Oh, Mr. Darcy. Why is he so wonderful? By the end of Pride and Prejudice, he has good looks, wonderful manners and gorgeous estate. Yet, have you ever wondered does the poor man have a first name? His Aunt, his cousin, Mr Bingley and even Lizzy call him either Mr Darcy or just plain Darcy. But why does everyone in British period dramas stand sound so formal in their forms of address?
We’ll be discussing that question and more in today’s episode of Dashie Notes, where we answer your modern day questions about classic literature. We’ll be discussing titles and names in Regency, Georgian, and Victorian England.
So, does Mr Darcy have a first name?
Yes, yes he does. His first name is Fitzwilliam.
Which you might recognize as the last name of his cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. His parents gave him his mother’s maiden name as his first name. The gentry commonly did this when a mother had a maiden name of social standing and note.
Yet, why does no one call him Fitzwilliam? In fact, we only see Fitzwilliam as Darcy’s given name in two places in Pride and Prejudice. Which includes his signature on his passionate letter of defense to Elizabeth.
The answer lies in the social customs of 1800s England. In the Regency and Victorian eras, people stood on a lot more formality, even among friends and relatives. Unlike today, they lived by a strict set of rules when it came to addressing others. Let’s take a closer look at some of these to better understand them.
Today we’ll be discussing:
- Titles and Respect
- Dealing With Multiples
- First Names
- Love and Marriage
Forms of Address and Respect
Coming from our modern sensibilities where we often run around calling people by their first names, the Austen world may seem overly formal and stiff. After all, even married women like Mrs Bennet call their husbands by their titles and last names, aka Mr Bennet.
However, this level of formality came from Regency society’s high regard for honor and respect. Using someone’s proper title and surname showed that respect. In fact, calling someone by their first name served as either a mark of a highly close relationship, such as between siblings and close friends, or a mark of low status, such as servants.
In this post we’ll be dealing with the most common titles of Mister, Mrs and Miss. As part of a future post, we’ll talk more about the titles and forms of address for peerage, such as lords and ladies.
What is a Mister though?
It’s the general honorific title used by gentlemen below the rank of baronet and who do not have another title to use.
What about Mrs and Miss?
Mrs and Miss are actually both contractions of the word Mistress. In fact, if you watch PBS Masterpiece’s Poldark, you may notice that servants and other often refer to Demelza and Elizabeth as Mistress Poldark. They’re simply using the full title instead of a contraction for Mrs.
Mrs is, of course, the contraction for married women and Miss the one for younger and unmarried women. Mrs is also a term of distinction sometimes given to certain servants such as head housekeepers and cooks no matter their marital status.
Have you ever wondered if there is a male equivalent of Miss?
In fact, the correct form of address is Master. You may notice in British period dramas and books that people call boys and young men who have not come of age yet Master. We see this in the movie Return to Cranford where Tom Hiddleston’s character gets referred to as Master Buxton. Unlike the title Miss however, men become Misters when they become adults, while women become Mrs when they get married.
Dealing with Multiples
First names, however, were very useful when telling one person from another. After all, there are five Miss Bennets in Pride and Prejudice and two Mr Bertrams in Mansfield Park. How can you tell them all apart?
Going back to the basic principle of respect, the oldest Mr or Miss gets the honor of simply being called title plus last name. Henceforth, Tom Bertram is simply Mr. Bertram and Jane Bennet is simply Miss Bennet. All the younger siblings get called by their Title First Name Last Name. So we Have Mr. Edmund Bertram and Miss Elizabeth Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet, Miss Katherine Bennet and Miss Lydia Bennet. Enough Bennet’s to fill the entire county.
For younger brothers, they would always be Title First Name Last Name unless their older brother died. However, for younger sisters, they got to move up when their older sisters married. For example, since both Jane and Lizzy got married, at the end of Pride and Prejudice Miss Mary Bennet now has the honor of simply being Miss Bennet.
First Names in British Period Dramas
So did anyone ever use just first names? Yes, but again there were rules and limitations.
Women were much more likely to be on first name terms with friends and family than a man would. Elizabeth’s friends and relatives call her Lizzy.
Meanwhile, often the most informal a man’s friends achieved would be dropping his title and calling him by simply his last name. Thereby, Mr Darcy’s friends and family call him, well, Darcy. Even Lady Catherine De Bourgh, his aunt who’s known him since birth, calls him Darcy.
One of the only exceptions to this is in the case of siblings, cousins or childhood friends who grew up together. This is why Fanny calls her cousin Edmund and Mary Crawford calls her brother Henry. This cousin relationship also allows Mr. Collins to call Elizabeth, well, Elizabeth. Though, I wouldn’t say that’s a good thing. In Emma, because they were childhood friends, Mr Knightley can use Emma’s first name, but since he is so much older than her she still calls him Mr. Knightley.
Love and Marriage
Outside of siblings, cousins and childhood friends, a man could only start calling a lady by her first name if they became engaged. Which is why Mr. Darcy makes sure to start using his new privilege right after Lizzy accepts his offer by declaring her his “dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.” Only a few minutes before he could not have done so according to the forms of address rules barring such intimate terms before engagement.
Yet, we see that Elizabeth never turns around and begins calling him Fitzwilliam. Often, even if a married couple called each other by their first names, they only did so in private and instead referred to each other by their title in front of others. This is one reason Mrs Bennet is always running around shrieking Mr. Bennet!
So, does Mr. Darcy have a first name? Yes, it is Fitzwilliam. However, we doubt whether he hears it used often if at all. Due to proper forms of address in Georgian times, he sticks to Mr Darcy, or the ever more simple, Darcy. Now that we know his first name, have you ever wondered why Mr Darcy is so rich? Find the answer to that question in this post.
If you lived during Regency times, what would your name and title be? I would be of course Miss Dashwood (a perk of being the oldest girl, of course). Let me know your name is the comments below!