The meaning of "obscure" in the title of Thomas Hardy's Jude the Oscure has been discussed previously on this site, but what about the name Jude? Earlier versions of the manuscript had the main character's name as Jack, a much more common English name. Jude could be short for Judas, perhaps, and it's more common as a girl's name being short for Judith or Judy.

What is the significance of the name Jude? Why did Hardy choose this name, and does it tie into the characterisation, personality, or arc of the character?

1 Answer 1


Norman Holland’s essay on Jude the Obscure has a paragraph about the significance of the names of the major characters in the novel:

In the novel as a whole, the principal complex of images is that of Jewish, Christian, and pagan religious imagery. […] The names of the characters form an important part of this religious imagery. Jude is, most immediately, the Jewish writer in the New Testament1 who counsels the Christianized Jews to remember the Old Testament laws and dispensations. Also, Jude, in German, means Jew.2 Jude’s character, combining sensuality and aspiration, is characteristic of Old Testament thought: the heavy, almost gross, sexuality of the Song of Solomon and the aspiration and despair of Ecclesiastes. Phillotson’s name echoes “Philistine,” which can be taken in the Biblical sense of the non-Jewish, that is, nonaspiring people who destroyed Samson. (A twice-referred to picture of Samson and Delilah is used to symbolize Jude’s relation with Arabella.3) “Philistine” may also be taken in Arnold’s sense,4 as the conventional middle-class person who oppresses the artist—Sue. Her name, Susanna, suggests the chaste wife of the Apocrypha, “a very delicate woman, and beauteous to behold,”5 which, in turn, hints at her frigidity. One of her middle names, Florence, connotes her pagan qualities and her flower-like fraility. Her last name, Bridehead, and the other of her middle names, Mary, contrast her virginity and chastity with Arabella’s non-Vestal qualities, which, in turn, are symbolized by her last name “Donn.”6

Norman Holland (1954). ‘Jude the Obscure: Hardy’s Symbolic Indictment of Christianity’. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 9:1, pp. 51–52.


  1. Author of the Epistle of Jude, who calls himself “a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James” at the start of the letter.

  2. Jewish or Old Testament imagery is associated with Jude. In addition to what has been mentioned, we may add: he is compared to Israel in Egypt, Samson, Joseph, the dreamer of dreams, and St. Stephen; he quotes from the Old Testament, Job 12:3, Ecclesiastes 6:12; he lives at Beersheba, where Abraham lived; he finds pig-slaughtering illogical “to him as a lover of justice, not to say a Christian”; he recalls Spinoza; he notices “what a poor Christ he made”; he rejects paganism in the form of the Carmen Saeculare. Accompanying these associations of Jude with Judaism is Christian imagery, chiefly associated with Jude’s attempts to educate himself and to enter the church, that is, to achieve true religion. Thus Jude connotes the sensual, aspiring, religious pre-Christian Jew who is trying to arrive at the true knowledge and religion represented by the Messiah; he is the Old Testament Jew, who has, as it were, the potentialities of Christianity within him.

    Holland, p. 54.

  3. They [Jude and Arabella] sat and looked round the room, and at the picture of Samson and Delilah which hung on the wall, and at the circular beer-stains on the table, and at the spittoons underfoot filled with sawdust. The whole aspect of the scene had that depressing effect on Jude which few places can produce like a tap-room on a Sunday evening when the setting sun is slanting in, and no liquor is going, and the unfortunate wayfarer finds himself with no other haven of rest. [Chapter VII]

    He [Jude] struck down the hill northwards and came to an obscure public-house. On entering and sitting down the sight of the picture of Samson and Delilah on the wall caused him to recognize the place as that he had visited with Arabella on that first Sunday evening of their courtship. He called for liquor and drank briskly for an hour or more. [Chapter XI]

  4. Matthew Arnold popularized the use of “Philistine” for a kind of anti-intellectual in his book Culture and Anarchy (1869), “the Philistine being, as is well known, the enemy of the children of light, or servants of the idea”.

  5. The Book of Susanna 1:31.

  6. I’m not sure what Holland is suggesting here; “donn” means “dark” or “brown” (it is cognate with “dun”) and Arabella is described as “dark-eyed” and “the brown girl” in chapter VI, before Jude learns her name.

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