Category: Holden Caulfield
By Linda Rosenkrantz
It always strikes me as somewhat curious when a name that has been hidden in plain sight for decades—or longer—attached to a significant literary or real life character will suddenly pop into the zeitgeist and take off. Sometimes the contributing factors are obvious—sharing with a more recent celebrity (looking at you, Ms Johansson) or its discovery by the parents of a starbaby. And sometimes, it just remains a mystery.
Some prominent examples:
Atticus. The Harper Lee novel To Kill a Mockingbird was published in 1960, and the movie, starring Gregory Peck as principled lawyer and role-model dad Atticus Finch, was released two years later. Between then and now, the book has been a mainstay of English class curricula, working its way into the collective consciousness of future baby namers, while Atticus Finch was voted the greatest hero of American film by the AFI.
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.