Origins of the characters' names

Any discussion related to Victor's Hugo's Les Misérables, in any language.
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Marianne
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Origins of the characters' names

Postby Marianne » Sat Aug 14, 2010 9:17 pm

Jean Valjean: origin given in the book: probably a contraction of "voilà Jean."

Fantine: origin given in the book: a contraction of "enfantine."

Cosette: Modern name dictionaries give the meaning as "victorious," but it doesn't appear to have been in use as a first name until after Hugo published Les Mis, although "Cozette" sometimes appeared as a surname. Possibly a corruption of "chosette," little thing.
Euphrasie was not an uncommon name in the 19th century though, and means gaiety or mirth.

Éponine: From the legend of Éponine and Sabinus, a Romeo-and-Juliet-style pair of star-crossed lovers in 1st century Roman Gaul. There was a play written about them in the 18th century, they figure in various morality tracts, and then in 1810 there was a painting at the Salon. The painting is probably what inspired whatever horrible novels led Mme Thénardier to name her daughter that.

Azelma: The only reference I can find is in Napoléon au Mont-Thabor, where Azelma is the wife of Abdelazis and I think they both die fighting Napoleon in Syria.

Enjolras: A real, though not very common, surname from the Haute-Loire region. At first glance it looks like it could be derived from "enjôler," to charm or beguile, but its real root is the Occitan "enjeura," to terrify. A charming youth capable of being terrible--oh Hugo.

Éponine and Azelma were called Palmyre and Malvina in the early drafts--Palmyre being a popular name for the heroines of sentimental novels (as well as, y'know, a city near Damascus), Malvina being a character in Ossian, which was actually written in the 18th century but passed off as a translation from ancient Scots Gaelic texts.

Cosette's nickname of the Lark dates back to the early drafts, where Fantine was Marguerite Louet and her daughter was Anna Louet--"Alouette."

Fauchelevent literally means "reap the wind," so perhaps it's a play on "sow the wind, reap the whirlwind." Although "faucher" also means "to cut" in argot.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby Rose In Misery » Sat Aug 14, 2010 9:34 pm

I remember Gavroche refers to Cosette as Mmselle Chosette when he delivers a letter to Valjean. Could that be a joke or reference?

I have to admit, I always thought Éponine was the French version of Epona and that Victor Hugo and I shared a favourite goddess. Alas, not.

I love his puns on Enjolras and Fauchelevent's names. They just so...Hugo. :D
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby Marianne » Sun Aug 15, 2010 8:35 pm

The root of Éponine's name might have to do with Epona--a name dictionary from 1850 gives the meaning of "Éponine" as "good horseback rider." But I doubt that's why Hugo picked it, I think he was just going for the trashiest romance-novel names he could think up.

(Gulnare, the name Azelma narrowly escaped being saddled with, was queen of the harem in Byron's The Corsair. Sounds like Mme Thénardier was on an Orientalism rampage.)

...also, Google Books turns up some pretty diverse results for 'Enjolras' if you set the date to <1860. The most common results seem to be, in order of frequency, a young priest in Viviers who converted to Protestantism in the 1840s (and then apparently went back to the Catholic church), a protracted and unpleasant legal battle over an inheritance, and a handful of attorneys in the Haute-Loire region whose names turn up on official registers.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby silverwhistle » Sun Aug 15, 2010 8:50 pm

Marianne wrote:(Gulnare, the name Azelma narrowly escaped being saddled with, was queen of the harem in Byron's The Corsair. Sounds like Mme Thénardier was on an Orientalism rampage.)

I'm now having a mental image of Mme T as an odalisque, which is just plain scary… :twisted:

Since The Corsair was only published in English in 1814, would it have been available in French in time for the younger Mlle T to be named from it? Perhaps this was why Vic changed his mind about naming her.

But if Azelma was taken from Napoléon au Mont-Thabor, that was only published in 1826, and our Azelma is clearly more than 6 years old in 1832! However, I have seen it listed as an Italian name.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby hazellwood » Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:11 pm

Iiiinteresting. Wasn't 'Feuilly' a pun on something? (I think this might have been mentioned in another thread, but I'm not sure.)

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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby Rose In Misery » Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:25 pm

hazellwood wrote:Iiiinteresting. Wasn't 'Feuilly' a pun on something? (I think this might have been mentioned in another thread, but I'm not sure.)


Yes, on feuille (the silk part of a fan) which is a pun on the fact that he is a fan-maker. And possibly also something to do with feuilles (leaves) although that could be coincidental.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby hazellwood » Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:28 pm

Rose In Misery wrote:
hazellwood wrote:Iiiinteresting. Wasn't 'Feuilly' a pun on something? (I think this might have been mentioned in another thread, but I'm not sure.)


Yes, on feuille (the silk part of a fan) which is a pun on the fact that he is a fan-maker. And possibly also something to do with feuilles (leaves) although that could be coincidental.


That's what I thought, but I was worried if I said something I'd be wrong.

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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby Rose In Misery » Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:37 pm

hazellwood wrote:
Rose In Misery wrote:
hazellwood wrote:Iiiinteresting. Wasn't 'Feuilly' a pun on something? (I think this might have been mentioned in another thread, but I'm not sure.)


Yes, on feuille (the silk part of a fan) which is a pun on the fact that he is a fan-maker. And possibly also something to do with feuilles (leaves) although that could be coincidental.


That's what I thought, but I was worried if I said something I'd be wrong.


Say whatever you think, there's always the edit button. Then if someone is mean to you for getting it wrong (which here seems very unlikely), you can claim they imagined it all. :D
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby silverwhistle » Sun Aug 15, 2010 9:54 pm

Marianne wrote:Cosette: Modern name dictionaries give the meaning as "victorious,"

I think because they must be claiming it as a variant of 'Nicolette'/'Nicole (rooted in the Greek niké, Victory). But that seems to be a mistake.
- Entends-tu? je t'aime! cria-t-il encore.
- Quel amour! dit la malheureuse en frémissant.
Il reprit: - L'amour d'un damné.

Victor Hugo, Notre Dame de Paris

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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby MmeJavert » Mon Aug 16, 2010 1:56 am

Rose In Misery wrote:Say whatever you think, there's always the edit button. Then if someone is mean to you for getting it wrong (which here seems very unlikely), you can claim they imagined it all. :D


Er, no, that is not what the edit button is for -- the edit button should only ever be used to clarify existing information in a post, correct typos or broken links, or to add -- never to delete. Administration may remove the capability of members to edit posts if people are found to be deleting post content.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby Rose In Misery » Mon Aug 16, 2010 8:56 am

MmeJavert wrote:
Rose In Misery wrote:Say whatever you think, there's always the edit button. Then if someone is mean to you for getting it wrong (which here seems very unlikely), you can claim they imagined it all. :D


Er, no, that is not what the edit button is for -- the edit button should only ever be used to clarify existing information in a post, correct typos or broken links, or to add -- never to delete. Administration may remove the capability of members to edit posts if people are found to be deleting post content.


Oh, right. Thanks for clarifying. I was under the impression that it could be used in cases of severe embarrassment or something, but that is because I am mad and imagine things.

*goes off to reread the rules*

On the subject of Feuilly's name, could it be an allusion to the feuillants? According to my book on The French Revolution, they were a political group. Could that be referring to the fact that he is an Amis? Or a coincidence.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby MmeBahorel » Mon Aug 16, 2010 6:40 pm

I think all of it is related - as you notice with the layers of possibility on Enjolras. I mean, look at all the digging we did on Prouvaire.

Which is not to say that all the meanings are necessarily deliberate, but I don't think there's pure coincidence, either. I can't imagine trying to work through names to try to get something like Enjolras on demand - that strikes me as more "happy accident" with the real derivation discovered when trying to verify the derivation Hugo thought he was getting. Too perfect not to use, but then, not really because he was looking for something that could have both senses. If I'm making any sense.

At some point, all literary analysis ends up in a variation of Tom Stoppard's suitcase, I think. (Stoppard said in an interview once that having people analyse your work and find all sorts of things you didn't deliberately put is in rather like the customs officer going through your suitcase and asking "Did you pack this? Is this yours?" while holding up a picture of your ex-wife. It's certainly in there, but you don't remember packing it, you have no idea why you would have packed it, but it's definitely there and it's definitely yours.) There are plenty of connections to be made, but some of them were subconscious and therefore not directly intended by the writer. But if pointed out, he could probably say "I see where you're getting that" and not tell you you're wholly wrong.
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby thoroughly_mod_mizzy » Fri Sep 24, 2010 4:25 am

I am so totally out of my league in this discussion because these are things that I would totally research if I didn't have the attention span of a goldfish.

That said, the Julie Rose translation of Les Mis has a ridiculous amount of footnotes, and one that I found interesting just because I've never heard this mentioned before is the following, in regard to Cosette/Euphrasie:

"One sees in these different but similar names the difference between the child's father and mother. Euphrasie suggests the Greco-Latin roots of en - ("good" or "well") plus phras - (From the Greek verb for "to tell"), while Cosette suggests the French verb causer, to speak easily and informally."

So, yeah. It's kind of out there, but it is interesting. And given that Victor Hugo might have been the only person in existence who loved puns more than me...
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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby basiatione » Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:20 pm

Marius is an interesting one too, despite being a fairly common name; on the one hand it is classically associated with Mars, the god of war, but at some point it was syncretized with a Hebrew tradition and became associated with the feminine Maria/Miriam (that is, Mary) as well. I am not sure whether Hugo would've been at all familiar with this, but when its history is considered the name Marius seems to indicate a dual nature -- war and peace, passion and purity.

Marianne wrote:Éponine and Azelma were called Palmyre and Malvina in the early drafts--Palmyre being a popular name for the heroines of sentimental novels (as well as, y'know, a city near Damascus), Malvina being a character in Ossian, which was actually written in the 18th century but passed off as a translation from ancient Scots Gaelic texts.


Palmyra was, for a very short time, also the seat of an Empire; and so to my mind Palmyre also calls to mind the story of Zenobia, the queen of the Palmyrene Empire who lived in proud opulence, challenged Rome, and lost. :) What happened to her afterward varies by source, but the general idea is that her wealth, standing, and freedom were lost to her. Makes me think of how Éponine and Azelma were living when Valjean took Cosette away versus how they looked when he met them again.

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Re: Origins of the characters' names

Postby Ulkis » Fri Sep 24, 2010 3:43 pm

Marius is an interesting one too, despite being a fairly common name; on the one hand it is classically associated with Mars, the god of war, but at some point it was syncretized with a Hebrew tradition and became associated with the feminine Maria/Miriam (that is, Mary) as well. I am not sure whether Hugo would've been at all familiar with this, but when its history is considered the name Marius seems to indicate a dual nature -- war and peace, passion and purity.


I guess so because at one point Grantaire says, "Marius is of the race of poets. He who says poet, says fool, madman, Tymbraeus Apollo. Marius and his Marie, or his Marion, or his Maria, or his Mariette. They must make a queer pair of lovers. I know just what it is like. Ecstasies in which they forget to kiss. Pure on earth, but joined in heaven. They are souls possessed of senses. They lie among the stars."

Hugo probably just totally gave Marius his (Hugo's) middle name though.


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