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When he started up, the Godfather Break of Day was peeping at its namesake. He rose, took his shoes in his hand, turned the key in the door with great caution, and crept downstairs.

(Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, Chapter 11)

What is Godfather? What is its namesake?

Well, I have done my research, as suggested by Andrew Leech. In the above context namesake is the hotel Break of Day itself.

But still, I have no clue what the word godfather represents. Its dictionary meaning is

a man who is influential or pioneering in a movement or organization.

  • ‘Irving Kristol, sometimes called the godfather of neoconservatism, calls it not a movement but a persuasion.’ (Lexico)
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  • Anjan, please first use a dictionary. What did you find when you looked up "godfather"? What did you find when you looked up "namesake"? Do you you need to translate those words into another language (if English is not your first language) so you can look them up? They may be metaphorical. Can you transfer the meaning to something poetic or figurative? You must do your own research and then show what you have done.
    – Andrew Leach
    Mar 29 at 9:39
  • You need to use your imagination. What can peep (look) at someone or something very early in the morning?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 29 at 11:29
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    The Break of Day is an inn of some sort. The phrase "Break of day" = dawn. "The Godfather Break of Day was peeping at its namesake." = "Dawn was looking at the inn." Dawn is the original object after which the inn was named. "Godfather" is used figuratively to indicate "the originator of" something.
    – Greybeard
    Mar 29 at 11:47
  • Not to mention that children were often named after one of their godparents (in the primary sense of the word, a sponsor at an infant's baptism). Mar 29 at 12:09
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    Upvote because, even for Dickens, that really takes some parsing. The capitalization of "Godfather" makes sense, I guess, with the personification, but in a conceit that sets it against a place name it gets hella confusing. Meanwhile @Greybeard IMO that deserves promotion to an answer. Mar 29 at 14:14

1 Answer 1

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(i) We learn in Chapter 11 of Little Dorrit that Break of Day is an inn of some sort.

(ii) The phrase "Break of day" = dawn.

(iii) A godfather is defined by the OED as

1.a. A male sponsor considered in relation to his godchild; a male godparent.According to the practice of the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and some other churches, certain persons (commonly two at least, a man and woman) assist at the administration of baptism, make profession of the Christian faith on behalf of the person baptized, and guarantee his or her religious education.

In extended meaning, and indicative of a man who gives guidance and direction to something, we have

2.c. Chiefly with the and of. A man who founds or is otherwise influential in a (specified) organization, movement, or field.

1973 Melody Maker 24 Feb. 57/4 Another name's been added, just to keep things modern. ‘James Brown—The Godfather Of Soul.’

2012 Jrnl. Tribune (Biddeford, Maine) 29 Mar. a5/2 He [sc. Larry Stevenson] basically was the godfather of skate culture. Before him, skateboards were toys.

[It is worth noting that, despite the OED, in this meaning, there is a nuance: “The godfather of X” tends to indicate not someone who originates a organization, movement, or field - that would be “the father of” - but more someone whose influence is significant in raising popular interest. However, this distinction is rarely made.]

Thus we have:

"The Godfather Break of Day was peeping at its namesake." = "Dawn was looking at the inn."

Dawn is the original object after which the inn was named. Dawn is the thing that gave the inn its identity.

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  • Specifically (given the setting), The Break of Day was a cabaret. The Break of Day is also mentioned in this journal dated 1854: [...] cabaret, called the Le Point du Jour (The Break of Day) [...]. But you can refer to it as an inexpensive inn or restaurant.
    – Justin
    Mar 29 at 16:04

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