What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Notebook, note pad, lined

I’m reading Persuasion from start to finish for the first time and a discussion on Facebook about the several characters named Charles prompted me to research Georgian era names.

Fans of Darcy (more so than other Austen heroes) know him by many different names. I’m sure we can agree with Shakespeare’s sentiment, however, that any name for Mr. Darcy makes him just as lovable.

I have to admit, I spend a lot of time coming up with names for characters! I also admit to going back and forth on what to call Darcy and Elizabeth within the story. Don’t even get me started on what to name their children!

But naming practices were very different in history than they are now.  So when reaching for a name for that new character it is helpful to choose something historically accurate.  One could easily guess Kaylee might not fit but does Augusta?  It’s old fashioned to be sure, and Jane Austen even uses it frequently (according to the Regency Encyclopedia it is her tenth most frequently used female name) but by in large it was infrequently used during the Georgian period.

That is not to say Augusta would be inappropriate; some certainly had less popular names.  It is important to remember, however, that in general there were fewer names in frequent use and the difference between the number of women named Mary (highest rank) versus Susanna (tenth) would be great.  According to data collected in the All England Census of 1841, there were 786,562 women named Mary born between 1760 and 1821 and only 63,441 named Susanna.  Augusta ranked at 71 with 834 uses.

According to JASNA News, these were the 10 most frequently used names:


  1. John
  2. William
  3. Thomas
  4. James
  5. George
  6. Joseph
  7. Henry
  8. Robert
  9. Richard
  10. Charles


  1. Mary
  2. Ann
  3. Elizabeth
  4. Sarah
  5. Jane
  6. Hannah
  7. Martha
  8. Margaret
  9. Maria
  10. Susan/Susanna


Also according to JASNA, Georgian parents continued the old traditions of naming the eldest children after themselves, honoring a prominent family member, and/or using the family name if they were linked to the aristocracy.  These are also important facts to know as a writer.  The names found in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s family tree would likely differ greatly from Elizabeth Bennet’s.

Some interesting finds in the All England census of 1841:

  • Job was used 4,604 times.
  • Matthew 590- I find this interesting given the number of JAFF’s I’ve read with a Matthew featuring.
  • Marmaduke 337
  • Josephine 203 (surprises me because of the Napoleon connection)
  • Marina 107 (just feels so modern!)
  • Pamela 101 (the same)
  • Cassandra 93 (Jane Austen’s sister’s name and a favorite of the JAFF community)
  • Georgiana 63 (this surprises me given the popularity of the Duchess of Devonshire)

And here is the list of my favorite “hidden gems,” ranked below 50, for Georgian characters.  I am likely to give these names to a semi-prominent character versus the maid in the corner.

  • Augustus
  • Gabriel
  • Theodore
  • Julian
  • Sebastian
  • Selina
  • Penelope
  • Cecilia
  • Millicent
  • Rosamond
  • Eveline
  • Rosalind
  • Aurora

What’s your favorite name for Darcy?


This is shareable! I made this from a stock photo I bought!
This is shareable! I made this from a stock photo I bought!


42 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. I have to wonder if the popularity of Georgiana (or seeming lack of popularity) was a class thing. The Duchess may not have been popular enough outside her class to make new parents name daughters after her.

  2. I agree that I like Darcy by almost any name–the exception being Fitz(y) which I detest. I must agree with you on the important of using period appropriate names for an historically set story. It would be disconcerting to read about a Kaylee or a Linda and probably distract me from the story. However, it can be fun to use the less attractive older names for a character that is to be a nuisance to our major characters. Then just the name can convey something of their personality. Name is great fun, but also one of the most difficult parts of writing a story set in the Regency era. Looking forward to your next work.

  3. Rose I want to know this man’s name – pinned your photo on my Pinterest board but would like to add a name. Anyone out there know who he is?

  4. Since we are not in that time period, I find it strange to call a man by their last name, whether it be Darcy or Mr. Darcy. I enjoy reading about our favourite couple no matter what we call him, but I have to admit that I do prefer hearing Elizabeth call him William.

  5. I think she might call him William in private, but never in public. I love the traditional Georgian names. I don’t like the modern trend of making up names. Biblical names are my favorite.

  6. An interesting article – can’t say that whichever name was used ever bothered me in a story with ODC. Although ironically calling Colonel Fitzwilliam anything other than Richard does NOT ring true. I did read a complaint in one review that JA spells it Lizzie NOT Lizzy…but I didn’t bother to look it up. Glad you took the time to research and share with us. Thank you.

  7. Forget about the names! I want the guy in the picture! 🙂 Seriously I was upset when in “Death Comes to Pemberley” Elizabeth was calling him Darcy. That is what all his friends call him, so I thought it was not what she would have called him. I firmly believe Lizzy would call him either Fitzwilliam, William or Will. Preferably the latter two as I always think of Colonel Fitzwilliam when I see Fitzwilliam. I have a Millicent in my newest story, A Promise Kept and an Olivia (someone mentioned) in my last story. It was fun to see what names you came up with in research as they don’t match some of the names in the Regency Name Generator Jennifer mentioned. Makes one wonder!

    • Hehehe, he’s a looker! You can copy him and share.

      I’ve still not watched Death Comes to Pemberley. Does she call him Darcy in company or in private? I agree about seeing Colonel Fitzwilliam with the name Fitzwilliam. Austen never tells us Colonel Brandon’s first name and Mr. Darcy’s is only mentioned twice. I think perhaps we make it into a bigger deal than she meant. I’m sure she wanted him to be clearly and closely connected with the Fitzwilliams, but I think there’s room to believe he went by any number of names.

      I just heard about the Regency Name generator and looked it up. She said she tried to find unusual names as well and I think that’s the key. I noticed when talking with friends that Austen used very common names for her heroines (Marianne is unusual but Mary and Ann were popular and combining names like that was gaining in popularity) but less common names for her heroes. I wonder if that has significance?

  8. What an amazing post, Rose, thanks!! It was fascinating to read the JASNA statistics, it’s just like some people say, that the names were mostly biblical, or derived from a family member they hoped the child might inherit from :D, or to honour some figure, public or private, the parents had great affection or admiration for (hence a lot of Arthurs, after the Duke of Wellington, Georgianas for the Duchess of Devonshire, William Pitt Lennox after William Pitt, etc).

    I love the ‘a Darcy by any other name would be as sweet’ 😀 I admit I was struggling with deciding on the best, years and years ago. But then a very good friend, an absolutely lovely lady from Portland, wrote me this amazing email that stayed with me. At the time I was putting up one of my WIP JAFFs at DWG, and I thought Col Fitzwilliam might call Darcy ‘Wills’. If it’s OK for a future king, then it’s OK for Mr Darcy, right? WRONG! Too informal, my friend said. OK, I said, then what about William? To which she answered simply: ‘No. Mr Collins is William.’

    That decided it for me. Forever. It’ll have to be ‘Fitzwilliam’. A bit of a mouthful for our modern times, but once she mentioned Mr Collins, I could never look back. (I’ve actually used that line in my next book, with fond memories of my friend and that conversation). And here I am back to why I love our JAFF world so much. We might be miles apart, but there are happy places where we can get together and talk about what we love the most.

    Have a great summer and hugs!

    • Some of this is not so different than today! My husband is named after his father whose name is Douglas. When you look at US naming statistics the name Douglas skyrocketed after WWII (father in law was born in 1948) in the wake of the popularity of General Douglas MacArthur.

      I’ve heard about the Mr. Collins is William thing, but I think to the readers at the time nearly every man was named William. I don’t think they would latch on to it being just for Mr. Collins so much as we do. But then I think of Fitzwilliam as Darcy’s cousin. The more I think about it the more I’m tempted to just give Darcy a middle name and have him go by that with Elizabeth from now on.

  9. Considering most were so prim and proper back then, William would be the accepted name for Fitzwilliam. Will and Fitz seem to be names too common for Darcy’s position in life, but used today as nicknames.

    • I’m hesitant to say that’s something we can know so decidedly. The data this information came from is from a census that has people of all social classes. Once you get into things like nicknames you end up having to rely on letters or diaries which survived. When deciphering what women called men the sample pool is smaller because less of their personal things survived history. What’s survived is also more skewed towards a presentation of what men in public life did. A prime minister’s (titled or not) personal accounts are more likely to be kept than an earl who although he served in the House of Lords, was generally unremarkable.

      I’m not a social historian, so for me I dislike making generalizations about eras off such a small sample of people. For example, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, called her son Hart. His first name was William, as was every duke and earl of Devonshire before him. His title upon birth was the Marquess of Hartington. His middle name was George, and she also had a daughter named after herself who they called Little G. It’s possible it was just too many George sounding names to call him by his middle name. It’s also possible that the Duchess is not a good example of the average peer– she made history for standing out. What happened once Hart inherited? Did his whole family call him something else once he became the duke?

      That being said, there are plenty of accounts of shortening a surname among men, even peers, (ie: Colonel Fitzwilliam being called Fitz by men is quite likely). We know they did use nicknames and even did rhyming things, that’s how you get Bill from Will (I’ve also read that George III’s son, Duke of Clarence and future William IV, was called Bill) even if we don’t have a lot of written accounts. My husband’s name is Doug. I generally call him Honey. When we were first together and too cutesy his nickname was Teddy Bear because he was a good cuddler (now a nickname for our son). My brother is Christopher, most call him Chris, I call him Tophie. My daughter is Anastasia, we call her Annie. My husband’s aunts call her Anna. My sister-in-law calls her AJ. I sometimes call her Annie Bananny and Banana Butt. Any written accounts would include only Doug, Teddy, Chris and Annie. In texts, emails and other online formats they’re usually just called by the first initial. Rose is a pen name for me and growing up my real first name was shortened a lot. Now, I only allow my family and very old family friends to call me that. There’s nothing wrong with the shortened name, I just personally don’t like it as much as the longer version. There’s no written account of that transition or the reason behind it.

      So you can see, it’s difficult to know what we know and what we don’t know when it comes to names and their historical uses!

  10. Three of the Bennet ladys’ names are on the most popular list. I always wondered about Jane, it seems such a plain name for such a beautiful girl. But maybe that was the point. Mary seems to match her name, and Elizabeth- a name with the most derivatives for a complicated woman. Catherine seems to fit the era, although it is not mentioned on any of your lists. But what about Lydia? That name really seems a far cry from her other sisters’
    Names. But again, maybe that was its purpose. A fancy name for a girl who who fancy’s herself different from all the others.

    • I think we only relate to Jane as “plain” now. There were certainly lovely and prestigious ladies named Jane. It’s one of the big English names that went back centuries. Catherine was the 15th most popular with 45,431 uses in the 1841 census. Lydia was 27th at 15,785. Some historians have speculated that Austen reserved the more trendy Latinate names (usually ending with an “ia” or “a” for characters she disliked) and/or that Lydia Bennet was named after Lydia Languish from “The Rivals”, a popular play first showing in 1775. I agree, it is rather incongruous!

  11. I wonder if the formality of the name helped to make the man as formal as he is.It might have been something he was to strive to live up to when spoken to by his relatives. It is something to think about.

    • Some historians believe men would have been seldom called by their first name at all. By the time they went to school he would have been Darcy among the boys and either Mr. Darcy, or if his father were present, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, among the women. Servants perhaps would have called him Master Fitzwillliam. Many parents barely saw their children, they lived in villages with nursemaids and their families until they were 3 or 4. I don’t know if his name was seen as a formal vs. informal thing. A lot of first names for boys (and now girls) began as surnames to honor relatives. When he was around other children, I think it’s possible the name was shortened.

      There’s also speculation that the gentry used shortened for children but as they grew to adults not used (which seems pretty common these days too) but lower classes kept the shortened names. Some aristocratic families called the boys by their titles even. I tend to think there was a large variety in what was acceptable within families. My daughter’s name is Anastasia. She is mostly called Annie. But we also call her silly names like Banana Butt.

      That being said, I do think Austen chose Fitzwilliam for a reason. The Fitzwilliam earl at the time was one of the richest men in England and a powerful member of the House of Lords. To be a member of the Fitzwilliam family certainly meant something. And her readers would have instantly known that. At the same time, the text actually shows how he isn’t so conscious of his aristocratic name but I definitely think Elizabeth had a major prejudice about it.

  12. Thanks Rose for the reminder about names. I’m always looking for interesting names to use in stories and when I find one I like, I check it out to see if it fits the times in England, especially if it is to be a “Lord.” Jo Beverley has a Regency Name generator that I’ve looked at on occasion. In moderns I’ve called him Will and William, her Liz, Lizzy & Elizabeth. In Regency I have Darcy call her Elizabeth though her family calls her Lizzy. Fitzwilliam, William or Darcy depending on who is speaking. Great fun!

    • A lot of the non JAFF Regency romances I read seem to not choose names of the eras. But then, a lot of the other writers of the era didn’t either! Cecilia, Evelina, Belinda, Pamela- they were all very infrequently used or sometimes coined by the author. It makes a certain sense. The name is practically trademarked then. Elizabeth Bennet is great….Elizabeth Elliot not so much. Austen reached for more familiar names but you do then have to mention the last name (or romantic pairing) to be sure who one is talking about. I think Marianne is the only exception I can think of. But this is a problem I have with my original stories. I want something distinct but not out of date. I’ve read some great Julian and Sebastians lately so I’m restricting myself from using those names for a bit, among others.

      I love seeing everyone’s opinion about this topic! Personally, Liz bugs me some and I have no idea why, but I’m (eventually) fine reading it. I’m totally fine with all versions of what to call Darcy. How weird is that?

  13. I really enjoyed this blog. I love all of Jane Austen’s names and understanding more about their role in society at the time of her writing these books is a great topic! Funny how the names suit the characters…

    • Thanks! I think the names did suit! Even when she used duplicate names. Anne Elliot, for example, seems so much more down to earth than her older sister Elizabeth, and so Anne is a simpler name with no real nicknames. Elizabeth is a very adaptable name (I think I’ve read it has the most nicknames). Catherine Morland wants to be seen as having more sophistication than she does and so we never see anyone even shorten her name. Even her parents call her the full name of Catherine. She’s a far cry from Kitty Bennet. I even consider the unique spelling of Elinor. Eleanor was undoubtedly the more popular spelling, but did it help create the type of person the eldest Miss Dashwood became? Marianne is far more complex, whimsical and romantic than Austen’s other heroine names. Fanny is so dull sounding compared to Maria and Julia. I could go on and on…

  14. In enjoyed reading this, Rose. Great research and interesting names for the era. Some are familiar and we do see them a lot but others surprised me. When reading I am comfortable with Lizzy or Elizabeth. I think it all depends on the scene and who is speaking. I do not like her called Eliza but maybe that is because Caroline uses that name with a sneer in the miniseries. Anyway, it doesn’t seem to fit. As for Darcy, I think my preferences for Elizabeth are William or Fitzwilliam. He seems too strong a character for the name Will but that is only a personal feeling. It seems better for the men to call him Darcy than for Elizabeth. In the end, as long as it is about Darcy and Lizzy AND their HEA, I’m pretty happy and can live with the names even though some may make me cringe a bit! lol

    Good post! Thanks.

    • Thanks! It is interesting how we cling to certain images! Caroline does call her Eliza even in the book and we imagine it was said with no real affection (especially as she is criticizing Elizabeth at the time) but Charlotte calls her Eliza and so does Sir William Lucas. At the end of the book, Bingley calls her Lizzy. I don’t think my impression of Eliza is helped knowing about Eliza Williams from Sense and Sensibility. I’ve had editors all over the place on what certain people should call other people though! Mostly though, I’m with you. I can eventually adapt to whatever the author has decided. I do want to try Darcy using a middle name at some point. Sacrilege, I know!

  15. William for family, but especially for Elizabeth’s use. To use it as a diminutive feels more intimate. I HATE it when she calls him Darcy as his male friends and acquaintances do.

    • I agree with Kathy. If she just calls him “Darcy” it feels like something is lacking in their relationship. I’m not sure what word I am looking for. Disrespectful, maybe? Whatever it is, it is not a positive, loving feeling that I get.

      • For Lizzy to call him Darcy makes it impersonal as though she is unrelated, or worse, subservient to him. She is his wife, his partner (insofar as the times allow), his lover, and his friend. Darcy pushes him away. Fitzwilliam is also fine, it is his name, after all. While Fitz would be okay, I like that better for Colonel Fitzwilliam, (or even the Colonel’s older brother who is a cousin and a Viscount) not Fitzwilliam Darcy.

        • I have a running joke with my writer friends that a lot of times I don’t know if the story is going to be short or long until Elizabeth calls Darcy by his first name. There was one that was supposed to be short but he wanted to be William instead of Fitzwilliam and it was at that moment that I realized it was going to be much longer than I intended. I have no idea why my mind makes the distinction.

          On a logistical note I tend to agree that he may have had several cousins called Fitzwilliam, or even Darcy. At that rate the real Fitzwilliams were also fond of naming their sons William. The poor man may have had a bit of an identity crisis! I rely on endearments a lot once they’re in love or married.

          There is a fan who always calls him Fitzwilliam. She posts about Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth. And it always takes me a minute to realize she’s just using Darcy’s first name and doesn’t mean the colonel. Regardless of what I have Elizabeth call him, he’s stuck in my head as Darcy.

    • Hehehe, she does in the original! Not TO him, but about him. She only drops the mister once. I think I’ve had her call him that to relatives who are not close to him (the Gardiners) but in general I think it’s just easier to my modern eyes if people lighten up and call others by their first names more often. I would say it must make things less confusing but then there would have been so many repeats of first names (especially if you look at the actual Fitzwilliam family) that may not help. If only Austen had written a scene of Christmas at Upper Cross after Henrietta married Charles Hayter. There would have been her husband Charles, her brother Charles and her nephew Charles.

      My husband is named after his father, and it was assumed he would continue the name. He’s not even a junior. He’s a “second” because it was assumed a third would come. Well, we didn’t go for that. And it’s not a name with a lot of nicknames. Anyway, I just avoid using the name “Doug” when they’re in the room together.

  16. I have no problem with Will between Darcy and Elizabeth. To me, it’s informal but wouldn’t private moments BE informal? I like William or just Darcy for public. My favorite male names are on this list. James, Thomas, Henry, all names I love for men.

    I wanted to also mention that I love the name Olivia. When a dear friend was having her daughter, I looked up Olivia and it was first used in the 1700’s so it could be in there as well, though perhaps sporadically. That and Rachel are two of my favorite girl names. Some of those names that sounds so modern to me, but are even in the Bible, is Tabitha and Deborah.

    • I kind of like the idea of Will being just for Elizabeth. I’ve read a few where that was done and I thought it worked. I’ve kind of compromised on Fitzwilliam sometimes and William at other times but for me personally, I always think of Colonel Fitzwilliam with the name Fitzwilliam- but then I don’t see him hard and fast as Richard like others do.

      Olivia is a lovely name and on my list for a heroine one day! Rachel is already in the works. Deborah does sound modern! Deborah was going to be Rachel’s sister but my sister-in-law’s name is Debra and it just felt so modern to me. Deborah has been changed to Ellen, lol. I could spend months just worrying about names and not actually writing!

    • My favorite for Darcy is William. I like Thomas and Olivia also for characters and have used them in Book 4 of ‘The Four Lords’ Saga’ series. I got a little bit of flack for using Melanie in ‘Darcy Chooses’ but the name goes way back to the 5th century. Although I didn’t mention it in the book, Melanie’s background is French, and her parents liked the name of one of her mother’s ancestress. Melanie is the French spelling as well. Melanie Hahnemann (1800–1878), born in France, was the first homeopathic physician.

    • Thank you, Rose. Enjoyed the information. Six of the twenty names you listed, I used in Book 4 of ‘The Four Lords’ Saga.’ My only worry with names is getting them confused or repeating the same names. I have well over 100 characters including servants, etc. involved in the series of four books. I think Jane Austen might have tried to keep it pretty simple.

  17. I like either William (preferable) or Fitzwilliam. I’ve read a story or 2 where Lizzy calls him Will and I do not like that but at least it’s not Willie. Those names just do not suit him, way too informal, but I feel Darcy is too formal.

      • I don’t mind Will from Elizabeth (she is a country girl and that might just flow easily from her and I doubt he would object, as long as it is only her). I don’t think Bill, Billy, or Willy are appropriate. Fitz, maybe but not Fitzy (except as a taunt from Wickham).

        • This is interesting! I know quite a few Williams and Wills and one Billy in my age group whereas every William from my mother’s age group is called Bill or Billy. It just seems out of fashion now. If P&P were written in the 1780s, Elizabeth likely would have been called Betty or Bess. I wonder if that has anything to do with the increase in popularity now? We’re less likely to use those nicknames and instead Liz, Lizzie and Beth than we were a generation ago and Austen is certainly more popular now.

          I don’t tend to see him as Fitz but totally agree about Fitzy as a taunt from Wickham!

  18. There are some names that I didn’t expect in this article. Very interesting. As for Darcy well I once read a book with Elizabeth calling him Darcy and I didn’t like that. I prefer Fitzwilliam or William and though I would never dream of calling a child Fitzwilliam it seems to really suit Darcy.

    • My original list of the unexpected names was a lot longer but I was trying to keep it short.

      I wonder if how we handle the formality of a surname as a first name is influenced by our own names. My maiden name was Wood. And that just seems so incomplete for a first name so it’s harder for me to think about surnames for first names at all. Fitzwilliam seems overly long (not that it actually is that much longer). But then a lot of people use Bennet for Darcy and Elizabeth’s son and that seems perfect- especially as it can be shortened to Ben.

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