- Names in F. Scott Fitzgerald 1
Short though it was, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a longer professional career and produced far more varied writing than many readers, even today, realize. Born in 1896, he published his first story, “The Mystery of Raymond Mortgage,” when he was only thirteen, supervised a performance of his first play, a necessarily amateur effort entitled The Girl from Lazy J, two years later, and saw Fie! Fie! Fi-Fi!, his first musical comedy, onto the stage at Princeton in 1914. After World War I ended, he published “Babes in the Woods,” his first commercial sale, in 1919, and a year later his first novel, This Side of Paradise, and his first short-story collection, Flappers and Philosophers. He was then twenty-four.
There was no let-up. Despite early and ever-mounting financial, marital, and drinking problems, Fitzgerald remained prolific. By the time of his death in 1940, at the age of forty-four, he had written five novels, something like one hundred and seventy short stories) depending on inclusion or exclusion of certain sketches), eleven plays, and ninety-six poems (I omit attributed verse)—not to mention several articles, essays, and reviews. After an exhausting tabulation, I can report that in his strictly imaginative works, Fitzgerald created 511 named characters in his novels, 1,955 in his short stories, forty-one in his poems, and 158 in his plays (I exclude his movie scripts).
Noteworthy is his use of a blizzard of different first names. Of 340 male first names (including nicknames, such as Brick, Buzz, Frog, Midget, Spud, amd Trombone), 238 are never repeated (for example, unique Amory Blaine and Jay Gatsby), while thirty-seven others are used only twice (for example, Ernest and Jules). Of 236 female first names (including a few nicknames—for example, Dizzy, Peaches, and Teeny), 141 are used only once (for example, Gretchen and Vienna [her father was a diplomat in Vienna, Madrid, and Rome]); and thirty-two others only twice (for example, Isabelle and Norma). This underscores Fitzgerald’s lifelong habit of memorably individualizing his characters, particularly major ones. His favorite male names (with variations and nicknames) are William with forty-seven appearances; John, forty-four; George, forty-one; Joseph, thirty-three; James, thirty-one; Charles, twenty-nine; Thomas, twenty-five; Edward, twenty-four; Henry, twenty-two; and Richard, twenty. Fewer, but still substantial, usages follow, including Benjamin, Howard, [End Page 177] Peter, and Robert. His choice of female names also demonstrates great variety. His favorite such names (again with variations and nicknames) are: Catherine, twenty-two; Helen, nineteen; Mary, thirteen; Eleanor, nine; Evelyn, nine; Josephine, nine; and Dorothy, Emily, and Martha, eight each. Some ten other female first names were used seven times each. Unusual male first names, some perhaps the maiden names of the lads’ mothers, are employed only once or twice, and include Capone, Draycott, Hartsum, Tanaduke, and Tudor. Among similarly uncommon female first names are Axia, Dulcinia, Erminie, Kaeth, and Ulsa.
More important than statistics, however, is a recognition of Fitzgerald’s ebullient skill in his onomastic endeavors. Everyone who has ever read The Great Gatsby remembers the narrator, Nick Carraway’s, delightful list, written “on the empty spaces of a timetable” of the names of some seventy-five-odd guests at Gatsby’s magnetic parties. Among them are Edgar Beaver, Clarence Endive, O.R.P. Schraeder, Stonewall Jackson Abram, Mrs. Ulysses Swett, James B. (“Rot-Gut”) Ferret, S.W. Belcher, Smirke, Ardita Fitz-Peters, and Miss Claudia Hip. And, oh—Nick wonders—what were the names of Benny McClenahan’s four girls? Were they Jacqueline, Consuela, Gloria, Judy, or June? Nick’s list provides only a foretaste of Fitzgerald’s namings.
More proof of his delight in toying with names surfaced with the posthumous publication, in 1965, of his juvenile Thoughtbook, a private diary in which, while describing childhood activities in Buffalo and St. Paul (1905–1911), he named seventy-four buddies, of both sexes. This flood of names oddly parallels Mark Twain’s “Villagers of 1843,” which was first published in 1969 and in which he reminisces about no less than 171 neighbors and their activities.