Daphne DuMaurier's Narrator in “Rebecca” – A challenge

Apologies for the long post. I'm sure this topic has been addressed by name enthusiasts frequently since the book was published in 1938, but has anyone read the novel Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier (or seen the Hitchcock film) and wondered what the narrator's first name could be? DuMaurier notably never reveals it in the book, but alludes to it tantalizingly with lines like the narrator saying, "But my name was on the envelope, and spelt correctly, an unusual thing," and someone telling her, "You have a very lovely and unusual name." Instead, the narrator is only called by names like Mademoiselle, Madame, or Mrs. de Winter. 

DuMaurier has said in “The Rebecca Notebook” (Memoires) that she never gave the narrator a name because she could not think of one, which I find somewhat hard to believe since she clearly has an idea of a name or name style in mind. I think DuMaurier did not give the narrator a name in order to emphasize the influence Rebecca (the first wife) had over her (the second wife). Rebecca so overshadowed her that she doesn't even get a name. 

So I can't help but wonder what kind of name the narrator might have. There are several lines of evidence that could point to a name. (Also disclosure, that I got too excited thinking of what her name could be that I wanted to ask here before I even finished the book—I know the ending, but let’s not include spoilers in case someone else is interested in reading it. That being said, there may be other lines of evidence further into the book that I haven’t gotten to yet.)


Lines of Evidence:

The book is supposed to take place in the mid-1920s (per DuMaurier’s Memoirs), and the narrator is young, (I’m thinking 18-20 years old). So the name is “lovely and unusual” for 1900’s era.

The narrator responds to the "unusual name" line with, "My father was a lovely and unusual person," implying that either her father named her, or she is named for him. 

The book revolves around their home at Manderley in Cornwall, a home the narrator has been familiar with since childhood, suggesting that she is from the area, so perhaps her name could be Celtic, Anglo, Roman, (maybe Welsh?) in origin. DuMaurier’s notes in “The Rebecca Notebook” say that the narrator’s father was a doctor in Eastbourne (in the book they just say that he is deceased).

(DuMaurier herself was born in London and lived her adult life in Cornwall, which I'm sure influenced her book, maybe she wrote some of herself into the character. She channeled or built off of her own ideas of jealousy of a first marriage from her own life since her husband had once been previously engaged to another woman before they were married.)


So I, being unfamiliar with British baby naming trends at the turn of the 20th century, could only think of the name Bronwen, which is Welsh. I like it for this character because the meaning white breasted/complexion or pure-hearted emphasizes the naivete that fits her character. (and with Rebecca's name meaning tied or bound, it makes perfect sense that the name was chosen because she won't release her hold over them, even in death). Plus the narrator and her future husband have an on-going inside joke about the meaning of companion as a "bosom friend" so a name with bosom in the meaning somehow in my mind makes it more fitting for her. 

I’m not sure that Bronwen is tricky to spell (maybe alternatives of Bronwyn or Branwen?). I’m not aware of this name being a feminine version of a man’s name, so I doubt it’s named for her father. Was Bronwen unusual in 1900? I didn’t see anything on BNW, but britishbabynames.com says that there were 978 Bronwens born in 1900 (about the peak of this name). Perhaps it is too common then? Almost 1,000 births seems like a lot for back then.

Do any of you have ideas and know more of the history of that area for names? I’m curious to hear your ideas! 



March 11, 2019 6:26 AM

Rebecca is one of my favourite books, and I've always toyed, unsuccessfully, with the idea of what the heroine's name might be.

I expect there's some truth to the idea that she couldn't think of a fitting name, but also a great deal of truth to what you say: the narrator needs to not have a name to make the domination of Rebecca complete.

I always read the "my father was a lovely and unusual man" comment as referring to the fact that he named her, fathers unilaterally deciding on their children's names being much more common previously. I never thought of her having a Welsh or Celtic name, due to Eastbourne being quite far from Cornwall and no mention of this being made, but there was a movement of Celtic revivalism going on around the time the narrator would have been born. Still, this was quite politically motivated, so I'm not convinced an English man of doctor's standing would use such a name.

I also feel like "lovely and unusual" suggests knowledge of the name, yet surprise at seeing it. Many classical names are unfamiliar to us now but would have been more familiar among the educated class of the nineteeth century, while still relatively rare. Still, my bet is on a classical name that has never been widely used but with some spelling ambiguity. I'm thinking Iseult/Yseult/Isolde, or Undine/Ondine. But I don't get much farther than that...

March 11, 2019 8:17 AM

Bronwyn is a good guess. The 'y' is used in masculine names in Wales, so spelling Bronwen with the 'y' would make the spelling unusual and hint at the father's name (Wyn?).

March 11, 2019 1:06 PM

I think a rare-but-literary/classical/academical name is a good guess to fit the "lovely and unusual" hint. I also took the line about her father to mean that he chose the name, probably based on some "lovely and unusual" interests. If the father was a doctor, maybe something related to natural history?

If this were a true story, I would be more likely to expect "lovely and unusual" to mean a name that was rare when the speaker was growing up, but that was hitting its stylish stride around the time of the novel's action--think of how often we hear non-name-enthusiasts say things like "my granddaughters have beautiful, unusual names--Isabella and Ava". So something that was on the charts by the mid-to-late 1920s, but probably not on the charts before then.

Daphne actually hits most of what I would expect: rare when the character was born (not on the top-100 list for 1904) but with a classical and botanical origin that could make it familiar in literary and scientific circles, and then rapidly catching on and stylish when the character reaches adulthood (#72 in 1924 and #54 in 1934). And it has that PH in the middle and long-E at the end to throw off spelling.

March 11, 2019 4:40 PM

It's true, it does in many ways seem to be a description of Daphne. I just wonder if Daphne would have been unusual/hard to spell for the kind of people the narrator mixes with?

Another Du Maurier novel features a protagonist called Honor, which does strike me as the kind of name that could be misspelled in a British milieu.

March 15, 2019 11:21 PM

I like the lines of evidence for Daphne. The author would have more intimate knowledge of how people react to her own name. And I like to think she channelled a lot of herself in the character, so it would make perfect sense. Hmm, come to think of it, look at the similarity to de Winter and DuMarier. Somewhat similar feel too. 

I also like Emily.ie's suggestion of Isolde. Even from today's day and age, I feel like that name would hit the familiar-but-rare feeling that "unusual but lovely" gives. 

Does anyone know if any hints were dropped in the Hitchcock movie? I plan to re-watch it as soon as I'm finished with the book. (sometimes, even though they don't ever say the names of characters, movie/TV props get names on them. I think of Detective Columbo. It's rumored that even though they avoid dropping his first name, it can be read on his badge if you look carefully.)

March 17, 2019 6:41 PM

I have a bunch of scattered thoughts. I finished the book and noticed a couple things: a character mistook her as being French or spending time in France (she corrects them that she was in Monte Carlo when she met her husband). The official language of Monaco is French, and at one point, when the narrator is relieved and relaxed, she orders at a restaurant and slips into French, for no particular reason. Maybe French is her preferred language. Maybe her name is French...

Side note, the background of her father being a doctor in Eastbourne never made it into the book. 


BUT, then I thought of this:

While reading more about DuMarier, I realized the author's father is George DuMaurier, who wrote the book "Trilby," in 1895, a name mentioned on this site as being a one-hit wonder (made the US top 1,000 only one year - the year the book was published). What if the narrator of Rebecca was named by her father and the father was based on Daphne DuMaurier's father, and what if the name DuMaurier thought her father would choose is the name of his character, Trilby?

So, "unusual and lovely..." Trilby? The spelling might be easy to get incorrect. 



March 18, 2019 4:47 AM

I believe the author was her grandfather, and that her father was the actor Gerald Du Maurier. Nonetheless, Trilby is an interesting suggestion.

I am leaning towards Daphne itself being the name, though, especially as there are other autobiographical elements to Rebecca...or at least, my undesrtanding is that her feelings when writing it were drawn from life. 

Interestingly, Daphne is the only one of the family with what could be described as a "lovely and unusual" name. Her sisters were Angela and Jeanne...fine names, but not unusual.

March 18, 2019 11:12 PM

Oh, yes. You're right her father was Gerald. Yes, I'm thinking more and more that Daphne would have been her name. duMaurier's son said in an interview that both first and second wives drew a lot on the authors own personality, with the narrator reflecting his mother the most in his experience/ memories of her. 

Fun fact I came across was that the Hitchcock script had the narrators lines under just "I" as in the first person pronoun. But it sounds like on set, they'd call the character Daphne.