In Miss Julie (Fröken Julie), a seminal play and central piece of modern Swedish literature, the two main characters are named "Julie" and "Jean". Why "Julie" and "Jean" though?

From a contemporary perspective, "Julie" may seem slightly more reasonable than its counterpart, as it does exist in Sweden as a female first name that parents would give to their daughter. However, I don't believe it is a Swedish name in origin. And this graph also tells us its usage previous to 2000 was vanishingly sparse, much less one and a half centuries ago. It had not appeared in non-French literary works either until Miss Julie came along.

The first appearance of Julie in a popular non-French literary work occurred with Swedish playwright August Strindberg's tragedy Miss Julie in 1888. As it became one of the most widely performed plays in the English-speaking world, the choice of Julie as a name expanded along with it. (Wikipedia)

The choice of "Jean" is a bigger mystery: it is obviously a French name, popular in French speaking regions. However, the name has never had any kind of popularity in Sweden that could be spoken of. The character Jean is a local peasant boy hoping to climb up the social ladder and take some short cuts while doing it.

Why did August Strindberg choose these two names? French influence? Even so I imagine he'd have had allusions and literary references in mind when making these choices as these names were minusculely rare if at all existent back in his day.

  • 1
    "Julie" is indeed not Swedish in origin. It's the French form of "Julia," the feminine of "Julius" as in Caesar. So Roman at root. Possibly French to match Jean.
    – Mary
    Sep 3, 2020 at 23:32

2 Answers 2


This is purely speculative, based on what you have said and reviewing the plot summary in the Wikipedia article.

You point out that the names are not common in Sweden at that time, which points to an underlying reason for their choice.

Taking this as a given and looking to the play itself, I see that it is set at Midsummer, the turning point of the year, and explores Darwinian themes of inheritance and fitness.

I would speculate then that the names Jean and Julie reference the months of June and July (in Swedish Juni and Juli).

The play is set near the end of June as the year turns and gives way to July. It may be that the names are intended to gently reference an evolving human society by highlighting that she belongs to the future and he the past, or possibly that she represents a doomed evolutionary branch. I suspect one needs real familiarity with the play to theorise further.

The other aspect of the name Jean is a possible reference to St John the Baptist, on whose feast day the second part of the play is set. the Gospels portray John as the precursor or forerunner of Christ, which may again play to themes of succession in the play.

Edit: It’s just struck me that someone called ‘August’ may well have enjoyed naming his characters for months of the year...

  • 1
    I upvoted this answer in my sleep (honestly). A great guess. I think this could be the answer. Let's wait and see if other interpretations come along.
    – Eddie Kal
    Sep 3, 2020 at 17:32
  • Strindberg references French revolutionaries in the introduction - positively for their strength and force. We may have a Jean Valjean reference here, though more of a parody - this Jean is striving for outer glory, not the inner refinement and strength of Hugo's hero.
    – hallvors
    Mar 22, 2023 at 19:39

Author Jan Myrdal, although mainly a political writer, was very interested in literary fiction and wrote several books and many articles about Strindberg. He referred to Strindberg’s own words (in a letter to Norwegian novelist Jonas Lie) that reading Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s novel What Is to Be Done? constituted a “turning point” in his life as a writer, and argued—for example in a collection of essays called Ord och avsikt (“Words and Intent”, 1986)—that a large part of Strindberg’s authorship was inspired by Chernyshevsky.

More recently, Mariusz Kalinowski, a translator of Strindberg into Polish, has claimed—in an article titled Indras Dotter – född ur en rysk dröm (“Indra’s daughter – born from a Russian dream”) and bearing the subheading Om Strindbergs skuld till Tjernysjevskij (“On Strindberg’s debt to Chernyshevsky”)—that Strindberg’s fascination with What Is to Be Done? led him to name Miss Julie and Jean after two of the main characters in the novel, namely Julie Letellier and Jean Solovtsov. Apparently, Russian scholar Dmitry Mikhailovich Sharypkin put forward similar arguments in his book Русская литература в скандинавских странах (“Russian literature in the Scandinavian countries”, 1975).

As it is commonly believed that Chernyshevsky’s Julie was modelled after the protagonist of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse, some people who buy into the above have fancied that Miss Julie and Jean should ultimately be said to owe their names to Rousseau’s Julie and to himself.

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