• Deborah Yaffe

More name-dropping

The virtual ink had barely dried on my recent blog post about a questionable list of Jane Austen-themed names for baby boys when I happened across a companion piece: “15 Romantic Girl Names for Fans of Jane Austen.”


And once again I found myself wondering . . . which Jane Austen fans are these, exactly?


Now, many of the names on the list are entirely unobjectionable from a Janeite point of view. No complaints here if you’d like to call your newborn Anne, Catherine, Elinor, Elizabeth, Emma, Georgiana, Jane, or Marianne. I’ll be magnanimous and even let you name her Darcy. (I do, however, wonder if the author of this listicle should be mentioning the fact that the names Elizabeth and Anne appear in "several" Austen novels, since I doubt that many fans want their bundles of joy associated with, say, Elizabeth Elliot or Anne Steele.)


But I’m puzzled about which Austen fan would choose to name her daughter Kitty, after the querulous fourth Bennet sister (described here, wrongly, as “the impulsive youngest Bennet sister that causes a whole lot of chaos”). Or Annesley, after a character – Georgiana Darcy’s governess/companion/minder – so minor that she is referred to by name only three times, plays no role in the plot of Pride and Prejudice, and speaks not a single line of dialogue. Or Harriet, given that the only two characters with that name – Emma Woodhouse’s protégé and, more tangentially, Colonel Forster’s flighty wife – are both distinguished by their dimness.


Most of all, however, I find it difficult to imagine a true Janeite giving her little tyke one of the last three monikers on the list. Mary, as has oft been noted, is one of the few important names in Austen that is never associated with a truly sympathetic character: Pedantic Mary Bennet, amoral Mary Crawford, and whiny Mary Musgrove make for a less-than-stellar set of inspirations.


Maria is not much better: While silly, impressionable Maria Lucas in Pride and Prejudice isn’t exactly a sympathetic character, at least she’s not as bad as Maria Bertram Rushworth, who spends the first half of Mansfield Park patronizing, ignoring, or bullying her cousin Fanny before making a wholly mercenary marriage, fleeing it for an adulterous liaison, and finishing up confined for life with Mrs. Norris. Even if you feel some sympathy for Maria’s limited choices, it’s hard to see her as much of a namesake, let alone a “romantic” one.


Still, the last entry -- Lydia -- is surely the least plausible Janeite baby name on this list. I’ll grant you that Lydia Bennet is funny, and I’ll further grant you that contemporary readers may feel more forgiving than Jane Austen did toward a sixteen-year-old with a healthy sexual appetite who falls under the spell of a practiced older seducer. But the keynotes of Lydia’s character are vulgarity and selfish thoughtlessness. Don’t we want better for our Austen-inspired babies?

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