The Many Names of Punch

Origins of Punch

The origin of the character we know as Punch is commonly believed to be from the Italian Pulcinella of the Commedia dell'arte early in the 17th century. It is widely agreed that by 1662, he had become Punchinello in England. But what happened before then is open to some speculation.
Below are some of the many names of Punch and his brothers. The strong Italian influence is evident throughout many of the variations. Some are not actual descendents of Pulcinello but are the names of the characters who evolved from him and/or gradually replaced him.

Some of these descendants and rivals have kept much of his spirit alive, while others became popular precisely because they were not as raw, spicy or unrefined as Pulcinello and Punch.
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Punch - England
Punchinello - England
Pulcinella - Italy
Polichinelle - France
Polichenello - France
Panza - Spain
Puncinelle - France?
Policianelo - Italy?
Policinello - Italy?
Polecenella - Italy ?
Pontius & Judas
Petrushka - Russia
Kaspar - Germany
Kasper - Sweden
Kasperl - Germany
Hanswurst - Germany
Karaguez (Black Eye) Turkey
Karaghiozis - Greece
Fasoulis (The Bean) - Greece
Guignol - France
Kasparek - Czechoslovakia
Vitez Laszlo - Hungary
Vasilache - Romania
John Pickle Herring - Anglo-Saxon
Jan Klaassen - Holland
Tchantches - Belgium
Hans Jaggely -Switzerland
Mester Jakel - Denmark
Plumperle (later Kasparek) - Bohemia
Vania Rutyntyn - Ukraina
Pencho - Bulgaria
Karapet - Armenian-Persian
Vindushaka - India
Semar - Indonezia
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A Few Stories About Punch's Origins

Physical Characteristics
His physical characteristics have been traced to an early Roman mime by the name of Maccus, images of whom have been found near Herculaneum and Pompeii. Some say his name is derived from the word paunch because of his protruding chest.

Neapolitan Legend
An old Neapolitan legend claims that the name Pulcinella did not orginate in the Commedia dell'arte but was actually derived from the name of a local hump-back in the village of Acerra who became a popular participant in travelling plays of the time. His name was Puccio d'Aniello .

Little Chicken
Others believe he got the name Pulcinella , which means "little chicken" in Italian, because of his crowing cry, beak nose and chicken breast.

Vasilache came to Romania from Ukraine and Poland. He is similar to Punch with the same big nose, pointy red hat and colorful clothes, although not quite as sophisticated as Punch's.
    His behavior is the same too. He kills Marioara his wife because she doesn't obey him. He doesn't mean to kill her, but he beats her to death and then he mourns her.
    Next he kills the priest who comes to bless Marioara because he doesn't like his attitude, and then he kills the devil and finally he kills Death. This is his big victory, when VASILACHE KILLS DEATH! Ironically in the end, Vasilache himself is killed by the dog.

See "Vasilache & Mariora: The Punch & Judy Tradition in Romania" including photos. (Notes and photos provided by Mariana Syrotiak.)

Pontius and Judas
"Punch is the last survival in England of the old mystery or sacred plays, of which the Bavarians retain in the now noted play at Oberammergau.
    The full name, Punch and Judy, is from the two chief characters, Pontius and Judas. Punch as a Roman, speaks with a foreign accent, and has on his back a hump. This is in consequence of the tradition that after the condemnation, Pontius was haunted by the idea that the evil one sat on his back. In his exile, he was always followed by a black dog. Hence the introduction of Toby, so named from the dog of Tobias in the Bible.
    Judas has now been transformed into a woman, because he was dressed in a flowing robe, after the fashion of the East."
- Boston Globe, circa 1913

The unusual "Pontius & Judas" material above is from a collection of more than 100 newspaper clippings and programmes in the Prof. Charles Mack Scrapbook. It was provided by Donald O'Keeffe whose grandfather, Charles W. McCarty, was a celebrated ventriloquist, magician and Punchman. Known as Prof. Charles Mack, McCarty performed throughout New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania from the 1890s through the 1920s.

Visit The Prof. Charles Mack Scrapbook.


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World Traveler
Whatever the real lineage and true origin of the character we now know as Punch happens to be, for more than 300 years he has managed to easily cross numerous national and linguistic boundaries to become an integral part of the cultural life of many countries.

Back to: Punch's Page