What is the significance of the title The Importance of Being Earnest?

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It is evident as soon as Jack Worthing admits he has an alter ego named Ernest that the title of The Importance of Being Earnest is a pun. Both Gwendolen and Cecily are determined to marry a man named Ernest, and this ambition is a thoroughly frivolous one, in sharp contrast to the quintessentially Victorian quality of earnestness.

George Bernard Shaw objected that the pun in the title was rather labored and did not meet Wilde's usual high standards of wit. However, there may be a hidden meaning in it that would certainly have appealed to Wilde's anarchic sense of humor. In 1892, three years before Wilde's play opened, the poet John Gambril Nicholson published a book of homoerotic lyrics titled Love in Earnest. One of the poems, "Of Boys' Names," contained the lines,

Though Frank may ring like silver bell,
And Cecil softer music claim,
They cannot work the miracle,
'Tis Ernest sets my heart a-flame.

Nicholson's poems, perhaps combined with the recently coined German word "Urning," meaning...

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