My father’s family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip.
Book: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
First Published: 1860-1861 (in serial form)
Sub-Genres: Adventure, 19th Century Literature, Mystery, Victorian Literature
Character Speaking: Pip
Analysis: In Dickens' classic story, identity and class are everything. We never meet Pip's family, save his sister, known only as Mrs. Joe Gargery, and his benefactor switches names and identities throughout the novel.
So, here, in the opening line, we already begin to understand the nature of identity - Pip's great expectations (escaping from his provincial life into a life of luxury afforded to him by a mysterious benefactor, believed to be the rather diabolical Miss Havisham) belittle his own chosen name. Pip is not the name of a great Victorian gentlemen, but uneducated Pip doesn't know that. He, however, does still believe in his own greatness. He "came to be called" Pip in the same way that he came to be a gentleman - it just happened, through little or no fault of his own. He never earned it.
The idea that what you call yourself can determine your fate is a strong one in the novel. Miss Havisham is an elderly woman, not a youthful girl, still garbed in a wedding dress from when she was left at the alter years before, takes a ward in Estella - who has no last name of her own and no personality of her own. Estella's entire being is suffused with Miss Havisham's hatred of men and is left with nothing else in her life. Havisham took the girl's name and her identity.
In fact, the reader never meets in person any of Havisham's family that has her family name (and since she never married, they should). Those scrambling over her fortune aren't her family - perhaps a bit by blood, but certainly not by love or name. Pip's sister, too, lacks her own name - and at the end, she loses her mind, and own identity and awareness of self, after her head is bashed in a robbery. She never recovers, and she simply becomes even more of a burden to her husband. Her brother, who she raised, has little to do with her. Her whole identity is wiped away.
Pip, too, fails to understand his own worth. He believes his own expectations, but does not make them on his own, until he gives up his gentlemenly ways, sees his brother-in-law (the man who rasied him) get re-married, and forges his own path in life - on his own terms and in an identity that he created himself.