Today is the anniversary of the birth date of Dame Agatha Christie, who is often described as the “Queen Of Crime” and is currently the best-selling novelist of all time with sales of her novels estimated at around 2 billion worldwide. She wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, along with the world’s longest-running play (the Mousetrap), and 6 romance novels (under the pen name Mary Westmacott). Her work has been translated into over 103 languages and her novel “And Then There Were None” is the world’s best-selling mystery novel AND one of the best-selling books of all time.
To celebrate this particular anniversary, we thought we’d take a closer look at some of the names she used for some of her best known characters:
HERCULE POIROT: the Belgian detective who featured in 33 novels, a play, and more than 50 short stories; his name is the French version of HERCULES (which is derived from the Ancient Greek name Herakles for the hero of Greek Mythology).
Regular characters in the Hercule Poirot set of stories include:
- ARIADNE OLIVER: a mystery novelist and friend of Hercule Poirot; ARIADNE means most holy and is another name taken from Greek Mythology – Ariadne is the daughter of King Minos and helped Theseus to escape the Minotaur in the labyrinth on the island of Crete.
- Chief Inspector JAMES “Jimmy” JAPP: a detective with Scotland Yard who assists Hercule Poirot in a number of Christie’s novels (as well as the play “Black Coffee”); the name JAMES derives from JACOB, which features in the Old Testament of the Bible and means holder of the heel or supplanter.
- Captain ARTHUR HASTINGS: Hercule Poirot’s closest friend features in 8 Poirot stories and is the narrator for many others; his name is possibly derived from the Celtic “artos” (meaning bear) and “viros” (man) or “rigos” (king) – the name is famously associated with the legendary King Arthur.
- FELICITY LEMON: Hercule Poirot’s secretary (who was also secretary to another Christie detective, Parker Pyne); her name comes from the word “felicity” (meaning happiness), which itself derives from the Latin word “felicitas” (meaning good luck).
- Colonel JOHNNIE RACE: a good friend of Hercule Poirot, Colonel Race features in four of Christie’s novels; his name is a diminutive of JOHN, which is the English form of IOHANNES (itself the Latin form of the Greek IOANNES, which comes from the Hebrew name YOCHANAN meaning “Yahweh is gracious”).
JANE MARPLE: the amateur consulting detective who featured in 12 novels and 20 short stories; JANE comes from JEHANNE, the French feminine form of IOHANNES.
Regular characters in the Miss Marple set of stories include:
- RAYMOND WEST: a famous author and Miss Marple’s nephew who appears in several Miss Marple novels; his name comes from the Germanic name RAGINMUND, which is made up of “ragin” (advice) and “mund” (protector).
- Sir HENRY CLITHERING: a retired Scotland Yard commissioner who supports Miss Marple’s investigative efforts (and is godfather to Dermot Craddock); the name HENRY comes from the Germanic name HEIMRICH, which is made up of “heim” (home) and “ric” (power, ruler).
- DERMOT CRADDOCK: godson of Sir Henry Clithering and a Detective Inspector with Scotland Yard, this character appears in 3 Miss Marple novels; DERMOT is an Anglicised version of the Irish name DIARMAID, which means without envy.
- Colonel ARTHUR BANTRY & DOLLY BANTRY: the inhabitants of Gossington Hall in St Mary Mead, ARTHUR and DOLLY Bantry are Miss Marple’s closest friends within the village; DOLLY is a diminutive of DOROTHY, which is an English form of DOROTHEA (a feminine form of the Ancient Greek name DOROTHEOS from “doron” (gift) and “theos” (god)).
- Reverend LEONARD CLEMENT & GRISELDA CLEMENT: the vicar of St Mary Mead and his wife; LEONARD comes from the Germanic elements “levon” (lion) and “hard” (brave, hardy), while GRISELDA comes from the Germanic elements “gris” (grey) and “hild” (battle).
HARLEY QUIN: a mysterious detective who features in 14 short stories by Christie (and was one of her favourite characters); the name HARLEY comes from a surname based on a place name, which was derived from the Old English “hara” (hare) and “leah” (woodland, clearing).
(James) PARKER PYNE: another detective who appears in 14 short stories; his name comes from the surname (PARKER), which means “keeper of the park”.
THOMAS BERESFORD (Tommy) / PRUDENCE BERESFORD (Tuppence): the married detectives who feature in 4 of Christie’s detective novels and a collection of short stories; the name THOMAS is a Greek form of an Aramaic name meaning “twin”, while PRUDENCE comes from PRUDENTIA, the feminine form of PRUDENTIUS, a Latin name meaning “prudence, good judgement”.
Agatha Christie often created characters who went by (rather British) nicknames; in addition to Tommy & Tuppence, Christie’s stories featured:
Lady Eileen Brent – BUNDLE // Diana Harmon – BUNCH // Dora Bunner – BUNNY
Caroline Lemarch – CARLA // Charles Evans – CHUBBY
Dorothea Preston-Grey & Margaret Ravenscroft – DOLLY & MOLLY
Hermione Lytton Gore – EGG // Fenella Guteman – ELLIE // Genevieve Driver – JENNY
Juliet Bellever – JOLLY // Wilhelmina Lawson – MINNIE // Magdala Buckley – NICK
Pamela Stirling – POPPY // Marguerite Vandermeyer – RITA // Vera Daventry – SOCKS
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