Category: literary baby names
If you’ve read a book by the great Toni Morrison, chances are you’ll remember some of her characters’ names. From vivid nicknames to evocative biblical names, it’s easy to believe there’s a story behind each one.
Morrison’s novels tell of African-American communities, from the time of slavery to the present. One of the issues she explores is the loss of African Americans’ identities and heritage, and how to reclaim them. Names play a huge part in this, as you might expect.
Change a person’s name, as slave owners did, and you take away their identity and cut them off from their ancestors. Once that connection is lost, how do free African Americans get it back? Should they accept the names they have been given, or choose their own names and forge a new heritage?
You might know the Irish poet William Butler Yeats (it rhymes with Gates, not Keats) from his much-loved poems like The Lake Isle of Innisfree, possibly the most peaceful poem ever written, or memorable lines like “tread softly, because you tread on my dreams.”
One thing (among many) Yeats is remembered for is his retelling of Irish myths and legends. He helped to introduce characters from ancient literature – and their names – to the English-speaking world. Today we take it for granted that it’s easy to access Irish culture – like stories, music, and of course names – but that wasn’t always the case.
I’m a name nerd.
True story: In college, I spent hours compiling data for a study on the attractiveness of male and female names. Amanda? Very attractive. Mildred? Not so much. Ken was more attractive than Keith, while Liam was about as attractive as Levi. By the end of the study, I had an Iliad-length research paper and a major caramel-macchiato addiction.
Believe it or not, even after all of that research, I still get excited to dream up the perfect names for the characters in my books. Finding just the right character name actually helps a story start to take shape in my mind. Since I have a tendency to get stuck on finding the perfect name (Maura or Mara? Lila or Lily?), I try to break the process down into just three steps.
We owe Stevenson a lot. In his best-known book, Treasure Island, he gave us the classic elements of a pirate story: the mysterious map, the buried treasure, the pirate with a parrot and a missing leg. He also gave us the concept of a ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ personality, and he was one of the first modern travel writers, recounting his journeys through France and later across America and the Pacific.
Stevenson was something of a name changer himself. Born in Scotland as Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson, as an adult he dropped Balfour, his mother’s maiden name, and changed the spelling of his middle name to Louis (still pronounced like Lewis).
Here’s a treasure trove of names inspired by Stevenson’s tales, from old favourites to stylish unisex surnames.
Many people search for names in their favorite stories, and fairy tales are among their favorites. We grow up hearing these stories, watch the movies that are based on them, and read them to our own children. The name options below come from lesser-known fairy tales. Perhaps you’ll find a new gem and with it a new story to tell your children.