Friday, October 5, 2012

Jane Austen Heroines

Jane Austen, via The Jane Austen Society of North America

It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone who wants to name their child a great name should look to Jane Austen.

I'm being silly of course, because there are tons of wonderful names out there. But those of us who love traditional and classic names can never go wrong turning to the novels of Jane Austen. First, let's take a look at the heroines:

Anne - The heroine from one of the most loved novels, Persuasion. Anne, the name, is simple and sweet... and with an "e". There is also an Anne in Sense and Sensibility (the sister of Lucy Steele), called Nancy, and in Emma (Emma's governess).

Catherine - The name of the main character in Northanger Abbey, as well as a younger Bennett sister in Pride and Prejudice (called Kitty). Catherine is also the name of Lady de Bourgh in P&P.

Elinor - A variant spelling of Eleanor and the main character in Sense and Sensibility. I wonder why Miss Austen chose the variant spelling (oh the questions I would ask her), especially since she uses the Eleanor spelling for Tilney's sister in Northanger Abbey. I love it either way. I also love the way it is pronounced in England... more like Ellen-uh.

Elizabeth - Miss Austen's most memorable character has the most usable name. She is called both Eliza and Lizzy in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth is also Anne's sister in Persuasion.

Emma - The only character to also be the title of an Austen book, Emma. A favorite of mine for years, and then Ross and Rachel used it for their baby girl on the TV show Friends. It has been in the top five ever since.

Fanny - This heroine name, from the novel Mansfield Park, is probably the least used currently. Maybe it has something to do with its unfortunate use as an alternate name for our backside. Or maybe it's just considered an old fuddy duddy. But it must have been pretty popular in England in the early 1800s as Miss Austen uses it in Sense and Sensibility (Fanny Dashwood) and as minor characters in other novels.

Jane - Elizabeth's sister in P&P and Jane Fairfax in Emma (as well as Jane's aunt). My favorite name of all time. It's interesting to me that Miss Austen uses her own name in her novels, especially for two such different characters.

Marianne - The sensibility to Elinor's sense in S&S. The only name on this list for which the character changes my impression of the name. Marianne seemed a bit boring to me at first, however Austen's Marianne is anything but.

There are some more goodies in the list of side characters:

Augusta - Mr. Elton's wife in Emma.

Caroline - Bingley's sister in P&P.

Charlotte - Elizabeth's friend in P&P.

Georgiana - Darcy's sister in P&P.

Harriet - Emma's friend in Emma.  Catherine's sister in NA.

Henrietta - Musgrove's sister in Persuasion.

Hetty - Jane Fairfax's aunt in Emma.

Isabella - Catherine's "friend" in NA.

Julia - Edmund's sister in MP.

Louisa - Bingley's sister in P&P and Musgrove's sister in Persuasion.

Lucy - Edward's fiancée in S&S.

Lydia - Elizabeth's sister in P&P.

Margaret - Elinor and Marianne's sister in S&S.

Maria - Charlotte's sister in P&P and Edmund's sister in MP. Pronounced Ma-rye-uh, not Ma-ree-uh.

Mary - Elizabeth's sister in P&P, Henry Crawford's sister in MP, and Anne's sister in Persuasion.

Penelope - a character in Persuasion.

Sally/Sarah - Catherine's sister in NA.

Selina - Augusta Elton's sister in Emma.

Sophia - Willoughby's wife in S&S and Wentworth's sister in Persuasion.

I am also going to mention the name Cassandra. It is not a character in any of Miss Austen's novels, although it is in her juvenlia. I mention it because it was her sister's name, and her sister was very dear to her.  Plus, it's a cool name.

Which of these cast of characters would you use?

We will take a look at Miss Austen's heroes next week.



  1. I think Penelope Jane would be a great name!

    also, I always wondered who was the sense and who was the sensibility. Thanks for clearing that up. I didn't figure out pride and prejudice until my adult years, and even then, they can go either way :)

  2. Hetty is really darling! And it could be a nn for Hester - love that idea.

  3. Haha, from now on when someone asks me for a list of classic or timeless baby girl names, I'll say "Buy the complete works of Jane Austen!"

    I love Selina.

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