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In the Tim Burton musical opera, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), the titular character Sweeney Todd starts as Benjamin Barker. Barker was falsely imprisoned for 15 years by a man who coveted his wife. When Barker escaped and returns to London, he takes the name of Todd, as he needs a new name to hide while his dirty work is done.

Obviously this is a retcon, retroactively working from the characters name being required. But how did the name come about? Is there a canon explanation for the odd name of Sweeney Todd, in universe? How did Barker, the character, decide on Todd?

  • In the original version his name was Sweeney Todd, there was no back-story, so they just kept the original name with addition of Benjamin Barker's story. – Ankit Sharma Jul 8 '16 at 7:21
  • I don't understand the question... the Benjamin Barker to Sweeney Todd name change was part of the musical... so they included it in the film version. If you want to hide your identity, you change your name... You could just as well ask why his name was originally Benjamin Barker rather than... Geoffry George. – Catija Jul 8 '16 at 19:02
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    How did he, in universe, choose such an odd name as Sweeney, and Todd, neither typically common English names. At random? He heard someone called that? Was it in reference to anything, etc. It's obvious that he's hiding his real name. – cde Jul 8 '16 at 19:22
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An explanation given in the notes section of the book*:

How it was that he came by the name of Sweeney . . . there to look for it: the name is indeed an unusual one. The surname Todd or 'tod' [sic], a northern word of unknown origin from Middle English, means, literally, 'fox'; metaphorically it was used to refer to 'a person likened to a fox; a crafty person' (OED). Sweeney or 'sweeny' [sic], although referring literally to atrophy in the shoulder-muscles of a horse, was also more commonly and figuratively used to connote 'the stiffness of "pride" or self-conceit' (OED). Alternatively, Sweeney's name may have recalled for some readers the Irish name and figure of the mad king 'Sweeney' of the Buile Suibhne of Celtic legend. Louis James, in his Fiction for the Working Man (Oxford, 1963), first noted with reference to the story's original title that an interesting process of association of ideas is suggested by the fact that the London Directories record an "S. Todd, pearl-stringer", who lived at Clerkenwell at this time' (191). Finally, the name may simply be an unconsciously reversed recollection and slightly jumbled reformulation, in its assonance, of the character of 'Poll Sweedlepipe' in Dickens's Martin Chuzzlewit (see Introduction, xvii). Sweedlepipe, whose services as 'an easy shaver ... and a fashionable hairdresser, also' were advertised to his clients in his shop-window at Kingsgate Street, High Holborn, would still have been fresh in the public's imagination.

(*Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, US & Canada Edition)

  • We can also hint that "Tod" means death in German, which would parallel the dark parts of his personality rising as he changes name – MicroMachine Feb 13 '18 at 21:41
  • Is this not more likely an answer as to why the author chose the name Sweeney Todd, as opposed to why Benjamin Barker (in-universe) would pick that name? Benjamin/Sweeney would not attribute himself with "the stiffness of "pride" or self-conceit" – Flater Feb 15 '18 at 16:48

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