Any reader of Charles Dickens will notice something unique about his work: Many of the characters in his novels and short stories have rather colorful monikers. Names like Mr. Sloppy, Wopsle, Sweedlepipe, Bumble and Scrooge, likely were not names Dickens ran across in a London neighborhood, market or church -- or anywhere, for that matter. No, these names were purely the product of Dickens' unique imagination, and the names often befit the characters. For example, take Toodle; the word sounds friendly and kind, and the character is exactly that. And take Pumblechook -- a puffed up, important-sounding word for a man full of self-importance.
Click ahead for more Dickens'-quality character names you're not likely to find in a novel or short story written by anyone else.
Harold Skimpole, "Bleak House"
Harold Skimpole fancies himself a naïve man with childlike innocence, sweetness and charm. He's perpetually in awe of the beauty in nature and art and professes to have few worldly needs beyond the desire to live his simple, carefree existence. His naiveté is such that he can't seem to comprehend the society's mores. Time, for one, has little meaning to Skimpole. Money is simply an illusory notion of others' creations.
But his happy-go-lucky approach to life has not-so-happy consequences for those around him. His dismissal of time means keeping others waiting. His lack of fiscal responsibility ends up placing his financial burdens on others.
In time, readers of "Bleak House" come to view Skimpole not as an innocent victim of his youthful views but as an entitled and manipulative user of other characters to support his cushy life, earned not from honest work, but from parasitic maneuvering.
Sloppy, "Our Mutual Friend"
Sloppy, or Mr. Sloppy, is one of Dickens's many orphan characters. Sloppy and other children are taken in by Betty Higden, for whom Sloppy does chores, such as helping her watch the other children and reading to her from the newspaper. While thought to have a learning disability, his reading so delights Hidgen that she exclaims, "You mightn't think it, but Sloppy is a beautiful reader of a newspaper. He do the Police in different voices."
When Sloppy is given the opportunity to be adopted by a family named Boffin, he refuses out of loyalty to Hidgen. Hidgen is so devoted to Sloppy's future that she actually runs away so that Sloppy will have no choice but to join the Boffins. Sloppy winds up returning the favor to the Boffins by foiling the plot of a man who was trying to blackmail the family. In fact, he ends up depositing the evildoer into a trash bin. Sloppy eventually becomes a carpenter and falls in love with a disabled young lady who makes doll clothes.
Mr. Wopsle, "Great Expectations"
Mr. Wopsle is a church clerk who delivers mealtime grace and his own banter with exaggerated drama. He loves the sound of his own voice, a love not shared by everyone, and no matter what his opinion, his delivery of it is such that few people take him seriously. In truth, his over-emoting stems from his aspirations to be an actor. He does, in fact, take on the stage name of Waldengarver before moving to London to pursue his dream. He works as a stage performer and has great confidence in his talents. But while the other characters from his small town praise his performances to his face, they acknowledge among themselves that he's not much of a actor.
Polly Toodle, "Dombey and Son"
Polly Toodle is a kind and jolly character whom Dickens refers to as "plump rosy-cheeked wholesome apple-faced young woman." Toodle is hired as a wet nurse by Mr. Dombey to take care of his two children after his wife dies giving birth to their youngest, a boy named Paul. Mr. Dombey is delighted to have a son; Paul will be heir to his father's business, Dombey and Son, a trading company. Toodle takes care of Paul and his sister, Florence, according to Mr. Dombey's rules, but after she takes the children to her home in the poor section of London, a clear violation of Mr. Dombey's set of restrictions, she's fired.
The Squeers, "Nicholas Nickleby"
The Squeers family, including schoolmaster Wackford Squeers, his wife, son Wackford Junior and daughter Fanny, are in charge of Dotheboys Hall, an orphanage for unwanted boys. At this school, the orphan boys are treated horribly -- they're beaten, taught nothing and practically starved. Mr. and Mrs. Squeers keep the young Squeers boy fat to make it appear to the outside world that everyone at the school has plenty to eat. Wackford and his wife also spoil their son with gifts intended for their wards. Nicholas Nickleby, an orphan, reaches his breaking point eventually, canes Mr. Squeers and runs away from the orphanage, taking with him a handicapped boy.
Luke Honeythunder, "The Mystery of Edwin Drood"
Luke Honeythunder is philanthropist and guardian to orphans Neville and Helena Landless, whom he arranges to be educated in Cloisterham. Neville is to live with Honeythunder's sister and her son, Septimus, a reverend, who will be his teacher. Neville's sister, Helena, is to live at the Nun's House.
Honeythunder is as loud and overbearing as his name would suggest. Upon reading Honeythunder's letter of request that they take in the boy, the reverend consults his mother about Honeythunder:
"Well, Ma," said Septimus, after a little more rubbing of his ear, "we must try it. There can be no doubt that we have room for an inmate, and that I have time to bestow upon him, and inclination too. I must confess to feeling rather glad that he is not Mr. Honeythunder himself. Though that seems wretchedly prejudiced -- does it not? -- for I never saw him. Is he a large man, Ma?"
"I should call him a large man, my dear," the old lady replied after some hesitation, "but that his voice is so much larger."
Tulkinghorn, "Bleak House"
Tulkinghorn is the unscrupulous lawyer to the Dedlock family, Sir Leicester Dedlock and his wife, Lady Dedlock. Tulkinghorn uncovers a scandalous secret -- Lady Dedlock had a lover, Captain Hawdon, before she married her husband, and the illicit lovers had an illegitimate daughter. Tulkinghorn decides to use this information for financial gain by blackmailing Lady Dedlock. He enlists Lady Dedlock's maid, Hortense, to help him keep an eye out on her employer. Because the maid despises her boss, she agrees to assist Tulkinghorn. When Tulkinghorn betrays and abandons her, however, Hortense murders him, and then tries, unsuccessfully, to frame Lady Dedlock for the crime.
Bumble, "Oliver Twist"
Mr. Bumble is a town beadle, a minor church official, and his responsibilities include running all of the parish's charitable institutions. These include the baby farm, where Oliver Twist is raised as an infant, and the workhouse, where Bumble assigns Oliver to work when the boy turns 9 years old. Bumble is proud of the special cocked hat he wears to show off his status as beadle. He loves the power he holds, and doesn't hesitate to use it as he beats and abases the children.
Oliver and the other boys who work in the workhouse are issued three not-so-hearty meals a day. When Oliver asks for more, it is Bumble who enthusiastically rats out the boy to the members of the board, who are aghast at Oliver's audacity and threaten dire consequences for him.
Silas Wegg, "Our Mutual Friend"
Silas Wegg is a one-legged shyster of a street vendor who makes claims of great literary talents. When the poor Boffin family inherits some money, they hire Wegg to teach Mr. Boffin to read. As he is charging the Boffins a hefty fee for his services (even though he's not quite as well-read as he professes), he tries to buy back his leg from a local taxidermist who bought it from the hospital. His true nature shows itself when he comes across some information that threatens the Boffins' new fortune and he tries to blackmail them in order to receive a portion of the estate. His plot is eventually foiled.
Dick Swiveller, "The Old Curiosity Shop"
Though the name sounds a little on the sinister side, this character isn't a villain. In fact, he's nearly the victim of manipulation by his friend, Fred. Fred believes his sister, Nelly, will receive a substantial inheritance and tries to persuade Swiveller to marry Nelly so that Fred can get his hands on the money. Swiveller, however, thinks the 14-year-old Nelly is too young to marry. Fred asks him to wait a few years and then marry her, but Swiveller instead falls for a servant girl. Swiveller winds up with good fortune after all, when he's the beneficiary of an inheritance, helps the servant girl with her education and later marries her.
Paul Sweedlepipe, "The Life and Adventures of Martin Chuzzlewit"
Paul (Poll) Sweedlepipe is an eccentric barber and landlord. The quirkiest of his traits is his obsessive love of birds. Rabbits, too. One of the book's passages describes his home:
"With the exception of the staircase, and his lodger's private apartment, Poll Sweedlepipe's house was one great bird's nest. Gamecocks resided in the kitchen; pheasants wasted the brightness of their golden plumage on the garret; bantams roosted in the cellar; owls had possession of the bedroom; and specimens of all the smaller fry of birds chirrupped and twittered in the shop. The staircase was sacred to rabbits. There in hutches of all shapes and kinds, made from old packing-cases, boxes, drawers, and tea-chests, they increased in a prodigious degree, and contributed their share towards that complicated whiff which, quite impartially, and without distinction of persons, saluted every nose that was put into Sweedlepipe's easy shaving-shop."
Caroline "Caddy" Jellyby, "Bleak House"
Mrs. Jellyby devotes her time to all sorts of charities, but her eldest daughter, Caroline, is not one of them. Caroline, called "Caddy," works as secretary to her mother, taking dictation for her all day, including writings connected to her mother's efforts to educate African natives. Caddy, however, receives no education herself. She says: "I'm pen and ink to ma." In the book, she's described this way:
"But what principally struck us was a jaded, and unhealthy-looking, though by no means plain girl, at the writing-table, who sat biting the feather of her pen, and staring at us. I suppose nobody ever was in such a state of ink. And, from her tumbled hair to her pretty feet, which were disfigured with frayed and broken satin slippers trodden down at heel, she really seemed to have no article of dress upon her, from a pin upwards, that was in its proper condition or right place."
Smike, "Nicholas Nickleby"
Smike is one of the inmates at Dotheboys Hall, the orphanage for unwanted boys. While most boys are beaten, not educated as promised and starved, Smike, who is handicapped, receives more abuse than most.
When young Nicholas, another inmate at the orphanage, canes Mr. Squeers and flees, he also rescues Smike and takes him with him to London. Squeers tracks Smike down and takes him back, but Smike manages to escape again. Sadly, Smike eventually dies from the treatment he received as a child at the hands of the Squeers. After his death, Nicholas learns that Smike was actually his cousin.
Uriah Heep, "David Copperfield"
Uriah Heep could earn a spot in any top 10 list of the vilest of characters. He's the conniving law clerk to Mr. Wickfield, who develops a drinking problem after the tragedy of his wife's death. Heep, who professes that he's "umble" and meek, covertly encourages Wickfield's drinking while manipulating Wickfield's financial affairs, forging documents and stealing money. Heep eventually manipulates his way into becoming the controlling partner of the business, and he also has his eye on Wickfield's daughter, Agnes, to marry.
Heep is eventually exposed and goes to prison, where he continues to play his meek and "umble" act to his benefit.
Mr. Sowerberry, "Oliver Twist"
Mr. Sowerberry is an undertaker who agrees to take Oliver off of Bumble's hands after Oliver commits the crime of asking for more food at Bumble's workhouse. Oliver becomes Sowerberry's apprentice, but he's treated with disdain by Mrs. Sowerberry, who on his first night there feeds Oliver the dog's leftovers. Oliver is also tormented by another apprentice named Noah. One day, Noah insults Oliver's mother, and when Oliver fights back, Noah takes his complaint to Bumble. Mrs. Sowerberry pressures Mr. Sowerberry into beating Oliver. Oliver flees to London.
Pumblechook, "Great Expectations"
Pumblechook is the antagonist in "Great Expectations," a seed merchant who makes it his business to badger Pip from childhood on. The only thing Pumblechook appears to care about is status and wealth.
At one point, Pumblechook recommends Pip to a spinster named Miss Havisham, who's looking for a playmate for a girl she's taking care of. When Pip comes into good fortune, Pumblechook begins treating Pip differently. He assumes the money came from the eccentric Miss Havisham, and points out that he'd introduced the two. It turns out Miss Havisham wasn't the benefactor after all, but that still doesn't stop Pumblechook from claiming a major role in Pip's success.
John Podsnap, "Our Mutual Friend"
Mr. Podsnap is thought to be the personification of middle-class pomposity. He's described like this in "Our Mutual Friend":
"Mr. Podsnap was well to do, and stood very high in Mr. Podsnap's opinion. Beginning with a good inheritance, he had married a good inheritance, and had thriven exceedingly in the Marine Insurance way, and was quite satisfied. He never could make out why everybody was not quite satisfied, and he felt conscious that he set a brilliant social example in being particularly well satisfied with most things, and, above all other things, with himself."
He was the inspiration behind the term podsnappery, which Merriam-Webster describes as "an attitude toward life marked by complacency and a refusal to recognize unpleasant facts." Podsnap dismisses unpleasant facts (which meant anything that didn't support his self-satisfied existence) with a sweeping gesture of his arm to place such affronts behind him.
Lucretia Tox, "Dombey and Son"
Described as tall, lean and sad, Lucretia is friends with Mrs. Louisa Chick, who has a brother named Paul. Paul is married, and when his wife dies, Lucretia, who is in love with Paul, hopes to marry him. Sadly for Lucretia, Paul chooses to marry another. This news, delivered to Lucretia by Mrs. Chick, is so devastating that Lucretia faints from the shock. Rather than comfort her friend, Mrs. Chick claims her eyes are now open to who the real Lucretia is, and berates her for loving her brother. Even with her broken heart, Lucretia remains loyal to Paul throughout the difficulties that are to come his way.
Sophia (Sophy) Wackles, "The Old Curiosity Shop"
Sophy Wackles is a 20-year-old who lives with her widowed mother and two sisters. The Wackles family runs a school for girls. Dick Swiveller falls in love with Sophy. But Dick's friend Fred would like Dick to marry Fred's sister -- so that both Dick and Fred can benefit from Fred's sister's coming inheritance.
To break it off with Sophy and open himself up to a marriage with Fred's sister, Dick decides to start a fake argument with Sophy at a social event. At the event, Sophy tries to make Dick jealous with the presence of another man, Mr. Cheggs, a market gardener. Sophy later marries Cheggs.
Ebenezer Scrooge, "A Christmas Carol"
The iconic Scrooge is a miser who says "humbug" to sentimentality, especially to Christmas joy. He has no use for love of family, and treats his employees poorly. He's taught a few life lessons when he experiences supernatural visits from four characters.
First, business partner Jacob Marley returns to Earth to warn Ebenezer that if he doesn't change his ways, his fate in the hereafter will be as ugly as Marley's. The Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge his early, happy Christmases, and the incidents that led him to eventually detest the holiday. The Ghost of Christmas Present takes Scrooge on a tour to varied Yule-time scenes, including family festivities at the home of his nephew (Scrooge had declined the nephew's invitation) and to employee Bob Cratchit's home, where Scrooge sees that his meager wages make it impossible for Cratchit to obtain treatment for his sick son. The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come shows a lonely, dire future, should Scrooge not change his ways. The visits do the trick, and Scrooge spreads joy, cheer and his wealth that holiday and during all Christmases the rest of his life.
HowStuffWorks gets to know prolific children's writer Shel Silverstein, poet, musician, illustrator and man of many talents and interests.
- The Literature Network. "Charles Dickens." http://www.online-literature.com/dickens/
- The Complete Works of Charles Dickens. (Dec. 28, 2011) http://www.dickens-literature.com/
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "A Christmas Carol." (Dec. 30, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/A%20Christmas%20Carol.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "Great Expectations." (Dec. 21, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/Great%20Expectations.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "Our Mutual Friend." (Dec. 31, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/Our%20Mutual%20Friend.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "Nicholas Nickleby." (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/Nicholas%20Nickleby.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "The Mystery of Edwin Drood." (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/The%20Mystery%20of%20Edwin%20Drood.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "Oliver Twist." (Dec. 22, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/Oliver%20Twist.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "The Old Curiosity Shop." (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/The%20Old%20Curiosity%20Shop.html
- Read Charles Dickens Books. "Martin Chuzzlewit." (Dec. 18, 2011) http://www.read-charles-dickens-books.com/Martin%20Chuzzlewit.html