How does Oliver Twist get his name?

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Mr. Bumble, the beadle, names the poor, wretched children of the workhouse in alphabetical order. As 'T' is the next available letter in the alphabet when Oliver is born, Bumble comes up with the name Oliver Twist. Dickens, like Bumble, was remarkably skillful at devising unusual, but unforgettable names––Chuzzlewit, Pecksniff, and Pumblechook, to name but three. And Oliver Twist is another memorable addition.

In writing Oliver Twist Dickens immersed himself in the vigorous slang of London's criminal fraternity, the kind of language spoken by Bill Sikes, Nancy, The Artful Dodger and the rest of Fagin's gang. In the argot of the streets "twisted" meant "hanged," as in execution by hanging. If Oliver had been allowed to continue in his life of crime, he might well have ended up on the end of a rope like Fagin, as children could still legally be executed in England at the time. Though in practice, most such death sentences were commuted to life imprisonment, or in the case of The Artful Dodger, transportation to a life of hard labor in Australia.

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Oliver Twist is given his name by Mr Bumble, the prosaic beadle at the workhouse according to an alphabetical system. What it emphasises is the insignificance of Oliver within a long list of other insignificant (notably nameless in the novel!) workhouse boys.

Don't forget too that the concept of a "Twist" might well be seen to represent the many twists and turns of the plot of Dickens' novel: one often cited as an example of Dickens' preference for a cliffhanger at the end of every chapter!

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Oliver Twist was named according to an alphabetical system used to name orphans but the name is actually a play on words. Oliver Twist is, in fact, "all of a twist". Although born in a poorhouse, he really has an aristocratic background that is revealed at the end of the novel. But despite all the hardships he faces, he remains very kind-hearted, an unusual "twist" on the hard luck stories of many children who came out of the poorhouse system.

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