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How Did Orwell’s 1984 Get Its Name?

1984 manuscript

The Manuscript for 1984

Many of the posts I write result from questions library patrons ask while I am at work. A couple of months ago someone asked how George Orwell’s greatest (and last) novel 1984, or Nineteen Eighty Four got it’s name.

I assumed that it was because the date held some significance for the author, or was chosen because it was a specific point in the future.

The Modern Scholar lectures on The World of George Orwell give this explanation for the book that was originally going to be called The Last Man In Europe.

The majority of the work on the book was done in the year 1948. On behalf of a more concise, evocative title, Orwell and his publisher inverted the last two numbers of that year, changing the title to 1984.

The major consideration was that if the title were to be a date, the date be in the future. Apparently how far or near in the future wasn’t of much concern.

If you are looking for an accessible introduction to George Orwell and his writing I recommend the Modern Scholar lectures.

If you are interested in reading his essays, correspondence, and journalism I recommend:

  • An Age Like This: 1920-1940
  • My Country, Right Or Left: 1940-1943
  • As I Please: 1943-1945
  • In Front of Your Nose: 1945-1950



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Daisy May 19, 2011, 12:22 pm

    I graduated from college in 1984. We tore apart a copy of 1984 and each student handed a page to the college president as we received our diplomas.

    Have you read Jennifer Government? It’s a futuristic world entirely opposite of the one in 1984. Fascinating.

    • Josh Hanagarne May 20, 2011, 12:09 pm

      What was the purpose of that?

      I have read JG. Loved it.

  • Steve M May 20, 2011, 8:14 pm

    Some folks think Orwell might have been influenced by G.K. Chesterton’s futurist fantasy, The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which was also set in the year 1984 (though written nearly half a century before Orwell’s work). By the way, Josh, don’t know if you’ve ever read any Chesterton – if you haven’t, you might try The Man Who Was Thursday or the novel, Manalive sometime.

  • DSM May 20, 2012, 6:45 pm

    @Steve M, As I read 1984 I thought GK Chesterton’s “The Man Who Was Thursday”. Also note that Chesterton’s chacter Syme is also one of Orwell’s chacter names in 1984. Winston Smith’s comrade at the Ministry of Truth (MiniTru)