Chicken Little, Chicken-Licken, Henny-Penny, Hen Pen and other characters

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Tue Dec 28 17:02:28 UTC 2010

Ronald Butters wrote
>> I am sorry to say that I stand corrected. This rarely happens to me, as
>> you know. Are ytrpou sure it is not "Chicken Lichen"?

>Robin Hamilton wrote
> Pretty sure, though it's a time since I chased this, and I no longer have my
> notes.  If I remember correctly, the story begins in mid-nineteenth century
> England, and migrates to America within a few years, where it is at first
> the proper "Licken", rhyming with "Chicken".  Then one variant introduces
> the Chicken Little version, and this gains a life of its own.
> The original, if I remember correctly, emerges from the literate Victorian
> fairy story tradition, rather than folk construction, so this should be
> fairly easy to confirm.

I investigated the character names in early versions of the “Chicken
Little” tale in March 2010. But the results were incomplete, and I did
not post at that time. Some early versions omit the character of
Chicken Little or Chicken Licken entirely. Instead, the primary
character is Henny-Penny.

An important early edition by John Greene Chandler is in the Google
Books archive but it is in “No Preview” mode, and thus it is not
viewable. Indirect evidence about the character names is given below
based on a web posting by John Cech, the Director of the Center for
Children's Literature and Culture at the University of Florida.

In my search, the character name Chicken Little appears in print
before Chicken Licken. However, the existing textual databases are
incomplete and printed texts imperfectly represent oral traditions.

Fred Shapiro asked about "the antiquity of the story called ‘Chicken
Little' or 'Chicken-licken' or 'Henny-Penny' and featuring the line
'the sky is falling' or something similar to that?" on the ADS list in
2005. Benjamin Zimmer, John Baker and others replied. Here is a link
to an online collection of tales that was mentioned:

Here are selected citations in chronological order. The results are
still incomplete, but this might be useful to others.

John Cech, a Children's Literature specialist a U. of Florida, says a
printer from Roxbury, Massachusetts named John Greene Chandler created
an early American edition of The Remarkable Story of Chicken Little.
"He probably distributed his version of this well-known folk fable at
a fair that was being held at Quincy Hall in Boston to raise the money
necessary to finish the Bunker Hill Monument …"

Cech gives a plot synopsis and the list of characters: "the chicken
with the fatally over-active imagination and her equally gullible
friends, Hen Pen, Duck Luck, Goose Loose, Turk Lurk and Drake who
become the sly Fox Lox's dinner."

Google Books contains a document titled "Remarkable story of Chicken
Little" by John Greene Chandler dated 1840 but it cannot be examined
because there is "No preview available". Editions in 1842, 1843, and
1844 are also in "no preview" mode.

In January of 1844 the character Chicken Little is invoked to
represent cowardice.

Citation: 1844 January, Ladies' National Magazine, Kate Melburne by
Frances S. Osgood, Page 24, C. J. Peterson. (Google Books full view)

Reader, I am a coward - a coward in almost every sense of the word - I
am afraid of horses cows, cats and dogs - of spiders, grass hoppers,
wasps and devil's darning needles … I remind myself constantly of the
immortal Chicken Little who disturbed a whole neighborhood by her
foolish alarm.

In July of 1844 an orator in Boston refers to Chicken Little and a falling sky.

Citation: 1844 July 4, Oration Delivered in Boston: The Morals of
Freedom by Peleg W. Chandler, Page 29, John H. Eastburn, City Printer,
Boston.  (Google Books full view)

To hear their harangues on the eve of an election, one would suppose
that the fable of Chicken Little was about to become a truth, and that
the sky was actually falling; and so from the statements in party
newspapers we often seem to be on the eve of a revolution; but the
great mass of the people in reality take very little interest in the

A version of the tale was collected by Robert Chambers and published
in 1847. This version does not mention Chicken Little or Chicken
Licken. The main character is henny-penny, and a pea falls on her
head. Robert Chambers also published earlier collections of rhymes,
songs, ballads, poems, etcetera, but this is the first volume that I
found containing the story of henny-penny.

The character names are henny-penny, cocky-locky, ducky-daddles,
goosie-poosie, and tod. The story ends when tod and "his young anes
ate them a' up, and they never got to tell the king the lifts were

Citation: 1847, Select writings of Robert Chambers 3rd Edition, The
Hen and Her Fellow Travellers, Page 211, Wiiliam and Robert Chambers,
Edinburgh and London. (Google Books full view)

A hen picking at a pease-stack, a pea fell on her head, and she
thought the lifts were faun. And she thought she would go and tell the
king about it. And she gaed, and gaed, and gaed; and she met a cock.
And he said, 'Where are ye gaun the day, henny-penny?' And she says,
'I'm gaun to tell the king the lifts are faun.' And he says, 'I ll
gang wi' ye, henny-penny And they gaed and they gaed, and they gaed;
and they met a duck. And the duck says, 'Where are ye gaun the day,
cocky-locky, henny-penny?'

The name Chicken-licken is used in 1849 in a book of tales collected
in England. The character names are: Chicken-licken, Hen-len,
Cock-lock, Duck-luck, Drake-lake, Goose-loose, Gander-lander,
Turkey-lurkey and Fox-lox.

Citation: 1849, Popular Rhymes and Nursery Tales by James Orchard
Halliwell, The Story of Chicken Licken, Page 29, John Russell Smith,

As Chicken-licken went one day to the wood, an acorn fell upon her
poor bald pate, and she thought the sky had fallen.

Wikipedia claims that the "basic motif and many of the elements of the
tale can also be found within the Daddabha Jataka (J 322). The Jatakas
comprise a large body of folklore dating from around Gautama Buddha's
time (6th century BC) to the third century AD. However, this ancient
version features a hare as the central character rather than a chicken

The American Dialect Society -

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