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Bernard Shaw, Henry Higgins, and the Irish Diaspora

Bernard Shaw, Henry Higgins, and the Irish Diaspora David Clare Ever since Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion premiered in London in 1914, critics and audiences have assumed that Shaw chose the name Henry Higgins for the male lead primarily for the comic effect produced by having the Cockney characters drop the letter "h" that begins his Christian name and surname. However, such an explanation ignores the crucial fact that Higgins is an Irish surname; the name is found in all four provinces of Ireland (though primarily in Connaught) and comes from the Irish Gaelic name Ó hUigín, meaning "son of the Viking."1 Shaw was undoubtedly aware of the name's Hibernian origins, and not simply because he was born and raised in Dublin. By his own estimation, he knew "more about Irish names than anyone outside the professions of land agency . . . can possibly know"; this knowledge was gained while working in an estate office in Dublin as a young man, in a job which required him to "collect . . . rents from tenants in every province in Ireland" and to enter their surnames on receipts and in ledgers.2 Shaw's decision to give Higgins a name he knew to be Irish cannot be lightly dismissed, for, http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png New Hibernia Review Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas

Bernard Shaw, Henry Higgins, and the Irish Diaspora

New Hibernia Review , Volume 18 (1) – Mar 15, 2014

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Publisher
Center for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas
Copyright
Copyright © 2008 The University of St. Thomas.
ISSN
1534-5815
Publisher site
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Abstract

David Clare Ever since Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion premiered in London in 1914, critics and audiences have assumed that Shaw chose the name Henry Higgins for the male lead primarily for the comic effect produced by having the Cockney characters drop the letter "h" that begins his Christian name and surname. However, such an explanation ignores the crucial fact that Higgins is an Irish surname; the name is found in all four provinces of Ireland (though primarily in Connaught) and comes from the Irish Gaelic name Ó hUigín, meaning "son of the Viking."1 Shaw was undoubtedly aware of the name's Hibernian origins, and not simply because he was born and raised in Dublin. By his own estimation, he knew "more about Irish names than anyone outside the professions of land agency . . . can possibly know"; this knowledge was gained while working in an estate office in Dublin as a young man, in a job which required him to "collect . . . rents from tenants in every province in Ireland" and to enter their surnames on receipts and in ledgers.2 Shaw's decision to give Higgins a name he knew to be Irish cannot be lightly dismissed, for,

Journal

New Hibernia ReviewCenter for Irish Studies at the University of St. Thomas

Published: Mar 15, 2014

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