Dickens had one party of time cooking up the names in this novel. Names serve to highlight an aspect of a character’s personality in Great Expectations. For example, Pip is the nickname Pip gave himself, because he could not say his full name (Phillip Pirrip). So, the name Pip is distilled, simplified, and compact version of his full name. It is also a homonym, like Hannah or mom. Pip is a very complex character, and it’s interesting to consider that such a complicated guy would have (and keep) such a simple name. Not only that, but everyone around him, especially Miss Havisham, insists that Pip keep his nickname forevermore. There’s an innocence and simplicity inside his name that contrasts heavily to the man he becomes. (It's even spelled the same forwards and backwards.) Because we are such detectives, we also realized that the only other person in the novel who has a monosyllabic, three-lettered name is Joe. Therefore, Dickens seems to link Pip and Joe visually through their names, perhaps to intensify their connection and relationship.
Other doozies of names are Miss Havisham, Magwitch, Jaggers, Estella, Orlick, Compeyson, and Drummle. Miss HAVE-is-HAM. We don’t know if the ham part is pertinent, but the HAVE part certainly is. Miss Havisham loves to have things. All kinds of things. Namely, men’s hearts on platters. Her name also sounds like Sam I Am, but we’re not sure if that’s significant either, except maybe for the Am part, since she is kind of selfish.
Magwitch pretty much collects names, but we like this one the best, mainly because it sounds like a magnet met a witch. The "witch" part of his name is very interesting, because we fancy him to be a bit of a magician himself, a bit of a mysterious creature. He produces all kinds of money and finds a way to get it to Pip without Pip knowing who sent it. He is able to make his fortune in a relatively short amount of time in New South Wales.
Jaggers’ name sounds like a jagged dagger to us, and that makes sense because he is edgy, sharp, rough, and to the point. His argumentative powers stab opponents until they are quaking in their boots. He is also jagged, not fully comprehensible upon first glance. He has many sides and many dimensions.
Estella’s name means star and that’s just perfect. She’s out of Pip’s reach, and she’s always climbing things as a little girl. At one point, Pip sees her climbing a ladder in the brewery, and it looks like she is climbing into the sky. She is the beacon of light that Pip reaches toward, but, like the stars, she’s twinkly and she is too far away.
Orlick is heavy on the "R" sound, kind of like Jeffrey Rush in Pirates of the Caribbean. But the best part of Orlick’s name is simply the "lick" part. There’s just something so greasy and overpowering about his name. We feel like we’ve been slimed every time we hear it.
Compeyson reminds us of money. When we see his name, we hear Come-PAY-son and we also hear "comparison." The money part makes sense – he swindled Miss Havisham out of her wealth and her heart (as well as many others). There is also something in his name that beckons, "come" as though warning readers that he will eventually arrive and ruin everything. But the "comparison" part we’re not too sure about. Except that we do compare him to Drummle.
Drummle is a drum. He is heavy, relentless, and his abusive tendencies, which we learn about in the very last chapter, come as no surprise to us. His name also sounds like "pummel" which further emphasizes his combative nature.
So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow and Pip’s boots. Pip’s boots are one of the first subjects of upper class mockery. Estella makes fun of Pip for his coarse hands and his thick boots, both of which are indicative of a boy from a working class family, who has to help out with chores and who gets his hands dirty every so often. Eventually, Pip, upon coming into fortune, is asked to buy new clothes, but is too ashamed to actually wear them around his hometown. He does a fashion show at home, but it is really awkward. Clothes are a huge indicator of social standing. Beyond that day, we never really hear about Pip’s clothes. We just know that he buys a lot of jewelry (the bills keep piling up), and he and Drummle have another boot encounter.
No discussion of appearances in Great Expectations would be complete without a discussion of Miss Havisham. Wow. You might think that the lady is one can short of a six pack, but we SWEAR you are going to see that decaying bride look on the runways in Paris again and again. It’s timeless. But seriously, Miss Havisham is both a walking corpse and a preserved memory. She wears her wedding dress (which she never got to use), her veil, one shoe, and really tattered silk stockings. She has white hair and sunken eyes, and Pip tells us that she looks like one of those mummies that you see on the Discovery Channel as they are excavated by archeologists with delicate little brushes. She also looks like she belongs at Madame Tussaud's wax museum. Her appearance enhances the aura of the supernatural in the novel, as well as the looming presence of death. She has basically turned her house into a tomb, and she definitely looks the part.
Most people in this novel have a very well defined occupation or role in society, and in scrutinizing these roles we get a greater sense of how society functions and what job opportunities there were back then. The only characters who don’t have clearly defined roles or jobs are the rich and the criminal. That’s apparently how things worked back then.
For example, Joe is a blacksmith. He runs a smithy and does ironwork for the local area. He works at his forge, heating and bending iron into shape. He creates things and, though he is rough and unrefined compared to Miss Havisham’s set, Joe is one of the (if not THE) most honest, generous, and good-hearted people in Pip’s life. He has little education, but it really doesn’t matter. When Jaggers tries to pay Joe for agreeing to release Pip from his apprenticeship, Joe goes crazy. He is proud, and he is completely annoyed that Jaggers doesn’t understand why he doesn’t want any money for Pip. Jaggers seems to assume that someone like Joe, a lowly blacksmith, would want money and would make a fuss if he were not given any. However, Joe quickly dispels that stereotype. He does not desire wealth and fortune in the way that Pip does, but, rather, is content with his life and proud of his job.
Jaggers is a lawyer. All day long he fights in courts to defend London’s criminals. He dwells in the bustling heart of London, and his office is right next to the prison. Whether he is in court or at the Three Jolly Bargeman, Jaggers brings his profession and his skills as a lawyer with him wherever he goes. There is no delineation between work and home life. Hello, work-life balance? Paging HR? Jaggers is a man of the law through and through.
Similarly, Herbert, while of social position, is totally interested in working and in putting money to work. He doesn’t want to sit still all day like gentlemen do, but he seeks adventure and creativity in his position as shipping merchant. When Pip’s self-destruction is complete, and when he has finally let go of his dreams, he goes to Cairo to work for Herbert, and he finds happiness at last. He says, "many a year went round, before I was partner in the house; but I lived happily with Herbert and his wife, and lived frugally, and paid my debts, and maintained a constant correspondence with Biddy and Joe" (3.58.64). Pip seems to become a self-sufficient man through his work.