Thursday, October 25, 2012

Betty by the Numbers: Servants’ Names

You’re guessing it’s Jolly, aren’t you?  Sorry – “Jolly” is not the #1 most-common name in the serving class of Neelsland.  But before we get into that, a quick refresher:  in the Novels Neels, 100% of heroes have friends doing the housework, and 42% of heroines (or their families) do.  Total headcount is 82 for the ladies, and 439 (!!) for the gents, for averages of six-tenths of one ‘treasure’ per heroine and three-and-a-quarter ‘gems’ per hero.  If you’re interested in details, you will find my full-ish report on servants or ‘friends’ here.
Mrs. Pike, or perhaps Miss Trot, obliging.

But what do we call all these competent, helpful, wonderful people?  Well, if we are female, we often call them “Mrs.” something.  Over one-third – 29, or 35% – of the heroines’ helps warrant that honorific, from the Brown family’s daily treasure Mrs. Crisp (Tulips for Augusta, 1971) to Mrs. Dash, who obliges the Selby family twice a week (An Ordinary Girl, 2001).  The gentler sex uses the title “Mr.” only with consulting surgeons, vicars, lawyers and such, never with butlers, batmen or garden boys.  Three gardener-types do get the questionable respect offered by the title “Old,” as in Old John, Old Robert and Old Stokes.  There are also three Misses, and two Nannys, one with a surname (Toms) and one with just her title, and all the affection and respect it connotes.  One would think.

Do you leave the garden one day to a cheery, “Good night, Stokes,” and come back the next day to hear, “Good morning, Old Stokes”?  And if so, is that a happy day?

The Great Betty did a marvelous job of imagining names for her treasured friends.  There is actually very little repetition, especially given the vast array of servants with whom she populated her work.  For heroines, only five names repeat:  there are two Mrs. Pikes and two Winnies, and there are unrelated Lovelaces (Mrs. Lovelace in the Lock household of Never While the Grass Grows, 1978, and Katrina’s stalwart butler, Lovelace, in Roses and Champagne, 1983), a Trott and a Miss Trott (called Trottie), and two people named Cook.  That’s “Cook” with a capital C, but whether it’s really the individual’s name or simply a description isn’t clear.  We also have a Miss Mogford and a Mrs. Mogg, both called Moggy, and not to be a confused with a few cats with similar names.  There are also two anonymous gardeners.  That means 88%, or 72, of heroines’ servants have unique names.
Over on the heroes’ side, we have a whole lot more treasure (heh heh) and hence a bit more repetition.  The Dutch seem more inclined to call housekeepers by their first names, and since two-thirds of our future husbands are Dutch, we get a lower percentage of staff with honorifics.  (They also seem to call butler-types by their first name, vs. the English convention of surname without honorific.)  Only 67 of his 439 servants are “Mrs.” someone, or 15%, while nine are Mevrouw.  Seven Juffrouws and five Misses round out the housekeeper/daily woman/cook side of the household, for a total of 87, or 20%, of female servants addressed with titles.  We’ve also got four Misters and two Olds.
Our two most common names behind the barons’ baize doors are Wim and Nel, with seven appearances each – but that’s barely 2% of the men’s servants.  They are never coupled, though there is a married pair named Wim and Elly.  And while the heroines don’t host help with either of those names, Sister Peters’s family treasure is Nellie (Sister Peters in Amsterdam, 1969), giving the Nels a special place in the canon.
Hans Jan Wim, doing what he was born to do.
There are six each (1%) of Hans and Jan, plus six Nannys, only one of whom, Nanny Glover at Ivo’s pied-a-terre in London (A Good Wife, 1999), owns a surname.  We have five each of Anneke, Bep and Jaap, plus five Boots – one Mrs., two Mevrouws, a Juffrouw and also Juffrouw Klara Boot, the burned catalyst of romance for Giles and the Enchanting Samantha (1973).  There are also five unnamed maids of different types.
There are four instances of “Cobb,” with a Cobb, two Mrs. Cobbs, and a Cobb and Mrs. Cobb (married couples count as a single use of a specific surname).  Also amongst the four-peats:  Annie, Rosie and Mrs. Turner, as well as anonymous gardeners and anonymous boys (who usually help in the garden).
There are three roles that turn up three times each:  gardeners (plural, plus the four singular uses of gardener; seriously, if you employ multiple gardeners, what do they do all winter?  Even in summer – are they using scythes to cut the grass?), “others” (so many servants we can’t figure out what all of them do), and dailies – two daily women and a daily help.  Turning to the proper names (much more fun):  nine names occur three times each, including the given names Cor, Domus, Lien, Mies, and Tyske.  On the surname side, there are two Dobbs and Mrs. Dobbses, plus one of those Dobbses has a brother – in An Old-Fashioned Girl (1992) – for a total of three Dobbses (add them to the Cobbs if you like); there’s a Potts and Mrs. Potts, a solo Mrs. Potts, and a Miss Rebecca Potts, former nanny to Haso van der Eisler (A Christmas Wish, 1994); then a bad Miss Murch, a good Miss Murch and a Mrs. Murch; and finally, yes, two matched sets of Jolly and Mrs. Jolly, plus a solo Jolly.

Mrs. Alice Cook, awaiting Old Tom’s arrival with the watercress.
Only 30 names show up twice in the heroes’ attics and basements, from Alice to Willem, which means some 7% of his paid friends share a name with one other hero’s paid friend.  That leaves 218 unique-use names, first and last, amongst his (and eventually her) domestics, which is 50% of his total.  Those include Al, the Butters, Gladys, Mrs. Inch, Hanneke and Janeke, Marta and Martha, Ork, Ortje and Oske, Bantje and Betje and Letje, and Stookje and Tookje and Wolke.
Names occurring in both hero and heroines’ households include Alice, Bessy, Bollinger (but it’s attached to the same man, so doesn’t really count – you’ll recall Dominic gives Abigail’s Bolly a home, albeit in Holland, in Saturday’s Child), Crisp, Dobbs, Dodge, Dora, Emma, Jane, Jenny/Jennie, Mrs. MacFee, Meg,  Pratt, Rosie, Trott, Mrs. Trugg and Twigg.
Of course, some of the best names are Mrs. Broom, Mrs. Buckett and the butler Crook (all single-use).  And I eagerly await the day the characters cross-over, in some future fan-fic, to give all those Jollys a chance to meet Grimshaw, Grimstone and his sister, Miss Rosie Grimstone.
Overall, Mrs. Neels offered us something like 410 different names for her vast collection of treasures.  A lesser writer would have just called them all Alfred, Alice, Eykholt, Godfrey, Griet, Piet and Mrs. White, over and over and over again.  Or at least, that’s what I would do.


  1. It's pretty clear that The Great Betty was a student of the Charles Dickens' School of Character Names. Dickens named a money lender "Arthur Gride," a penniless family "Landless" and a rich family the "Bigwigs," not to mention characters like "Mr. Goodchild," "Mr. Glib" and "Thomas Idle."

    I found these in this wonderful 1917 scholarly paper: "The Naming of Characters in the Works of Charles Dickens" by Elizabeth Hope Gordon.

    1. Makes you wonder how the Great Betty did choose names for her characters. And if she kept a list of names she had already used. I mean, sure, there are a number of repeats, but hundreds of unique names over a span of thirty years?

    2. In Cassandra by Chance, the Polish Amnesiac Concentration Camp Survivor Loyal Manservant is named Jan. This is not a book overloaded with characters (although it is loaded with character), but the red-herring-not-girlfriend's fiance is ALSO named Jan. Jannoying.
      Also, it is disheartening to think that the RDD's partner and friend Cor van Tromp could in any way be related to the Veronica van Tromp who shows up in a later book.

      B. Baersma

  2. Betty van den Betsy, what an enormous task. 500+ servants and you not only counted them and their names, devided them into titled/un-titled, his or hers, English or Dutch...and counted, and counted...and calculated... Imagine you also had to work in all the servants of the heroines places of work when they worked as domestics plus all the hospital staff, ha ha ha.
    Were the "Olds" actually called "Old" to their respective faces? I know "young Tolde" was adressed thusly by our Hot Hot Baron in The Promise of Happiness.
    If the hero called his former nanny Nanny but the heroine adressed her as Miss something or other (until she was invited to call her Nanny) how did you count that?
    Great post. Great to see all those names lined up.
    There is a German actress named Wolke Hegenbarth. Her uncommon first name, Wolke (German for "cloud"), was her father's wish, who fought successfully in court to name her this way. Just think how much easier it would have been for him if he'd read Betty. He could have said, hey, it's a Frisian name, see?
    Betty Anonymous

  3. LOL

    There is plenty of work in the garden, miss.

    So many hectares.

    The borders, the shaping of the parterres, not to mention the tulips! ayi

    I'm afraid it's a lot of work, miss.

    In the winter, we work even harder.

    There is the tree trimming, the ditch digging, the turning over the soil, the protection of young plants in the freezing greenhouse, because someone left the ventilator open...

    Betty Francesca

  4. We (finally) went to see Lincoln last night. The PRT gave me a strange look when I had a sudden but almost silent attack of the giggles. The couple who came to see President Lincoln about the toll road were Mr and Mrs JOLLY!

    Betty AnoninTX