom Jones', where you have Squire Allworthy. But while saying that, Fielding has a character called Blifil who is quite obviously a villain in the same way that someone named Uriah Heep has to be a villain. 

I think perhaps the telling thing is he likes names that resonate with his own. Mr Pickwick, Dick Swiveller, Micawber and so on. A number of his characters have initials that are interesting too. David Copperfield has Dickens' initials transposed, Carton and Darnay in 'A Tale of Two Cities' have Dickens' initials, he's very alert to these sorts of things. And they're often ridiculous. 

"I think perhaps the telling thing is he likes names that resonate with his own. Mr Pickwick, Dick Swiveller, Micawber and so on."

He gave all his children nicknames and all his friends –it has to do with the nature of his imagination which is alert to all kinds of absurdity and one of those areas of absurdity he particularly enjoys is nomenclature. It's interesting to know, as scholars have discovered, that he would often search for a name and have a list of possible names, they didn't always come immediately to him. He felt that a character had to have the appropriate name for what he conceived that character to be.

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