A Colonel Brandon by any Other Name?

One of the funnier lines in Emma is when Mr. Knightley asks Emma to call him “George” after he has proposed to her. We of course know he is named George because the narrator tells us so, but while we are introduced to him in Chapter 1, we do not learn his full name until Chapter 12, in this very off-hand remark: 

when John Knightley made his appearance, and “How d’ye do, George?” and “John, how are you?” succeeded in the true English style… [Emma, vol. 1, ch 12.]

We are given an earlier hint in Chapter 6 when one of John Knightley’s children is called “George”, but if you haven’t been paying attention to these very easy to miss throwaway lines, you will be happy to learn his name in vol. 3, ch. 17. 

    ‘Mr. Knightley.’ You always called me, ‘Mr. Knightley;’ and, from habit, it has not so very formal a sound. And yet it is formal. I want you to call me something else, but I do not know what.”

    “I remember once calling you ‘George,’ in one of my amiable fits, about ten years ago. I did it because I thought it would offend you; but, as you made no objection, I never did it again.”

    “And cannot you call me ‘George’ now?”

    “Impossible! I never can call you any thing but ‘Mr. Knightley.’ I will not promise even to equal the elegant terseness of Mrs. Elton, by calling you Mr. K. But I will promise,” she added presently, laughing and blushing, “I will promise to call you once by your Christian name. I do not say when, but perhaps you may guess where; — in the building in which N. takes M. for better, for worse.” [Emma vol. 3, ch. 17]

“My dearest most beloved Emma, tell me at once…” – C. E. Brock, Emma at Molland’s

But what of the other Austen heroes and their given names?:  we have George, and Edward, Edmund, Fitzwilliam, Henry, Charles, Frederick, and even Willoughby is named “John” – but it seems that Colonel Brandon is alone among her men to be first-nameless … though as you will see, no one seems to actually know this!

When I attended several of the Sense and Sensibility weekends at the Governor’s House in Hyde Park , one of the questions on the innkeeper’s very-hard-to-score-well-quiz during the brunch on Sunday, is What is Col. Brandon’s first name?  Every weekend ended with the majority of people saying “Christopher” – but it is of course a trick question:  Austen does not give her Col. Brandon a first name: you can re-read / search the book, but the surest proof is Chapman’s index of characters, where it notes thus:

Colonel BRANDON, of Delaford in Dorsetshire; thirty-five (34, 37); thirty-six (369); 2,000£ a year (196); m. Marianne Dashwood.

Now we trust Chapman because he names some of the most obscure of Austen’s characters that many of us would be at a loss to even say which book they are from …  he must be right, so why then is  “Christopher” so commonly thought of as his first name…?

Enter Popular Culture:

I was surprised a few weeks ago, and the reason I started to write this post, to notice this on Wikipedia:

Colonel Christopher Brandon — a close friend of Sir John Middleton. In his youth, Brandon had fallen in love with his father’s ward, but was prevented by his family from marrying her because his father was determined to marry her to his older brother. He was sent into the military abroad to be away from her, and while gone, the girl suffered numerous misfortunes partly as a consequence of her unhappy marriage, finally dying penniless and disgraced, and with a natural (i.e., illegitimate) daughter, who becomes the ward of the Colonel. He is 35 years old at the beginning of the book. He falls in love with Marianne at first sight as she reminds him of his father’s ward. He is a very honorable friend to the Dashwoods, particularly Elinor, and offers Edward Ferrars a living after Edward is disowned by his mother.

[From Wikipedia on S&S the Book]

Now one knows to read everything on the internet and especially Wikipedia with a wary eye, but this is a glaring error… 

If you go to The Republic of Pemberley, and its Genealogy of Characters in S&S, a very trusted source, it is very clear that his name is only Col. Brandon, as Austen wrote him.

 And what of the Sequels and Fan-Fiction?  I show here only a few, but now we are in a bit of a naming muddle…

Amanda Grange calls him “James” in her Col. Brandon’s Diary

And in the new book The Three Colonels: Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, by Jack Caldwell,
we are given a very romantic Brandon complete with a “Christopher.”

 And see this Fan Fiction.net site we find Col and Mrs. Brandon by Drusilla Dax – where he is also named “Christopher.” 

And Jane Odiwe in her Willoughby’s Return? She names her Col. Brandon “William.”

I asked her why?: 

 I named him William in Willoughby’s Return – just because I like the name, and it’s one that Jane used (William Price). I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that she used the same names for completely different characters.

I like this answer from Ms. Odiwe – she has been thoughtful in choosing a name for her Brandon. But I also want to share with you a very nasty review from an irate reader of Odiwe’s sequel – you can read the whole piece on Amazon.co.uk but here is the relevant rant [which makes the whole review seem quite ridiculous]: 

…. and not even well researched. Marianne is married to William Brandon – whoever he may be – Colonel Brandon’s Christian name was Christopher…..

I had to comment on this – I am not a big fan of really nasty reviews – I would rather say nothing at all, so I blanche at such negativity, but here I wonder if the woman has ever actually read Sense & Sensibility The Book by Jane Austen at all – she has perhaps only seen the movie? wherein we find our illusive “Christopher”…. 

… courtesy of Emma Thompson, her Col. Brandon the “Christopher” most of us seem to want!

 IMDB:  Emma Thompson’s S&S

 and her Brandon, a.k.a. Alan Rickman, even has a Facebook presence as Colonel Christopher Brandon !

 So on to Andrew Davies 2008 Sense & Sensibility with David Morrissey in the role – though Davies succeeds in “sexing” up his Brandon, he does get this right – his Brandon has no first name…

At the Masterpiece Theatre S&S site, click on Col. Brandon and “Christopher” is nowhere in sight…

We can ask what were the most used names in late 18th century England?

 Common 18th Century Male Names [from the Official Fanfiction Universityof the Caribbean website ( ! )]

Alexander, Andrew, Benjamin, Bernard, Charles, David, Edmund, Edward, Emmett, Francis, Frederick, George, Harold, Henry, Hugh, James (Jim, Jimmy, Jem), John (Johnny, Jack), Jonathan, Joseph, Julian, Louis, Matthew, Nicholas, Oliver, Paul, Peter, Phillip, Richard, Robert, Rupert, Samuel, Sebastian, Seymour, Simon, Stephen, Stuart, Thaddeus (Tad), Theodore, Thomas, Timothy, Tobias, Walter, Wesley, William

Notice how many of the names are those used by Austen!  but alas! no “Christopher” – though I am perhaps not being fair – the name has been a common one in England since the 15th century. 

So, these are just some thoughts – I am without my research tools as I write this, so wonder if in Emma Thompson’s screenplay and diaries to her Sense & Sensibility, does she mention baptizing her Brandon with the Christian name of Christopher? – does it appear in any earlier sequels, other movies? –  and the most interesting question of all? – why did Jane Austen not give him a name? – and why are we all so compelled to do so?

Please comment if you can add anything to this dilemma – and do tell us if you wanted to give Brandon a first name, what might you name him?? – just  please do not let it be “Richard”!*

“Colonel Brandon was invited to visit her” – a C. E. Brock illus from S&S at  Molland’s

******************

*Note: Austen’s commentary on the name Richard is from Northanger Abbey: Catherine’s father is “a very respectable man, though his name was Richard.” [NA vol. 1, ch. 1]

 Copyright @2012 Jane Austen in Vermont 

28 thoughts on “A Colonel Brandon by any Other Name?

  1. Jack Caldwell, author of THE THREE COLONELS, here. Thanks for the mention, Janeite. It’s really funny how Emma Thompson managed to name Colonel Brandon for the rest of us! The reason I chose Christopher was to avoid the comments that Jane Odiwe had to put up with. Call me a coward, but there it is. BTW, I gave Denney the first name of Archibald. I hope the readers don’t mind.

    Again, thanks for the kind comments.

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    • Hello Jack! – nice to hear from you – I should tell you that I have your book on order and look forward to reading it, not so much for the sequel aspect [and regardless of Col. Brandon’s first name!] as to see what you have done with your own fictional Colonel…!

      Yes, I thought the comment on Amazon for Jane Odiwe’s book was quite appalling. I hope your “Archibald” does not suffer that same fate [people should recall that Cary Grant’s real first name was actually “Archibald” before they feel the need to comment in the negative!]

      Thanks for stopping by Jack – and good luck with your book!
      Best,
      Deb

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  2. Well, I don’t know about Colonel Brandon’s first name, but Emma’s preference for calling Mr Knightly by that moniker reminds me of Sex and the City where Carrie constantly refers to her lover as “Mr Big” and his actual Christian name is kept quiet right till the end. Everyone borrows from Jane!

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    • A great point Joan! – Jane Austen IS everywhere! [and I cannot remember Mr. Big’s first name! – do you recall? – I cannot get Chris Noth out of my mind, so there again, we have another Christopher!]

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Deb

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  3. Well dear Deb, Christopher is a pretty rare a name in Austen’s time. It’s number 28 out of 156 adult male names we counted on the 1840 census (born before 1820). That name showed up 7,882 times out of 3.8 million men counted. So not out of the possibility range but not like every Tom, Dick or Harry, lol.

    Sue

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    • Hi Sue – thanks for these statistics! [I should have checked on your Regency Encyclopedia!] – I did see that it was not an uncommon name but not as popular as the other names Austen used – oh! I forgot, Austen _didn’t_ use this name, did she?!!

      Thanks for stopping by Sue, as always,
      Deb

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  5. Just came across this post when trying to confirm for myself that the Colonel really is lacking a first name, and though you wrote it some time back, I just had to comment on how fun it was to read – a lovely piece of detective work! I especially appreciate your comments regarding Jane Odiwe’s negative review, as I have such difficulty understanding why people feel empowered to attack authors in this way. Thoughtful criticism is one thing, but vitriol – particularly if inaccurate – is so cruel (though at least blatant ignorance helps one to brush it off). No one goes up to a new mother and tells her how ugly they think their child is; readers should keep in mind that novels are just like their writers’ babies. Not everyone need like a book, but ripping it to shreds is entirely unnecessary.

    Perhaps Colonel Brandon was also a John, but between Sir John, John Willoughby, and John Dashwood, Austen felt the need to suppress the redundancy?

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    • I agree with you Alexa – this sort of thing only seems to make the writer feel good, no one else…

      Thank you for stopping by to find out about Colonel Brandon’s name! – it is interesting that Austen did not give first names to some of her characters – was there a particular reason I wonder? she was so meticulous in her wording and her facts – it is something to ponder…let me know if you figure it out!
      Best,
      Deb

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  6. I find this very interesting! Currently reading the new version of Sense and sensibility by Joanna Trollope and she calls Brandon, William.
    Austen also never gave Colonel Fitzwilliam a first name either. But most fan fiction refer to him at Richard

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    • Glad you found this Jess – I haven’t read the Trollope book yet – wonder why she names him William… and you are right about Col. Fitzwilliam, so thanks for alerting me to that – funny that the fanfiction uses Richard, because Austen did not like that name for some reason!

      Thanks for stopping by,
      Deb

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  7. I just reread S & S, watched the Emma Thompson movie, and am now reading Willoughby’s Return. I noticed the Christopher reference in the movie, and the William in Willoughby’s Return and wanted someone to clear this up for me…and here you are! Much appreciated.

    About the name Richard–there is a highly amusing aside about a Richard Musgrove in Persuation. Unless I misunderstand Miss Austen, and I hope I don’t sound too crude, it seems that she refers to this Richard (an unworthy young man serving under Captain Wentworth) as deserving his nickname, Dick, because he is one. But I have no idea if that epithet was used in the early 19th century. I’ve always wondered.

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  9. Thank you for this lovely article! I just started working on a modern short story variation on S&S and was trying to decide what to call Col. Brandon. After reading this, I might just make Brandon his first name and call him ‘Col. Brandon Delaford’. For a regency fan-fic, though, I would probably call him Matthew. :)

    On a similar note, in a P&P variation I have been working on for a while, I named Col. Fitzwilliam ‘Darcy’ after the precedence of F. Darcy being named by his mother’s maiden name. It would make perfect sense for Jane to want to spare her readers confusion by hiding his first name under such circumstances. A little silly, perhaps, but after reading about so many ‘Richards’, I wanted to shake things up. :)

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    • Yes, Natalie, the choice of names is important in all the fan fiction, and why I found it so interesting the number of people who are so very sure that Brandon’s first name was Christopher! Austen gives us little to go on with a good number of her names, so it nearly INVITES retellings – for instance do we ever even notice that Mr and Mrs Bennet have no first names??

      Good luck with your fan fiction efforts – you join a wild and prolific group!

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  10. I was interested to read this article – which I find entirely convincing – as I have just started on yet another version of the Colonel Brandon story, hoping to cash in on the success of my “Pride Unprejudiced” (the Lizzie and Darcy story from the viewpoint of Mr. Collins) and the similar reception I hope will be given to “The Journal of Jane Fairfax” out this month.

    Has anybody considered that Colonel Brandon perhaps kept his christian name secret because it was so silly, or so cringe-worthily awful?

    There was something of a vogue for biblical names among certain classes, particularly in the West Country, and he could easily have been baptised Ezekiel or Habakuk, or something with a classical double-entendre, like Anthony Trollope’s Onesiphilus Dunne, who also appears in my own “Barset Revisited”.

    It is not unknown for characters in popular fiction these days to show similar reticence about their first names (remember Endeavour Morse?), and why should not the divine Jane have led the way in this as in many other fields?

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    • A very good point! There are a good number of Austen characters without forenames, and those that do are all awfully common – I like to think of Col. Brandon having a catchy name (to offset that flannel waistcoat) – and of course Austen is very sly about Mr. Knightley that we don’t know it until the very end (unless you notice that there is a mention earlier in the book)… love your allusion to Morse’s!

      Good luck with your books – I must look into them – and now of course will wonder what you christen Brandon with!

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      • Thank you for your encouragement. On the strength of that and your original article, I have re-christened my effort “The Mystery of Colonel Brandon”, and intend to make his secrecy about his first names a recurring joke in it.

        There are only a couple of thousand words done so far, but if nothing goes too far wrong I hope to finish by the end of the year.
        Ron.

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      • Dear Janeite Deb,
        Since you were so kind as to wish me luck with my literary efforts, perhaps you might like to know that ‘Colonel Brandon’s Secret’ (thought it was a catchier title than the old one) is now available on Kindle, in paperback from Createspace and in hardback from Lulu.

        If you are interested in a hard copy I can do you a worthwhile discount. Alternatively, I would be happy to send you a PDF if you are really interested.

        Like

  11. It is rather annoying to run across Jane Austen fanfiction that takes its cue from a film version of the Austen story in question, instead of looking to the novel for inspiration. In doing so, such fanfiction becomes more of an adaptation of someone else’s adaptation, moving even further away from the original source material. The Ang Lee S&S is a lovely film, but parts of it are entirely inconsistent with Austen’s novel, and whenever I see an author lifting character or story elements from it (or from any other Austen adaptation), I find it very difficult to take that author’s work seriously. Please, fanfiction writers, do your research and try to write stories that are plausible given the characters and universe that Austen laid out in her books. Give “Christopher” a rest and try to find a different, more historically plausible, and more appropriately “Austenian” name for the Colonel.

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  12. I just discovered this post while searching for genealogical sources for information about an ancestor who is Col. Brandon. In fact, there are a couple of Col. Brandon’s and a Sgt. Brandon who were patriots in the Revolutionary War. It’s quite a search trying to distinguish the differences without first names. But I believe the lack of a first name was commonplace out of respect and honor to distinguish the ranking officer’s achievements.

    The gentlemen I have been currently researching are Col. Thomas Brandon, Col. George Brandon, and Sgt. Richard Brandon. I think there’s another Col. George Brandon but I haven’t quite proven that.

    I adored Alan Rickman as Col. Brandon, and never once thought to connect this character with these individuals until this moment. I love reading stories that continue or detour the saga of Austen novels.

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    • Very interesting research you are doing! I wonder if Austen’s Col. Brandon knew of his namesakes who were patriots not loyalists?! Oh wait, Col Brandon is a fictional character! – one forgets these things at times…

      And yes, Alan Richman was a perfect Col Brandon – too bad he shall be most remembered as Severus Snape!

      Thanks for visiting.

      Like

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