According to Pope Francis, “God calls each one of us by name, loving us individually in the concreteness of our history”; with baptism, a child, “in his or her name, will have an original identity, including the Christian life linked to God” (*). In Eliot’s The Confidential Clerk – a transcendent comedy about double, feigned and mistaken identities – naming and renaming is crucial.
Sir Claude Mulhammer believes Colby Simpkins to be his son. Colby, a sensitive and conscientious young man, will replace Eggerson, Sir Claude’s long-serving confidential clerk. Sir Claude hopes that his wife, Lady Elizabeth, will grow fond of Colby and will accept him as her son. In fact, Lady Elizabeth feels more at ease with the new clerk than Sir Claude does: significantly, the latter calls him “Mr. Simpkins,” whereas the former prefers “Colby”.
Lucasta Angel is also Sir Claude’s illegitimate daughter. She has a maladapted relationship with her father; the antipathy she feels for Lady Elizabeth is mutual and thinly disguised. She shocks Colby by calling them “Claude” and “Lizzie”: “it did make my head spin – all those first names”. Lucasta has embraced the role of black sheep, but Colby quickly identifies this image as a mask of self-assurance.
Similarly, Lucasta sees through Colby and understands that being Sir Claude’s confidential clerk and Lady Elizabeth’s adoptive son will not make him happy. Colby is the only character with whom Lucasta can be honest, and her honesty helps him realise that spiritual fulfillment must be sought elsewhere. In that sense, the name “Lucasta” (originally derived by the Renaissance poet Richard Lovelace from the Latin lux casta, “pure light”) and the surname “Angel” are highly symbolic.
In the play’s final act, Colby’s “aunt” – whose name, Mrs. Guzzard, resonates with “wizard” – resolves the mystery of his identity, and incidentally, that of Lucasta’s fiancé, Mr. Kaghan. Kaghan – another unusual surname – goes by the pragmatic name “B,” which, as Mrs. Guzzard reveals, stands for the unfashionable “Barnabas”. The ambitious young businessman who started life as a foundling jokingly argues that “Barney Kaghan […] wouldn’t make the right impression in the City”.
At the end of The Confidential Clerk, Sir Claude, Lady Elizabeth, Lucasta and Kaghan redefine their relationships, which implies calling themselves by other names and so adopting new familial identities. On the other hand, as Colby begins a promising new life under Mr. Eggerson’s mentorship, he surprises himself calling his new (symbolic) father “Eggers”.
(*) Junno Arocho Esteves, “Name given at baptism gives sense of identity, belonging, Pope says,” National Catholic Reporter, April 18, 2018, <https://www.ncronline.org/news/vatican/francis-chronicles/name-given-baptism-gives-sense-identity-belonging-pope-says>.