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Susannah Dingley
558992.  Sun May 24, 2009 6:16 am Reply with quote

In the Chat section of the C Series on DVD, it is mentioned that Florence Nightingale was the first woman to be called Florence; previously the name had only been used for boys.

Is this true? What about the Dickens character Florence Dombey?

Florence Nightingale was born in 1820, while Dombey and Son was first published between 1846 and 1848 in instalments – and the Crimean War did not begin until 1853. So:

(i) If Florence Nightingale was the first woman to be named Florence, and she didn’t become famous until the Crimean War, there would have been hardly any other female called Florence when Charles Dickens began Dombey and Son. How did Dickens come to call one of his female characters Florence, then?

(ii) Suppose, then, that “Florence” as a girl’s name was pretty common by then, so it would have been natural for Dickens to choose to name one of his female characters Florence. Then why do we not know of more ladies called Florence in the first half of the 18th century?

559006.  Sun May 24, 2009 7:20 am Reply with quote

How the dickens, indeed.

This name is now only ever given to girls, but in the Middle Ages was usually a boy's name. There was a historian of that name, for instance, and even in the early 19th century Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein) gave it to her son Percy for his middle name. It is often thought to be based on the Italian city of Florence, but in fact the English name for this city (Firenze in Italian) and the given name Florence are both derived from the Latin adjective Florens ("blooming or flourishing.") From this came the boy's name Florentius and its feminine form Florentia, which in English by medieval times had become Florence.

Florence became popular for girls due to the fame of Victorian nurse Florence Nightingale (who was actually named after the city.) It is now regarded as old-fashioned. Short forms include Florrie, Flo and Flossie.

559438.  Sun May 24, 2009 10:13 pm Reply with quote

I think I hear the frantic scrabbling of QI Elves

559443.  Mon May 25, 2009 1:53 am Reply with quote

Oooo - didn't know they liked scrabble...

Susannah Dingley
559515.  Mon May 25, 2009 7:46 am Reply with quote

Thanks for the info on Florence as a first name and on Florence Nightingale.

But what about the character Florence Dombey?

559527.  Mon May 25, 2009 8:33 am Reply with quote

Posital's quote says that Florence 'became popular for girls' because of Florence Nightingale - not that there were no girls called Florence before that. Florence was used as a name for boys - so were Lesley and Shirley (qv the novel by Charlotte Bronte) though all are more commonly used for girls now. It could be that the name was just in the process of becoming popular and used for both sexes when Dickens picked it up, and of course it could be Dickens' use of the name that helped to popularise it, in the same way that there are names now used for girls that become popular because of the way their use in books or movies. I'm sure the Victorians were as fond as we are of giving their children names they thought were distinctive or unusual.


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