Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Merry Christmas, everybody! And speaking of Christmas ...

In Charles Dickens' novelette, A Christmas Carol, the main character Ebeneezer Scrooge is referred to several times by others as "Uncle Scrooge", including his nephew Fred. However, Scrooge is the character's surname.

In modern English usage, it seems that usually uncles and aunts are referred to by their given name -- hearing "Uncle Tom" or "Aunt Em" is much more natural than "Uncle Travers" or "Aunt Brown".

Nevertheless, the appellation "Uncle Scrooge" appears six times in A Christmas Carol, and "Uncle Ebeneezer" zero times.

Was Charles Dickens following the norm of Victorian familiar address when writing A Christmas Carol, with the custom changing over the course of decades? Or has the tradition been unchanged and Charles Dickens was portraying an unorthodox address?

share|improve this question
4  
I don't have an answer for you, but since most 19th century writings are out of copyright, it should be pretty easy to amass a small dataset from Project Gutenberg - take some prolific and prominent writers, download their work, and run a search for "Uncle" and "Aunt". That should give you a rough idea. –  Avner Shahar-Kashtan Dec 25 '13 at 6:53
    
Interesting question. Note that there may be a difference between British and American custom with respect to this issue. The Brits among us will surely be helpful in elucidating that. –  user2590 Dec 29 '13 at 4:38

2 Answers 2

I can only answer from a British perspective, but I think the answer is certainly "yes". Jane Eyre always refers to her aunt as "Mrs Reed", and addresses her as " Aunt Reed". First names were far less frequently used in Victorian society - men, and boys at public school (private schools for US readers) almost universally addressed each other by their surnames, whilst women would refer to "Miss" or "Mrs" X, even if related - e.g my sister Lady Smith or my Aunt Jones. In one Victorian novel - sorry, will try to find the reference - a countess refers to her eldest son by his courtesy title, not his name. In the Barchester novels, Mrs Proudie regularly addresses her husband as "Bishop". To use a first name, particularly in relation to an older relative, would have been regarded as shockingly disrespectful.

Cannot answer for US usage, I'm afraid, which may well have been less formal. Hope this helps.

share|improve this answer
1  
+1 - my tradition obsessed grammar school still does this surname thing! –  Semaphore Nov 14 at 10:19

Once again, it's Google Ngrams to the rescue.

Both British and American English show a very strong preference for "Uncle John" over "Uncle Smith" during the Victorian era.

share|improve this answer
    
The Ngrams certainly show a very strong preference for Uncle John over Uncle Smith. But how does that relate to the question? –  andy256 Nov 14 at 3:13
1  
I think you want a cross-ratio, something like (uncle john)*(smith)/[(john)*(uncle smith)]. –  Ben Crowell Nov 14 at 6:28
    
I had never heard of Ngrams before, so thanks for that, I now just have to work out how to use it! However, I don't see how a correlation between "Uncle Smith" and "Uncle John" would help work out the overall frequency between "Uncle + surname" and "Uncle + first name"? –  TheHonRose Nov 16 at 11:06

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.