Charles John Huffman Dickens (1812-1870), as any literate speaker of the Queen’s English knows, was one of the greatest writers in the history of Western Civilization. No, his name was not funny, and not even eponymous. The origin of the term dickens as a mild oath or euphemism apparently dates to more than two centuries before his birth. But what the illustrious Mr. Dickens was, and to this day remains, is the godfather of funny names in fiction. His most famous character is the archetypal funny-named character, Ebeneezer Scrooge, who most certainly is eponymous. Dicitionary.com defines a scrooge as a skinflint or miserly curmudgeon. And while the use of the word generically to describe any Scrooge-like individual does not appear to have emerged until the late 1930’s, it clearly developed from Scrooge and A Christmas Carol.
But Scrooge is just the start. The list of funny names in Dickens’ oeuvre almost defies quantification. Dickens created hundreds of characters, dozens of which could easily qualify to be enshrined herein. The following are just a few of my favorites, gleaned from a list of over 70 wacky monikers.
Polly Toodle–a minor character, in a minor work (Dombey and Son), with a major funny name.
Wackford Squeers–the cruel, one-eyed schoolmaster of Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickelby. I actually think Dickens missed the boat on this one as this would make a great name for a small town mayor or lawyer.
Inspector Bucket–the detective who solved the mystery in Bleak House, he predated Sherlock Holmes by some 30 years. You also have to think this name may have been the inspiration for the modern day Inspector Gadget. After all, a bucket was probably seen as a gadget in the low-tech world of 1850’s England.
Neville and Helena Landless–twin orphans from Ceylon in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. You don’t suppose J.K. Rowling was influenced by Dickens, do you? These names sound as if they could have come straight out of a Harry Potter book.
Serjeant Buzfuz–a lawyer in The Pickwick Papers. An English band adopted this as their name. I guess Sergeant Pepper was already taken.
Anne Chickenstalker–a shopkeeper in The Chimes: A Goblin Story. This was the second of Dickens’ five short Christmas novels, being published between a Christmas Carol and A Cricket on the Hearth. Your poultry should be very afraid.
Tiny Tim Cratchit–the second most famous character, after Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol. I had to include him, if only to be able to use the picture and caption to the left.
Canon Septimus Crisparkle–The right reverend Crisparkle was a mentor to Neville Landless in The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Could Dickens pile funny names on top of funny names, or what?
It would clearly take a short novel-lengthed document just to summarize all the funny names in Dickens works. Mr. m’Choakumchild…Mr. Pumblechook…Gaffer Hexam…Abel Magwitch…Prince Turveydrop…Simon Tapertit…Samuel Slumkey…Smike…Rogue Riderhood…Barneby Rudge…I couldn’t possibly list them all here.
So tell us. Who are your favorites and why?