A gentleman named Jack Worthing (who goes by Ernest while in town, presumably to ensure his city exploits don't reach country ears) decides to come clean about his name games to the woman he wants to marry. The catch? She insists she could only ever marry a man named Ernest. Meanwhile, Jack's friend Algernon decides to utilize Jack's alter ego to go visit Jack's ward, the beautiful young Cecily. Smitten, he proposes, only to discover that Cecily too is obsessed with marrying a man named Ernest. Complications, discoveries, quarrels and artful plot devices ensue, leading up to the moment that Jack, who was found abandoned in a handbag at Victoria Station, discovers that he is actually the son of a gentleman named Ernest, and therefore has been inadvertently earnest all along.