Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 24 (1993)
'What's in a name?’ asked Juliet. Our response would surely be different if Romeo were no longer called Romeo, and from that romantic balcony in Verona there came the cry: 'O Egbert, Egbert, wherefore art thou, Egbert?' As an exploration of George Eliot's names should reveal, there is far more significance in names than Juliet or we might imagine.
Allowing for minor differences, George Eliot chose or was given seventeen different names during her life-time: Mary Ann(e) Evans, Little Mama, Marianne Evans, Marian Evans, Clematis, Deutera, Polly, Pollian, Marian Lewes, Marian Evans Lewes, Mutter, Madonna, The Prioress, our Lady, Beatrice, Mary Ann Cross - and supremely, of course, George Eliot. Some names are more significant than others. Some were chosen for her because people wanted to define her own capacity for change. The names she chose or liked for herself suggest a quest for identity: she knew that she adopted different roles ('we are all of us Dramatis Personae in our own life'), and there is a strong element of self-defining and self-affiliation in the various names preferred.