In the first sentence of Great Expectations, Pip explains the origin of his name: “My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip." The evolution of Pip's name mirrors changes in Pip's character in the course of the novel, but Pip's benefactor stipulated that he must “always bear the name of Pip." Once he comes into his great expectations, others begin to refer to him as “Mr. Pip," and Pip's first friend in London, Herbert Pocket, gives him a nickname as a symbol of friendship and familiarity:

"I dare say we shall be often together, and I should like to banish any needless restraint between us. Will you do me the favour to begin at once to call me by my Christian name, Herbert?"

I thanked him and said I would. I informed him in exchange that my Christian name was Philip.

"I don't take to Philip," said he, smiling, “for it sounds like a moral boy out of the spelling-book, who was so lazy that he fell into a pond, or so fat that he couldn't see out of his eyes, or so avaricious that he locked up his cake till the mice ate it, or so determined to go a bird's-nesting that he got himself eaten by bears who lived handy in the neighborhood. I tell you what I should like. We are so harmonious, and you have been a blacksmith, — would you mind it?"

"I shouldn't mind anything that you propose," I answered, “but I don't understand you."

"Would you mind Handel for a familiar name? There's a charming piece of music by Handel, called the Harmonious Blacksmith."

"I should like it very much." [Chapter 22; Place within the complete text of the novel]

]

Thus, the names Handel and Mr. Pip accompany Pip's transition into the life of a gentleman. However, Pip finds it painful to be called Mr. Pip by Joe, whom he distances once he moves to London. Joe's familiarity with Pip returns when Pip is sick and helpless in bed — “the dear fellow had fallen into the old tone, and called me by the old names, the dear 'old Pip, old chap,'" but Joe gradually becomes more distant as Pip grows stronger.

The character of young Pip eventually returns in the form of Joe's child, whom Pip meets eleven years after leaving England for Cairo. Joe tells him, “We giv' him the name of Pip for your sake, dear old chap, and we hoped he might grow a little bit like you, and we think he do," and indeed Pip finds that he and the child “understand one another to perfection."

Questions

1. Does Dickens use Pocket's description of his aversion to the name Philip to represent a symbolic casting-away of the old Pip? Does the name Handel better suit Pip, considering its homage to the The Harmonious Blacksmith by Handel? Is it of any significance that Handel did not personally name the piece The Harmonious Blacksmith, but that it simply came to be popularly known as such (it is actually just the last movement of Air and Variations from Suite No. 5 in E Major for harpsichord)?

2. How do the names used in Great Expectations reflect the characters with which they are associated? Besides Pip, consider the names Estella (derivative of 'star') and Abel Magwitch (the Biblical Abel is a shepherd and the second son of Adam and Eve, who is killed by his older brother Cain).

3. 'Pip' can also mean the seed of a fruit. Does Pip's growth in the novel parallel that of a seed into a mature plant, and if so, what fruits does he bear?

4. Compare the descriptive name of Anodos, the main character of the novel Phantastes, to Pip.

5. Was it normal practice in the Victorian era to change one's name in order to better suit a change in social position? It would certainly be easier to assume a new identity then than it is now— of what importance was this to criminals like Magwitch?


Victorian Web Overview Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Last modified 18 February 2008