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Jane Austen’s Names

Riddles, Persons, Places

In Jane Austen’s works, a name is never just a name. In fact, the names Austen gives her characters and places are as rich in subtle meaning as her prose itself. Wiltshire, for example, the home county of Catherine Morland in Northanger Abbey, is a clue that this heroine is not as stupid as she seems: according to legend, cunning Wiltshire residents caught hiding contraband in a pond capitalized on a reputation for ignorance by claiming they were digging up a “big cheese”—the moon’s reflection on the water’s surface. It worked.

In Jane Austen’s Names, Margaret Doody offers a fascinating and comprehensive study of all the names of people and places—real and imaginary—in Austen’s fiction. Austen’s creative choice of names reveals not only her virtuosic talent for riddles and puns. Her names also pick up deep stories from English history, especially the various civil wars, and the blood-tinged differences that played out in the reign of Henry VIII, a period to which she often returns. Considering the major novels alongside unfinished works and juvenilia, Doody shows how Austen’s names signal class tensions as well as regional, ethnic, and religious differences. We gain a new understanding of Austen’s technique of creative anachronism, which plays with and against her skillfully deployed realism—in her books, the conflicts of the past swirl into the tensions of the present, transporting readers beyond the Regency.

Full of insight and surprises for even the most devoted Janeite, Jane Austen’s Names will revolutionize how we read Austen’s fiction.

440 pages | 25 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2015

History: European History

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature


“This is rich material, and Janites will love the code-cracking. . . . [A] playful and exuberant book.” 


“Doody makes a convincing argument that Jane Austen (1775–1817) imbued most, if not all, of her character and place names with historical, geographical, or social significance, and provides the historical and cultural context necessary to understand the import of each of these careful naming choices. . . . A delightful, edifying read for both scholars and lay Austen fans.”

Library Journal

“Doody’s book is a marvellous thing. . . . The bravura set-piece literary criticisms are fresh, and valuable in themselves (Elinor Dashwood isn’t really as sensible as all that; obscured window panes are important in Persuasion), and so are the frequent, hitherto unmade links to the other novels by women that Jane Austen was reading.”

Times Literary Supplement

“A magical mystery tour of virtually every location, and every family and individual, mentioned not only in the novels, but also in the Juvenilia and even the letters and diaries. . . . Doody writes with clarity and elegance, and arranges her material to lead the reader ever onwards into a whole world of language and meaning. . . . A comprehensive study, but never a dull one, this book is as entertaining as it is revealing, and will doubtless uncover fresh layers of meaning for even the best-read Austen fan.”

Jane Austen’s Regency World

Jane Austen’s Names is a treasure chest.”

First Things

“No one, with the possible exception of Jane Austen herself, knows the fiction of Jane Austen and her time more intimately than Margaret Doody, and the depth and breadth of this knowledge is richly deployed here. . . . An erudite, provocative, and original book.”

Review 19

“To read Jane Austen’s Names is to appreciate Austen’s writings anew in the company of a peerlessly learned, delightfully opinionated scholar—an opportunity not to be missed.”


“This meticulous, expansive, and enjoyable book recreates the delight of Austen’s wordplay in detailed etymologies, anecdotes, and historical and literary references. Doody’s vast research will undoubtedly afford readers of Austen new angles on the novels’ familiar characters and significant places. There is great payoff in this book’s copious details.”

Eighteenth-Century Fiction

“A brilliant, provocative, and important book. Doody has marshaled a truly unprecedented array of material about names, places, and plotting culled from a dazzlingly expansive reading of eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century novels—as well as books on local history and the English countryside. The result is an illuminating and enjoyable book that teaches us to think about Austen’s artistry in a fundamentally new way.”

Claudia L. Johnson, author of Jane Austen’s Cults and Cultures

“Doody brings the insights of a lifetime of reading, teaching, and writing about Austen to this book. I admire how Jane Austen’s Names brings to view the riddling and punning play that Austen indulged in her naming practices. Doody reveals an author who positively relishes the comic resonances of the names she encountered in the social world around her.”

Deidre Shauna Lynch, author of Loving Literature: A Cultural History

“This is a remarkable book—profuse, forensic, vividly imagined. To say that it enriches our experience of Austen’s fiction hardly does justice to the way Doody brings all its people and places to life through their names. In this erudite etymological adventure she excavates the deep text of Austen’s England, its embedded meanings and hidden histories.”

David Fairer, author of Organising Poetry: The Coleridge Circle, 1790–1798

“Doody draws on a prodigious array of literary, geographical, historical, and linguistic information to figure out what the names of people and places in Jane Austen actually mean. With characteristic energy and curiosity, she links Austen’s riddling allusions to larger worlds, even to the movements of time itself.”

Jocelyn Harris, author of A Revolution Almost Beyond Expression: Jane Austen’s Persuasion

"Her meticulous research supports her thesis admirably, giving even the most ardent Austen fan new perspectives on her writing."

Names: A Journal of Onomastics

Table of Contents

List of Figures
A Note on Texts

Part I. England

Chapter 1. Words, Names, Persons, and Places
Chapter 2. Names as History: Invasion, Migration, War, and Conflict
Chapter 3. Civil War, Ruins, and the Conscience of the Rich

Part II. Names

Chapter 4. Naming People: First Names, Nicknames, Titles, and Rank
Chapter 5. Titles, Status, and Surnames: Austen’s Great Surname Matrix
Chapter 6. Personal Names (First Names and Surnames) in the “Steventon” Novels
Chapter 7. Personal Names in the “Chawton” Novels

Part III. Places

Chapter 8. Humans Making and Naming a Landscape
Chapter 9. Placing the Places
Chapter 10. Counties, Towns, Villages, Estates: Real and Imaginary Places in the “Steventon” Novels
Chapter 11. Real and Imaginary Places in the “Chawton” Novels

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