Category: children’s book names
Literature has been a source of inspiration for many parents over the years. Thousands of babies have been named after favorite characters, authors, and literary places. This has led to many well-named, book-loving children running around. Chances are that these children will eventually read the book their name was inspired by: for those whose names were inspired by children’s books, that day will come even sooner.
There are hundreds of well-named characters in children’s literature, and many books that have been loved for generations have proper names right in the title. Here are some prime examples.
One prevalent thread in children’s literature is main characters with short, sweet, nicknames ending in the -ie sound. Examples include Elsie (from Elsie Dinsmore), Pippi (from Pippi Longstocking), Winnie (from Winnie the Pooh, of course), Harry (from the Harry Potter series), and Charlie (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). These names would easily fit right in with currently popular names. Other names in this vein include Betsy (from Betsy–Tacy), Caddie (from Caddie Woodlawn), Julie (from Julie of the Wolves), Nancy (from Fancy Nancy and the Nancy Drew mysteries), and Lilly (Lilly‘s Purple Plastic Purse).
On the other hand, longer names are found in children’s books as well. Everyone knows of Pollyanna, Stellaluna (which was used as Stella Luna by actress Ellen Pompeo), Matilda, and Angelina Ballerina. Similar long names include Coraline (from the book of the same singular name), Esperanza (from Esperanza Rising), and Ramona (from the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary). The boys’ side brings long monikers like Alexander (from Alexander and the Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day), Ferdinand (from The Story of Ferdinand), and Sylvester (from Sylvester and the Magic Pebble).
Children’s literature also brings a bevy of traditional names. Many classic children’s books were written long ago, so this would be expected, but more recent books utilize traditional names as well. Names for girls in this category include Alice (from Alice‘s Adventures in Wonderland), Amelia (from Amelia Bedelia), Charlotte (from Charlotte‘s Web), and Madeline. These names are timeless and will always fit in. Other girl names in this category include Catherine (from Catherine, Called Birdy), Ella (from Ella Enchanted), Olivia (from the Olivia series), Rebecca (from Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm), and Sarah (from Sarah, Plain and Tall). These names are always sure to be pronounced and spelled properly!
Classic names on the boys’ side are all very handsome choices: Edward (from The Miraculous Journey of Edward Toulane), George (from Curious George), James (from James and the Giant Peach), and Peter (from Peter Pan). Any boy would be lucky to receive such a strong name.
Many names from children’s lit are due for a revival. These may not be currently super popular, but they still have rich histories and are wonderful names. Examples for girls are Anne (from Anne of Green Gables), Eloise, Harriet (from Harriet the Spy), Heidi, and Martha (from George and Martha). Girls with these names would have a beautiful and solid first name, and yet would would likely be the only one in their class.
There are a similar number of boy names in this category, possibly still considered fusty and old-fashioned by some, but the right little boy could make them oh-so-handsome. Amos (from A Sick Day for Amos McGee), Hugo (from The Invention of Hugo Cabret), Ivan (from The One and Only Ivan), and Lyle (from Lyle, Lyle Crocodile) would all fit in easily with trendy names. Names in this category that are due for a dusting-off include Clifford (from Clifford the Big Red Dog), Harold (from Harold and the Purple Crayon), Richard (from the Richard Scarry books), and Stuart (from Stuart Little).
Finally, we have names that are more trendy and modern. Our parents or grandparents likely wouldn’t have used these names, but the current “anything goes” mantra of the baby-naming world right now makes them usable. These include Bentley (from Snowflake Bentley), Caspian (from Prince Caspian), and Shiloh (from the Shiloh trilogy). One can also look to last names of characters; if Tom and Huckleberry aren’t your style, Sawyer and Finn might be.
By Chris Raschka
The power we wield when we name a child is terrible. And unavoidable. Oh, the sleepless nights! What will this name confer on our beloved baby? Only good things, we fervently hope. This name is exciting, but is it too exciting? This one is solid, but is it boring? “How about, Joseph?” you say. “No,” says your wife, “I knew a terrible Joseph!”
Happily, I suffered none of this angst when I named the children in the book my friend Vladimir Radunsky and I have put together called Alphabetabum. It was this way. I was in Rome visiting Vladimir there and just about to walk out for a happy afternoon of sight-seeing when Vladimir began to lay out on his work table one marvelous, small, antique photographic child’s portrait after another. He grabbed my arm, and said, “Look at these masterpieces! Every one holds the story of a precious forgotten soul inside of it! We must do something with them.”
They snap, crackle, and pop—which is one reason why alliterative names are so widely used for the characters in children’s stories—from nursery rhymes like ‘Wee Willie Winkie’ to picture books like Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel to Young Adult book characters like Harry Potter‘s Luna Lovegood.
Here, the distinguished name scholars Don and Alleen Nilsen present some of the many examples of alliteration, consonance, rhyming and other wordplay they have found in the names of kid-lit characters.
We were just pondering The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus, The Tale of Benjamin Bunny by Beatrix Potter, Peter Pan by James Barrie, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl, and Maniac McGee by Jerry Spinelli and we were wondering how often authors repeat the sounds of their vowels and consonants in their character names.
We soon thought about Lewis Carroll’s Pig and Pepper, his Frog and the Footman, and his Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and this led our thoughts to The White Knight and Humpty Dumpty two more characters from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Then we thought of a set of characters in Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth that includes The Duke of Definition, the Minister of Meaning, the Earl of Essence, and the Count of Connotation.
The protagonist in Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi is Piscine Patel. His name is shortened to Pi Patel, and he has to explain to people that pi is 3.14 as he draws a large circle and slices it in two with a diameter to evoke a basic lesson of geometry.
In Sherman Alexie’s The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven, there is a John–John. In Cynthia Kadohata’s Weedflower there is a Takao who goes by the nickname of “Tak-Tak.” In Robert Cormier’s After the First Death there is a General named Mark Marchand, and in his The Chocolate War, there is Larry LaSalle who changes his name to “Lieutenant Laurence LaSalle” when he becomes famous. In Polly Horvath’s The Canning Season, there is a character named Aunt Pen Pen, and one named Ratchet Ratchet Clark.
In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, the only girl in the Salamander Army is named Petra Arkanian, but she is called Baby Butt and Petra the Poet by her friends and in the Lemony Snicket books, two of the guardians of the Baudelaire children are named Montgomery Montgomery, and Dewey Denouement.
We are honored to have as today’s guest bloggers Don and Alleen Nilsen, recent co-chairmen of the prestigious American Name Society, writing about the clever use of literary allusions in the thirteen Lemony Snicket books.
As long-distance grandparents, we are constantly on the lookout for books that we can enjoy listening to on CDs while we commute to work and can then forward to our children to enjoy with their children while they make their own commutes. Daniel Handler’s thirteen Lemony Snicket books have been the all-time winners in this category, and one of the reasons is Handler’s skill in recycling the names of literary or pop culture figures to make playful allusions.
Humor scholars use the term Wabbit literacy (from “that wascally wabbit” in the Bugs Bunny cartoons) to describe the flip-flop process in which children become acquainted with the names of classical figures through pop culture allusions prior to meeting the same names in “the original.” The Lemony Snicket books are a superb illustration of this process as children meet Dr. Georgina Orwell, an eye doctor who hangs an ever-watchful eye over her door; Uncle Monty, who as a herpetologist cares for a huge python; a villainous couple named Esmé and Jerome Squalor who live at 667 Dark Avenue, c.f. J. D. Salinger‘s short story “To Esmé with Love and Squalor,” and Mr. Poe, who has a son named Edgar and is the appointed guardian of the children’s inheritance which is placed in the Mulctuary Money Management Bank.