When it comes to creating and naming fictitious characters, there can’t be many authors more colourful than Charles Dickens, who provided us with such well-known names as Martin Chuzzlewit, Oliver Twist, Tiny Tim Cratchit and Barnaby Rudge.
I’m sure Dickens enjoyed inventing outrageous names. What about Edwin Drood, Abel Magwitch, wait for it... Wackford Squeers...how did he think them up?
Some are still used regularly to describe personality traits, such as Uriah Heep, (ever so ‘umble) and Barkis (is willing). In the dictionary you’ll find Pickwickian (naive and benevolent) and Scrooge (a mean miserly person.)
When Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels he would have been surprised to learn that Lilliputian would come to refer to a tiny person.
Quixotic, meaning impractically idealistic, comes from Cervantes’ Don Quixote, and Utopian, from Sir Thomas More’s writing, is often used to describe an imaginary society where life is perfect.
But Shakespeare must have the best-known line-up of heroes and heroines...Hamlet, Portia, Othello...and villains...Cassius, Lady Macbeth and the mischievous Puck.
Shakespeare’s moneylender Shylock makes it into the dictionary too, as a heartless or demanding creditor and Falstaffian means jovial, plump and dissolute, much like Falstaff himself.
Jabberwocky, serendipity, gargantuan, are all words invented by authors, very often because no such word exists to describe that particular meaning. Our English language is all the richer for their inventive genius!
What's your favourite literary character name or invented word?
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