In Mary Norton's Borrowers series, the Borrowers are tiny people who live secretly among humans. There are or were several families of Borrowers living in one large house, with family surnames according to where in the house they lived (Clock, Overmantel, Harpsichord, etc.) Their first names are also "borrowed":

they imagined they had their own names—quite different from human names—but with half an ear you could tell they were borrowed. Even Uncle Hendreary's and Eggletina's. Everything they had was borrowed; they had nothing of their own at all.

The major characters in the series include Pod, Homily, Spiller, Eggletina, and the main protagonist Arrietty. If her name too is "borrowed" from something in the human world, then what? Where does this name come from? Or is she the unique Borrower with an original name (perhaps symbolically explaining her attraction to humans)?

  • I found a Shmoop page that touches on this issue but without really answering it.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 13:12
  • 1
    Arietta (a short aria) is one possibility, although it's a pretty rare word.
    – Peter Shor
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 15:53
  • @PeterShor Oh, nice find! Being a rare word isn't evidence against it - aglet and homily are pretty rare too. I think that was a theme, Borrowers taking their names from human words, but choosing rare ones rather than common things that everyone'd know were just ordinary words.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 15:54
  • 1
    Possibly a diminutive of Harriet said with a cockney accent.
    – Mary
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 16:59

1 Answer 1


Arrietty is most likely a mis-hearing of Harriet, or possibly a human dropping the "H" and adding an "y" when speaking informally. Homily would probably hear human speech through floorboards or walls, because she didn't go out borrowing, so is more likely to hear a muffled version of names and words.

(Another possibility is Arrietty's mother Homily adding the "y" to echo her own name, but this isn't mentioned in the books so is pure speculation.)

Arrietty Origin and Meaning on Nameberry.com.

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