Category: book character names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
If you’re looking for a really unusual name, you might not have to look any further than your nearest library.
What follows is a melange of quirky character names—a mix of word names, surname names, nickname names, invented names–found in modern literature. To keep it from going on into infinity, I’ve limited the list to mainstream twentieth century novels and plays, avoiding for the most part the often bizarre nomenclature of sci-fi and other genre lit.
Thanks, Hanniekitt, for posting this great question in the forums that we’re taking to the blog: What are the names in the book you’re currently reading, and what do you think of them?
You can think of this as the Nameberry Book Club, where we talk not about plot and pacing and characters but about the characters’ names (sounds like our kind of book club, right?).
I just finished reading the new New York Times bestselling novel Orphan Train, by my friend Christina Baker Kline who’s blogged for Nameberry on naming her three sons (and making some mistakes along the way). Her characters’ names include:
Niamh — Vivian‘s original Irish name, changed when she was put on the orphan train because it was too “foreign and difficult.” Couldn’t help feeling that losing her lovely name was one of the biggest tragedy’s of the character’s difficult life!
Would you believe that we recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the publication of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye? To commemorate — a year after Salinger himself passed away at the age of 91 — here’s a look at the names of some of his protagonists:
Holden. Holden Caulfield is one of the twentieth century’s iconic anti-heroes. A surname in origin, Holden derives from a little place in Lancashire, England, meaning “hollow valley.” Salinger may well have chosen it because it sounds like “hold on” – just as Holden wanted to do to preserve the innocence of children, as “the catcher in the rye.” Holden has been gradually rising in use in the US over the past twenty-five years, and is now ranked at Number 316.
Phoebe. Holden’s little sister. From the Greek phoibos “bright, radiant,” very appropriate for the character Holden idealizes. Phoebe is also the name of a Titaness – a daughter of Uranus and Ge. It was not uncommon as a name in antiquity, and stumbled into The New Testament. In past centuries, Phebe was often the preferred form. The best know Phoebe is recent years is Phoebe Buffay, in Friends (followed by Phoebe Halliwell in Charmed). Ironically, it was the UK that felt Phoebe Buffay’s influence greatest, with the name mushrooming in use virtually overnight. In 2009, it was in 23rd place in the UK — but falling. In the US, it has been steadily climbing since the late eighties but is still far from common.
Recently, the London newspaper The Independent published the results of a survey they did asking one hundred British literary figures–including such leading lights as Maeve Binchy, Tracy Chevalier, Cynthia Ozick, David Lodge, AS Byatt and Ken Follett— to name their favorite fictional characters, “the characters who gave them the greatest reading pleasure.”
It was pretty interesting to see how the source books correlated with the choosers’ own works—probably no surprise that Ken Follett found early inspiration from James Bond, and Michael Connelly was influenced by Philip Marlowe. (To check out the full story, including which writers picked which characters, visit the website of The Independent.)
Here are some of the noteworthy character names that they came up with:
Today’s Question of the Week: Is there a name from a book you read when you were younger that made enough of an impression on you that you’ve loved it ever since?
(After all, at least some of those hundreds of new babies being named Atticus must have some connection to that inspirational lawyer in To Kill a Mockingbird and all those recent little Holdens to that cynical adolescent Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye—whether conscious or not.)
So think back—can you trace your long-standing attraction for a particular name to an impression it made on you at an impressionable age?
Anyone out there who actually has used such a name for their child?