Brave New World Names Just Might have a Deeper Meaning than what Meets the Page
Authors frequently insert comical or clever bits and pieces of irony, connections, and allusions throughout their work. Aldous Huxley does so through the names of his characters. The novel’s anti-hero Bernard Marx can be related to George Bernard Shaw and Karl Marx.
Bernard’s close friend, Helmholtz Watson, appears to be named after the famous German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. Lenina Crowne may be ironically named after the seventeenth-century dramatist John Crowne and/or the revolutionary Russian communist Vladimir Lenin, while Huxley probably chose the name Fanny Crowne to resemble a popular actress of the time, Fanny Brice. John the Savage gives the impression that he may be named after the biblical character John the Baptist. Huxley skillfully exhibits his clever allusion abilities by creating connections between the names of the characters in his best-selling novel, Brave New World, and significant historical beings.
To begin, Huxley has named his anti-hero Bernard Marx. The name Bernard originated in the Germanic language as a combination of the words ‘bear’ and ‘hard’ formally meaning ‘Brave’. Initially, the character may be considered brave since he consciously makes an effort to not completely follow the social norms of the World State and act as an individual with his thoughts and opinions.(Webb) However, Bernard shows signs of being a coward as the novel continues. A perfect example of his cowardice is shown in his fail to assist his “friend” John in an instance of dire need.
Hesitant on the fringes of the battle. “They’re done for,” said Bernard and, urged by a sudden impulse, ran forward to help them; then thought better of it and halted; then, ashamed, stepped forward again; then again thinking better of it, and was standing in agony of humiliated indecision-thinking that they might be killed if he didn’t help them, and that he might be killed if he did. (214)
Another meaning for the name Bernard is ‘hardy’, ironic as the character is described as a physically inferior Alpha (Webb, 2012). Huxley may have named the character after the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw that was popular around the same time the dystopia was written. The socialist playwright frequently advocated for women’s rights, which parallels with Bernard’s repulsion toward the common conception of women as sexual objects throughout the novel (“Telling”). Huxley’s inspiration for Bernard’s last name may have originated from a socialist nineteenth-century German author, Karl Marx. Marx is known for his critique of the capitalist society through his writing. Bernard does criticize the society in which he lives, but he also has an endless dire yearning to fit into the World State society. Karl Marx founded the theory of Marxism, a class system of society that results in tension between the upper and lower classes. Marx believed that this tension would result in the lower classes rising and overthrowing the upper classes and socialism would replace the old system. Ironically, Bernard prefers his luxury upper caste lifestyle rather than handle societal issues. In the novel, the lower castes are too brainwashed and conditioned by the government to be capable of overthrowing the upper castes and government.
Aldous Huxley likely named the character Helmholtz Watson after a widely known German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. The physicist was successful in his arena and has multiple equations named after him (Shmoop Editorial Team). The name Helmholtz suits the character perfectly as he is significantly more intelligent than most alphas and cares deeply about his writing. “Helmholtz rose from his pneumatic chair. ‘I should like a thoroughly bad climate,’ he answered. ‘I believe one would write better if the climate were bad” (229). John B. Watson, an American psychologist known for studying human behavior, is most likely where the character’s surname originated. John B. Watson worked with the idea of using conditioning to alter behavior, just as children are conditioned in Brave New World. The character Helmholtz Watson appropriately works as a lecturer at the College of Emotional Engineering (“Telling”). Both Hermann von Helmholtz and John B. Watson both utilized their specific visions and perceptions to their advantage, like the character Helmholtz who sees the world differently from most of the automatons in which he his surrounded. Helmholtz and Bernard both criticized the World State; however, Watson’s criticisms were intellectual and philosophical, while Bernard’s were more immature complaints (“Brave”).
Lenina and Fanny Crowne may be named after the late seventeenth-century dramatist John Crowne. Ironically, Crowne’s works often centered some tale of romantic, heroic love, as Fanny and Lenina were both rather public about their “dating” life. Huxley may have named Lenina after the Russian revolutionary communist Vladimir Lenin, who became the leader of the Soviet Union in the 1920s. Meanwhile, Lenina is a conformist, completely conditioned and does not question the values of the World State government at the beginning of the novel; therefore, Huxley could have attempted to make the statement that all ‘Leninism’ ultimately results in conformity (“Tools”). Vladimir Lenin was an incredibly powerful and influential man in his country, while Lenina and Fanny were simply tools of the social system in which they live. The true meaning of the name Lenina is ‘like a lion’ indicating independence and leadership. While Vladimir Lenin exhibited these qualities, the character Lenina Crowne does not. Huxley relates the character Fanny Crowne to Fanny Brice, a popular actress in the 1920s and 1930s. As Fanny Brice was seen as the perfect woman of the time, Fanny Crowne plays the objectified sexual being that is seen as the ‘perfect’ woman in the World State society (“Telling”).
Huxley cleverly paralleled the name of his character John the Savage to the biblical figure John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus Christ. Like John the Baptist, John the Savage was an immensely spiritual person and believed deeply in his religion, faith, and God (“Telling”). He spread the word of Christianity and even argued with Mustapha Mond about the importance of God in society. “But God’s the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God ”(237) John the Savage urged. John the Savage spent the majority of the last chapter of the novel attempting to purify himself since living in London had made him impure. “From time to time he stretched out his arms as though he were on the Cross, and held them through long minutes of an ache that gradually increased till it became a tremulous and excruciating agony; held them, in voluntary crucifixion” (244). Sadly, his last attempt to purify himself and make himself worthy of God was taking his own life.
Aldous Huxley’s most popular work, Brave New World, was completed with an endless number of clever and ironic connections between the names of characters in the novel and significant historical beings. These characters include Bernard Marx, Helmholtz Watson, Lenina Crowne, Fanny Crowne, and John the Savage among multiple others. Each character represents the historical figure or figures they are named for either in an ironic way or in an accurate presentation of that respected figure. “History is bunk” (34) says one of the highest esteemed individuals in the World State, Mustapha Mond, to a group of children. Huxley’s irony is unparalleled; one of the World State mottos in his novel is against any recognition of history, yet each and every character in his novel symbolizes a respected historical figure.
“Brave New World Characters.” SparkNotes, SparkNotes, www.sparknotes.com/lit/bravenew/symbols/.
Buhl, Courtney. “Name Significance of Characters in Brave New World.” Prezi.com, 19 Jan. 2016, prezi.com/wzvp0xv9kne8/name-significance-of-characters-in-brave-new-world/.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Tools of Characterization in Brave New World.” Shmoop, Shmoop University, 11 Nov. 2008, www.shmoop.com/brave-new-world/characterization.html.
“Telling Names of Characters from Brave New World.” Brave New World – The Bookclub, 4 Sept. 2016, bnwbookclub.wordpress.com/telling-names/.
Webb, Victoria. “Names in Brave New World.” Prezi.com, 28 Nov. 2012, prezi.com/eyoo0xzxj8ny/names-in-brave-new-world/.
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