Ten Dickensian eponyms?

Dickens festival, Rochester. Fagin hanging with Miss Havisham & the gang 

I am well aware that I am the ‘umblest person going,” said Uriah Heep, modestly. Charles Dickens, David Copperfield

No novelist has been more inventive in using character names to express character traits. Ernest L. Abel identifies seventeen examples that have entered general English. These ten are perhaps the best known:

  • Scrooge - miserliness, anti-Christmas, bah humbug etc 
  • Mr Micawber - spendthrift, ludicrously optimistic ‘something will turn up’ 
  • Fagin - charming, ruthless, leader of a gang of child thieves.
  • Miss Havisham - embittered reclusive spinster
  • Uriah Heep - obsequious, toadying, false humility. More recently humble brag 
  • Podsnap  - complacent jingoist who “stood very high in his own opinion”
  • Pecksniff - hypocritical
  • Pickwick - amiable bon viveur, 'Pickwick paunch'
  • Gradgrind -  hard, ruthless businessman who reduces everything to monetary value.

Others are now perhaps less familiar because as schools focus on a narrower range of his work.  A Handful of Dust (1934) the central character is condemned to reading the entire Dickensian oeuvre in perpetuity.

Today Mr Todd would struggle find a captive with even a cursory knowledge of his favourite author. In the UK only A Christmas Carol would be universally familiar. Yet Dickensian is itself a highly evocative eponym - understood across the world. 

Uriah Heep may be better known as an ancient prog rock band — but to ‘humble brag’ is a term familiar to the young and hip, strutting their stuff on social media.

More on Dickens & vocabulary * How many words did Shakespeare invent?