Jack Vinney or Finney is one of characters who define the Cotswold group of Quack Doctor plays. He is normally the Doctor's assistant, often an insubordinate assistant, but sometimes is the doctor himself. He is typically called on informally as, for instance, 'Jack Finney', to which he instantly objects, insisting on his formal name:
My name's not Jack Finney
My name is Mr Finney, a man of great fame
His name comes in several forms and spellings. Informal versions of his name include: Jack Finney, Jack Finny, John Finney, John Finny, John Fenn, Moll Finney, Moll Finny, Maul Finney, Jack Vinney, Jack Viney, Jack Vinny, Philip Vincent, and Tom Pinny. Formal versions include: Mr Finney, Mr Finny, Mr John Finney, Mr John Finney Esquire, Mr Fenn, Mrs Finny, Doctor Jack Finney, Doctor John Finney, Mr Vinney, Mr John Vinny, Doctor Vinney, Dr Vinney, and Master Tom Pinny. These can be grouped according to the initial letter of the surname - primarily 'F' and 'V'. 'P' only occurs in one play in this data set.
Given his role in defining this sub-group of plays, it is no surprise that this character is localised in the Cotswolds and adjacent areas . However, there is an interesting and as yet unexplained division between 'Finney' forms in the north and 'Vinney' forms in the south of the distribution
The dates of the various scripts are insufficiently reliable or precise to be help ascertain which version of the name came first. 'Vinney' is probably a dialect pronunciation of 'Finney'. 'Vinney' does not appear in census returns whereas 'Finney' does (National Trust, no date) . It therefore seems likely that 'Finney' came first.
One factor in the distribution of 'Jack Vinney' could be the Mid-Berkshire text published by Lowsley (1888) in his Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases. This script is purposefully given in broad Berkshire dialect, in which initial 'F's become 'V's, so that 'fight' becomes 'vight', 'father' becomes 'veyther', and 'Jack Finney' becomes 'Jack Vinney'. Presumably it was collected thus, rather than modified from standard English. According the comprehensive list of Berkshire plays compiled by Bee and Roud (1991), it is the oldest publication containing a script from the county. I could therefore have influenced or been textual source for later performances.
The discreet distributions for the two main variant names were initially observed just using data in the Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts (Millington, 1994-206). Data was then added from the James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue (Bishop, 2003-2008), which confirmed the observation.
- The outlier in the south west is only identified as 'North Somerset' and has been generically placed on the map. It is quite probable that it should really placed nearer to the county border and therefore closer to the main distribution.
- According to National Trust Names, the surnames 'Finney' and 'Fenny' were mainly concentrated in the 19th century in an area centered on Staffordshire and eastern Cheshire.
S.Roud & M.Bee
Berkshire Mumming Plays: A Geographical Index and Guide to Sources
London, Folklore Society, 1991, ISBN 0-871903-25-4
The James Madison Carpenter Collection Online Catalogue
Sheffield: rhiOnline Publications, 2003-2008
Internet URL: http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/carpenter/index.html, accessed 1st Sep.2009
Major B. Lowsley
A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases
English Dialect Society,
1888, Vol.56, pp.17-22
Historical Database of Folk Play Scripts
Internet URL: http://www.folkplay.info/Texts.htm, 1999-2006, accessed 1st Sep.2009
National Trust Names
National Trust Names
Internet URL: http://www.nationaltrustnames.org.uk/, [no date], accessed 2nd Sep.2009