Naturally, Mr. Darcy...

In the era of the Regency, public discourse was much more formal than it is now. In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet refers to the man who will become the love of her life as Mr. Darcy or simply Darcy. In fact, his first name is only mentioned twice in the entire novel.

Even in private, many couples continued to address each other very formally. Elizabeth’s parents called each other Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, not by their Christian names.

Because Elizabeth is the second daughter, she’s known as Miss Elizabeth. Her older sister Jane is the only one of the girls to be called Miss Bennet. It’s all very proper, very stiff sounding to modern ears.

Or is it?

Lately, I’ve noticed the trend of using last names instead of first in a couple of my favorite TV shows. HOUSE for example, as well as CASTLE and THE MENTALIST. It’s not Lisa and Greg, it’s Cuddy and House.  Kate Beckett calls my favorite fictional mystery writer Castle, not Richard. And in a weird genre-bending twist it’s Lisbon and Jane, not Theresa and Patrick.

Since I write full-time, I’m not in a workplace regularly, but my DH assures me in his office people call each other by their first names. So what’s up with almost exclusive use of last names on these shows?

Maybe, as in the Regency, it’s a layer of formality slathered over society as a protective covering, a way to separate the character’s public life from their private one. When Cuddy calls House ‘Greg,’ for example, you know you’ve got an intensely personal moment.

So what do you think? Do people call each other by last names in your workplace? Do you even remember Mr. Darcy’s first name? (No Googling!) Do you ever refer to your significant other by last name?

19 thoughts on “Naturally, Mr. Darcy…

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      Thanks so much, Serita. I try to update the site frequently, so please do drop back by.

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    1. Mia says:

      Writers need to be readers. We learn by dissecting how other authors have handled “writerly” issues.

  4. Maurine H says:

    I knew Darcy’s first name because my daughters and I have been on a Jane Austen binge the last few months. Until then I hadn’t known what it was.

    I’m not sure, but I think Evelyn is still a man’s name in England. The writer Evelyn Waugh, for example. Beverly is also a man’s name in England. The boy in “Indian in the Cupboard” was named Aubrey.

    Where I work, the managers call us Miss and our first name. Makes me feel old. I’m not sure why they do that unless they’re trying to convince us they actually do respect us despite evidence to the contrary, lol. My coworkers and I call each other by our first names, no Miss included.

    The football player named Lacey makes me think of the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue.” My daughter’s high school art teacher was named Craig, though she was a woman. I guess her parents wanted a boy. She told me she even got a draft notice (Vietnam) when she became of age.

    Interesting topic, Mia. I’m also fascinated by the changing names between the sexes.

    1. Mia says:

      The use of Miss and then your first names sounds like a “southernism.” We lived in North Carolina for 11 years and children especially were encouraged to call adults by “Miss X” or “Mr. Y.” Are your managers from the south, by chance?

      Another name/gender issue that confuses me is the Francis/Frances or Marion/Marian debacle. Spelling determines which gender it refers to, but I can never remember which is which.

  5. I didn’t know Mr. Darcy’s first name until I got to the comments. I can say I work in an office and we use first names for everyone there and for most everyone we have contact with via telephone or e-mail. I think first names make people a little friendlier.

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      I think so too, Marlene. I wonder if on the TV shows I mentioned, the women prefer to be called by their last name because they are in positions of power. Cuddy is House’s boss. Both Becket and Lisbon are the agents in charge and Castle and Jane are the amateurs or consultants. Using last names insulates the women a bit and helps them maintain the upper hand.

  6. Fun post, Mia! I too don’t usually call my coworkers by their last names alone, though in my years in academia there were always people that I called “Dr. –“. If I ever call my DH by his last name alone, he knows he’s in trouble. Sort of like calling a kid by first and middle name.

    I love Austen trivia! Darcy’s first name is Fitzwilliam because it was his mother’s maiden name. As far as I can figure, there were 3 siblings: Anne (Darcy’s mom), Catherine, and a brother who is the father of Col. Fitzwilliam. Not that I have ruminated on P&P a lot or anything. :)

    1. Mia Marlowe says:

      You’re right. Brilliant, Theresa! You win the rubber cookie with the cement frosting. (BTW, I have no idea what that means. It’s simply something my dad says when we come up with the right answer.)

  7. I remember that Mr. Darcy’s first name is Fitzwilliam, having recently read ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.’

    I hadn’t noticed this trend. I thank you for this insightful post, as well as for digging up that photo of the lovely Mr. Firth in his Regency finery.

    BTW, ‘Torn Asunder’ by Kiki Howell is a Regency romance I recently enjoyed. Its heroine, Aubrey, addresses her lover as “my Lord” and never Edmund.

    1. Mia says:

      Thanks for the recommendation of Torn Asunder, Erin. Is it just me or was Aubrey a man’s name during Regency times? I only ask because names do sometimes switch gender over time. Evelyn,for example, used to be a man’s name.

      I haven’t asked him, but I’m pretty sure my DH wouldn’t object if I called him “My Lord.”

      1. Kiki Howell says:

        You are correct, Mia. Aubrey was used as a male name and as a surname in Regency times. I chose it for my female simply because it means “magical being” LOL. But, I tend to play with names. For example, instead of Dalybury, England, mine is Dalysbury :)

        Aubrey and Edmund has social class issues, and her use of “My Lord” became a term of endearment between them. But, I don’t think my hubby would mind my use of it either ;)

        Thanks for the shout out, Erin :) And, I knew Mr. Darcy’s first name, but I’m not sure why. Must have picked it up in college (former English teacher). LOL

        1. Mia Marlowe says:

          “Magical being.” I like that.

          It’s always interesting when names change genders over time or are ambiguous. I have met a man named Jewel and my daughter used to date a young man named Lacey. Don’t laugh! He was one tough football player, but then maybe he had to be.

  8. Nynke says:

    Fitzwilliam, right? Not to be confused with Mark Darcy in ehm (nearly had to google this) Bridget Jones… I memorized Fitzwilliam because it struck me so much that I didn’t know his name after reading the book. Strange!

    The contrast between the expression in Castle’s puppy-dog eyes when he looks at Beckett and the fact that they’re on last-name basis struck me, too. I guess it’s Kate’s doing – going by her last name helps her project a businesslike, forceful persona.

    I’ve only ever worked in informal contexts where everybody addresses each other by their first name, even professors and managers. I wonder what is defferent in place where people don’t do that…

    1. Mia says:

      Yes, Mr. Darcy’s Christian name is Fitzwilliam. But do you know why he was named that? Ok, my darling blog touristas, that’s the next trivia question for today!

      On the subject of names, Kate Beckett is a brilliant one because it so defines her character. Sharp, percussive, the hard syllables are like a trio of rounds exploding from a 9 millimeter. Much better than Castle’s fictional heroine Nikki Heat.

      I’ve never worked anywhere where people didn’t call each other by their first names, either.

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