Lily James Isn't 'Rebecca' in Netflix's New Film, So What Is Her Name?

The Netflix adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's gothic 1938 novel Rebecca follows Mrs. de Winter (portrayed by Lily James), as she becomes haunted by the memory of her husband's first wife, who's died. Mrs. de Winter narrates the novel, and if you're unfamiliar with the story, you may not know that the dead wife, the first Mrs. de Winter, is actually the titular Rebecca.

So, if Lily James' character is not Rebecca, then what is her first name?

Throughout the film, James' character is referred to as Mrs. de Winter after she marries the wealthy and handsome Maxim (played by Armie Hammer). We never learn her first name—and it's the same situation in the novel, her name's never revealed.

While he's courting his eventual second wife, Maxim mentions her "lovely and unusual name" early in the novel, but he fails to ever speak it. The character also signs her own name as "Mrs. M. de Winter," using Maxim's initial.

Before she marries Maxim, she is the traveling companion to another character, an older woman, but she isn't referred to as a different name.

Lily James Rebecca
Lily James as Mrs. de Winter in Netflix's "Rebecca." Kerry Brown / Netflix

She is announced as "Caroline de Winter," an ancestor of the de Winter family, at one point in the novel, when she descends the staircase for the ball celebrating her marriage. But she's actually just dressed as Caroline, which is why she's introduced that way.

So, the second Mrs. de Winter narrates the entire suspenseful novel, but we never know what her first name is. Why?

Lily James Kristin Scott Thomas Rebecca
Lily James as Mrs. de Winter, Kristin Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers in Netflix's "Rebecca." Kerry Brown / Netflix

Perhaps it's because she's focused on making a name for herself. Throughout the film and novel, she's haunted by Rebecca's presence throughout the estate of Manderley. Mrs. Danvers (Manderley's housekeeper, played icily by Kristin Scott Thomas) also makes sure the narrator feels powerless and unimportant.

In 2013, the literary blog The Worm Hole noted that identity is so critical in the novel, and "the biggest sign of it is du Maurier's decision to never name her heroine. If she had a name for her then one would believe she would've provided it, perhaps at the end of the book where the character finally comes into her own."

The blog adds: "But du Maurier says nothing, and it makes sense that it was a case of choice rather than a writer having no inspiration before she realized it made for an interesting style."

Despite all the analysis surrounding Mrs. de Winter's name, du Maurier had a reason for not naming the narrator, after all. In the author's note of the back of the HarperCollins edition of Rebecca, du Maurier revealed in the 1980s that she received letters "from all over the world" regarding why she never gave "the heroine a Christian name."

The answer, du Maurier wrote, is "simple." "I could not think of one, and it became a challenge in technique, the easier because I was writing in the first person."

Rebecca is now available to stream on Netflix.