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Category: names from novels

why?atticus

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:

AtticusThe 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.

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Literary Names: The Bronte Sisters

brontes

We’ve talked a lot about Shakespearean literary names and characters in Dickens and Jane Austen, but we’ve overlooked three of the best namers in literary history—the sisters Brontë.  We love their own names—Charlotte, Emily and Anne, and we love their initial-appropriate male pen names—Currer, Ellis and Acton.  We even love their surname, which a number of parents have chosen for their daughters.

But it is the particularly rich cast of character names in their novels that we love the most.  One of them, in fact, had a considerable effect on baby naming of its era.  Though it’s long been said that it was Shirley Temple who promoted her given name in the 1930s, she wasn’t the first.  In Charlotte Brontë’ second novel, following Jane Eyre, the protagonist of Shirley was given that name because her father had anticipated a boy, and Shirley was a distinctively male name at the time.  The novel’s Father Keeldar made a gender switch that has proven to be permanent.

Here is a selection of Brontë bests;  the list isn’t meant to be complete—some of the more common names have not been included. (The initials AB, CB and EB represent Anne, Charlotte and Emily.)

GIRLS

Adèle, CB—Jane Eyre

Agnes, ABAgnes Grey

Alice, AB- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall; CB- Jane Eyre

Annabella, AB- The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

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literary3

I remember how, when I first read the novels of Evelyn Waugh and the plays of George Bernard Shaw, a whole new universe of names opened up for me. A world of sophisticated, eccentric, kind of uppity and veddy veddy Victorian and Edwardian  British names, many of which I had never heard before, but instantly became enamored with.

The comic novels of Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse and the plays (and novel) of Oscar Wilde and Shaw are still a good place to start if you’re looking for a name with a certain elegance, gentility, swank—and sometimes a bit of quirkiness as well.

GIRLS

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Jane Austen Names

janeaustennames

Guest blogger LAUREN MILLER, known to her fellow nameberry regulars as LEMON, introduces us to the charming names of Jane Austen.

I still remember my first Jane Austen experience. I was turning twelve, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, when my mother bought me a collector’s box of Austen novels. As I read my fresh copy of Pride and Prejudice – well worn and loved by now! – I was captivated by Miss Austen’s eloquence, truth, and charming wit. But, I soon learned that Jane’s books were a treasure trove of another kind. Beneath the tales of heartache and true love lay another gem – the names!

The first names chosen by Austen are very much reflective of the early 19th century England. These names embody the traditional, conservative styles preferred by Englishmen at this time, and they convey a sense of strength, sophistication, and substance. Monikers used by Austen continue to thrive on today’s popularity charts, yet, like Austen’s novels, they will always be regarded as classics.

Handsome, sturdy choices for boys include Charles, Henry, James, John, Thomas, and William. Names with a slightly more vintage sound include Edward, Edmund, Frederick, and George. All of these names, in addition to sounding distinguished and elegant, come with immense nickname potential. Tired of Freddie? Your little Frederick could just as easily become Red or Fritz.

Some of the names chosen by Austen reflect the growing trend towards using nicknames as names. Most notably, perhaps, is Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. Not so keen on using Fanny as a full name? Try its longer form – Frances! Other nickname names for girls include Kitty and Lizzy, for the lovely Bennet girls of Pride and Prejudice. Moving on from these shortened forms, we enter a world of demure sophistication and understated feminine charm in the form of classic names for girls.

ANNE

CAROLINE

CATHERINE

CHARLOTTE

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old-fashioned-mother-and-daughter-reading

Within the pages of books from all periods of literary history—from classical, metaphysical and Elizabethan poetry and plays to the Romantics and the Realists, right up to modern novels—can be found gems of names that have been lost to time, either because they’ve been identified with a singular character or simply because they’ve gone out of style.  Here are twenty such girls’ names, with the boys group to follow next week.

ALIAAlia Atreides is a key figure in the Dune sci-fi series created by Frank Herbert, appearing in four of the novels.  A variant of the Hebrew Aliyah, it means “ascending.”

BRIONY is the young girl who sets the plot in motion in Ian McEwan’s Atonement.  It’s a variant spelling of Bryony, the name of a perennial vine, coming from the Greek meaning ‘to grow luxuriantly’.

CALIXTACalixta is an alluring woman in Kate Chopin’s At the ‘Cadian Ball, a novel set in the Creole south at the turn of the century.  In Greek, it means “most beautiful.”

CATRIONA is the eponymous heroine of a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. This Gaelic form of Katherine is pronounced ka-TREE-na.

CLEA—An artistic character in the volume of the Lawrence Durrell Alexandria Quartet that bears her name—and also the sorceress lover of Dr. Strange in the Marvel Comics universe.

CORINNA –After appearing as the main female character in Ovid’s Amores, Corinna became a favorite in 17th century poetry, including Robert Herrick’s Corinna’s Going A-Maying. It’s a Latinized form of a Greek name meaning maiden.

FANTINE—The name of the beautiful, naïve, self-sacrificing character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

GINEVRA—The name of a young English girl in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, this is the Italian form of Guinevere (meaning “fair, white, smooth” ) and also is the Italian version of Geneva.

IANTHE—One of the most poetic of names, found in the romantic verse of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley (who chose it for his daughter) and Walter Savage Landor.  In Greek, it means “violet flower”

KAMALA—A beautiful courtesan in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha.  Also another name for the Hindu goddesses Lakshmi and Durga.

LILIA—A high-spirited character in E. M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, and one of the prettiest of the Lil names.

MALTA—In Dickens’ Bleak House, one of the three happy children—along with Quebec and Woolwich—of the Bagnet family, which would make an unusual place name.

MERIDIAN.  The spirited title character of Alice Walker’s 1976 novel, a word name with several possible nicknames

PERSIS—the wife of the protagonist of William Dean Howell’s The Rise and Fall of Silas Lapham. It’s a Greek New Testament name meaning ‘Persian woman.’

PRAIRIE –a modern Valley Girl (she works at the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple) in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland.

TAMORA—A Gothic queen in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, this is a variation of the Hebrew Tamar, meaning “date palm.

TEMPLETemple Drake is a complex character who appears in two William Faulkner novels, Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun.

THISBE—A mythical character in the play-within-the-play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retelling the tragic Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.

TITANIA—The powerful queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s DreamA Latinate name, probably meaning ‘of the Titans.’

TRILBY—In George du Maurier’s eponymous novel, Trilby is described as “out of the common clever, simple, humorous, honest, brave, and kind,” who unfortunately falls under the spell of Svengali.

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