The formal name of the narrator and main protagonist of Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird is Jean Louis Finch. Six years of age when the fictional memoir of growing up in the American South during the 1930s takes place, Jean Louis is something of a “tomboy,” an outdated description once used to describe girls who liked to participate in activities more often associated with boys, such as climbing trees, playing sports and fighting, as well as dressing in clothes more often associated with boys, like pants. It is because of these qualities that Jean Louis is nicknamed “Scout.”
Examples of Scout’s “tomboy-ish” qualities are numerous throughout To Kill a Mockingbird. She is, after all, the story’s narrator and main figure, and her exchanges with older brother Jem and friend Dill are replete with instances of the young girl participating in activities and responding to confrontations in a manner more often typified by boys. An early description of her cousin Francis is a case in point. Describing in the novel’s opening passages members of her immediate and extended families, Scout turns her attention to Francis, her Aunt Alexandra’s grandson (Alexandra being Scout’s father Atticus’s sister):
We got to Finch’s Landing. I asked Francis what he got for Christmas. “Just what I asked for,” he said. Francis had requested a pair of knee-pants, a red leather booksack, five shirts and an untied bow tie. “That’s nice,” I lied. “Jem and me got air rifles, and Jem got a chemistry set –“
Scout’s mention of having asked for an air rifle for Christmas is telling, given the traditional perception of gender throughout much of history, as is her quickness to physically respond to provocations by raising her fists in preparation for a fight. It is these very qualities that are the source of tension between Scout and Aunt Alexandra, but it is Scout’s nature and she is, after all, the story’s voice.
Scout, or Jean Louise Finch, is the character who represents as a girl the author herself, Harper Lee. Having lost her mother at an early age, and living, thus, in a male household, perhaps the feminine name of Jean Louise was perceived as too prissy for such a hoyden as the sister of Jem. Possessive of a curious nature and fiercely loyal to her father, perhaps he gave her the moniker of Scout.
It is interesting that Aunt Alexandra is the presence who issues the ordinance that Scout must wear dresses, act ladylike, and re-assume her birth name. For, she is the member of the Finch family who holds stock in the family background and its prestige. In Chapter 13, Aunt Alexandra advances upon Scout,
"We decided that it would be best for you to have some feminine influence. It won't be many years, Jean Louise, before you become interested in clothes and boys--"
After this, Jean Louise wears the habiliments of a dainty girl when she attends the Missionary Tea that Aunt Alexandra hosts at the Finches home.