Yankee Doodle, Humpty Dumpty, Little Miss Muffet, Georgie Porgie and Old Mother Hubbard are characters from popular nursery rhymes. Other well-known characters include Mother Goose, Wee Willy Winkie, Little Bo Peep, Old MacDonald and Old King Cole.
Many common names, such as Mary and Jack, are used repeatedly in nursery rhymes. For example, Jack appears in "Jack and Jill," "Jack Be Nimble" and "Jack Sprat," while Mary appears in "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" and "Lazy Mary." Peter is the main character in both "Peter Piper" and "Peter, Peter, Pumpkin Eater." Rather than using exact names, nursery rhymes often identify the main characters with a descriptive noun phrase, such as "little boy blue," "the muffin man," "three blind mice" and "the itsy bitsy spider."
In some cases, the names of characters in nursery rhymes are inspired by historical figures, while other rhymes deliberately use generic names to hide political criticisms embedded in the lyrics. For instance, Humpty Dumpty is the name of a canon that was destroyed during a 17th-century civil war in England when the wall it was stationed on collapsed. According to legend, "Georgie Porgie" refers to George Villiers, an English duke known for his sexual liaisons and distasteful behavior. "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary" criticizes the brutal reign of Queen Mary, or "Bloody Mary," who used torture and mass execution to achieve religious conformity.