Category: literary boys’ names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
We recently served up a dozen female literary names—some of the more unusual and interesting appellations for girls that have never gained widespread popularity the way Jane Austen’s Emma and GWTW’s Scarlett O’Hara have.
We promised to do the same for boys, and here they are—the creatively conceived names of twelve literary lad characters from a variety of novels and plays–names that move beyond the recently discovered Atticus and Holden.
Caspian is a character in C.S. Lewis’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. As a young boy in Prince Caspian, he had to fight for his throne against his usurping uncle to become king of Narnia, and as a youth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader he led a daring expedition to the end of the world. In The Silver Chair, we meet him as a very old man, having reigned wisely and well, but also suffering personal tragedy. Because of his great sea voyage, he is known as Caspian the Seafarer. Perhaps because of this connection, Lewis named his character after the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water; Caspian is a romantic geographic name which sounds rather like Casper with a Latin -ian ending. Actress Neve Campbell used it for her son.
Dexter Morgan is the protagonist of the Dexter series of psychological thrillers by Jeff Lindsay. Dexter works for the police as a forensic blood spatter analyst, but is a serial killer in his spare time–though only killing murderers, rapists, and other criminals. Dexter is an English occupational surname for someone who dyed cloth, literally “dyer” in Anglo-Saxon. The word was originally feminine, but Dexter has overwhelmingly been used as a male name. Dexter also happens to coincide with the Latin for “right handed,” with connotations of being skilful. The books have inspired a popular television series, with Michael C. Hall in the title role, and since Dexter began airing in 2006, the name (which was about to slip off the Top 1000) has gone steadily up in popularity in the US; it is currently #362. It may seem strange that a serial killer could save the name, but Dexter Morgan is an oddly sympathetic murderer and (perhaps slightly worryingly) female viewers find the character very attractive. Dexter fits in the surnames-for-boys trend, and has a cool X sound in it.
Dorian Gray is the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. An extremely handsome young man who wishes his portrait could age while his own beauty remains changeless, his narcissistic wish is granted, and he spends his life in debauchery while retaining a youthful appearance, as his hidden portrait bears the mark of his every corruption. It is usually assumed that Wilde took the name Dorian from the Dorian people of ancient Greece–the Greeks did have names from this source, such as Dorieus and Doris. However, Dorian is also an Irish surname from O’Deoradhain, meaning “son of Deorain.” Use of the name predates the novel’s publication, and in Eastern Europe it may be a pet form of Teodor. Dorian is sometimes used for girls. Despite Dorian Gray being an evil character, the name has remained in use, and is #558 in the US, and #549 and rising in the UK.
Heathcliff is the male lead character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the foster-brother and love of Catherine Earnshaw. The novel explores the deep and obsessive love that Cathy and Heathcliff have for each other, and how the thwarting of that love turned Heathcliff into a tortured monster, though many think of Heathcliff as the Byronic hero and romantic lover whose passion lived beyond the grave. In film, he has been portrayed most memorably by Laurence Olivier. Heathcliff is an uncommon English surname meaning “heath on the cliff”; it doesn’t seem to have been used as a personal name before Wuthering Heights, and only rarely since. Actor Heath Ledger was named after Heathcliff (and his sister after Catherine!), and as Heath is a fashionable name at present, Heathcliff doesn’t seem too bizarre as a long form, although admittedly a bold choice.
Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is the protagonist of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the best friend of the hero in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The son of the town drunk, a neglected vagabond who lives a carefree existence until he is adopted and “civilised,” he runs away with an escaped slave named Jim, and the two travel down the Mississippi River by raft in search of freedom. Huck has been portrayed on film by Mickey Rooney, Ron Howard, Elijah Wood and others. Huckleberry is North American dialect for the bilberry, although in practice applied to several wild berries. The word has long been part of American slang, usually to suggest something small and insignificant – the perfect name for Huck Finn, a child of little consequence in his town. Later it came to mean “companion, sidekick”. Huckleberry was in occasional use as a personal name prior to the publication of Twain’s novels. This would make a sweet, offbeat name, while Huck is a hip short form.
Rhett Butler is the love interest of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. A black sheep, he becomes entranced with the spirited Scarlett, and admires her will to survive. Although viewed as a cad by polite Southern society, Rhett is tall, dark, handsome, charming, intelligent, and has a very good understanding of human psychology – especially female. He is the only person who can stand up to Scarlett, and beat her in a battle of wits. In the 1939 movie, the biggest box office smash in history when adjusted for inflation, Rhett is played by Clark Gable. Rhett is a surname which comes from the Dutch de Raedt, meaning “counsel, advice”. Mitchell seems to have chosen the name as an allusion to her first husband, “Red” Upshaw, on whom the character of Rhett Butler is based (with a dash of Rudolf Valentino). Rhett is a sexy bad boy name; in the U.S. it is #508 and rising.
This is an adaptation of a blog on Anna Otto’s site Waltzingmorethanmatilda.com. You can see the full, expanded version here. Anna blogs about a wide variety of Australian names, and Aussie name trends, at Waltzing More Than Matilda.