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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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mockingbird

As the fiftieth anniversary of To Kill a Mockingbird is being celebrated, the thought comes to mind that it sometimes can take decades for an iconic fictional character –usually one imprinted on our minds from a classic read during our formative adolescent years—to take off as a baby name.

A prime example of this is Atticus, as in Atticus Finch, that noble lawyer/father Atticus Finch in Harper Lee’s novel, which appeared in print in 1960 and on screen in 1962, and yet didn’t make it onto the Social Security baby name list until 2004.  The same is true of Holden: J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield appeared in The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, but not on the pop charts until 1987.  Scarlett O’Hara (GWTW book 1936, movie 1939) didn’t hit the top half of the list until 2004—when it combined with the Johanssen factor.  And if we want to go back even further, it took Huckleberry well over a century to suddenly be used by a couple of celebs.

Below are some literary names from 20th century American novels and plays, a few of which, like Daisy, Owen and Ethan, have already made their comebacks, others which conceivably could, plus a few that are probably too eccentric to be condsidered.

As always there’s the caveat that not all these characters were particularly likable or noble namesakes.  Some American literary names to consider, for both boys and girls, include:

GIRLS

ALABAMAZelda Fitzgerald, Save Me the Waltz

ÁNTONIA — Willa Cather, My Ántonia

AURORALarry McMurtry, Terms of Endearment

BLANCHETennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire

BONANZATom Robbins,  Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

BRETTErnest Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises

CLARICEThomas Harris, The Silence of the Lambs

CLYTEMNESTRA (CLYTIE) — William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

DAISY– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

DENVERToni Morrison, Beloved

DOMINIQUEAyn Rand, The Fountainhead

ESMÉ – J D Salinger, “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor”

EULALIAWilliam Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!

FRANCESCARobert James Waller, The Bridges of Madison County

INDIAEvan S. Connell, Mrs. Bridge

ISADORAErica Jong, Fear of Flying

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These Names are Not Gone With the Wind

gwtw-2

 Some authors have a genuine knack for character naming, usually spread over their entire oeuvre. In the case of Margaret Mitchell, it was all focused on her only novel–Gone With the Wind–whose character names still resonate today. The 1933 book (almost titled Tomorrow is Another Day) was an unprecedented smash, selling 30 million copies and winning a Pulitzer Prize, as was the movie, released in 1939 and receiving a then-record ten Oscars. Its frequent revivals and TV screenings have kept it alive for later generations.  So how have its characters’ names fared for babies over the years?

MAIN CHARACTERS

SCARLETT O’Hara. For four years following the debut of the film, Scarlett sneaked onto the bottom edge of the Social Security list. It took a glamorous young, modern movie star–Ms. Johansson–to propel it to the upper echelons. A stylish color name, it’s now in the Top 300 and sure to move higher.

RHETT Butler. So closely connected to the Clark Gable persona, it took Rhett a long time to make it into the mainstream, which it finally started to do in the fifties, along with similar names like Brett and Brent, all of which have pretty much faded.

ASHLEY Wilkes. At the time of the book’s writing, Ashley was very much a Southern gentleman’s name. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that it really crossed the genderline, when it started to appear as female characters on soap operas like The Young and the Restless. Margaret Mitchell would have been shocked to see it beome the #1 girls’ name in America in 1991.

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baby name zooey

You’ve probably noticed that Aiden is now way more popular than the original Irish Aidan.  And also that Zoey is catching up with Zoe, while other names like Isiah, Kaleb, Camryn and Sienna are either ahead of or breathing down the necks of their conventionally spelled cousins.  Sometimes the reasons for these changes are clear-cut, sometimes it’s just something in the ether.

Not that this is a new thing.  I remember the first time that someone asked me to spell my first name.  “Huh?”  “Well, is it Linda with an ‘i’ or Lynda with a ‘y’?  Without my really noticing, Lynda had become a spelling alternative in the wake of  the popularity of Lynn.  Something similar has happened with Aidan/Aiden.  When the epidemic of rhyming ‘en’-ending names erupted–Jaden, Braden, Caden et al–it was a logical development to make Aiden a legitimate member of that family.  And when ‘K’-beginning boys’ names became a rage, Kaleb began pursuing Caleb up the list.

The case of Zoe/Zooey is a little different, as the spike of the latter version can be pretty much traced to a single phenomenon–‘Zoey101′–the Emmy-nominated teen sitcom starring (now teen mom) Jamie Lynn Spears, which appeared on Nickelodeon in 2005.  And the publicity surrounding Jamie Lynn’s big sister Britney’s second son helped spread that spelling of Brayden.  The rise of the British actress Sienna Miller spurred the spelling change of the Italian town of Siena, actress Jorja Fox legitimized the phonetic spelling of Georgia, and Gossip Girl hottie Chace (originally his middle name) Crawford has the spelling of his name chasing Chase.

In terms of image, rather than spelling, Scarlett Johansson challenged the long-term connection of her name to Gone With the Wind spitfire Scarlett O’Hara, just as the charms of Jude Law have managed to erase the age-old associations of his name to Judas.

More recently we’ve seen a couple of starbabies who might have some influence on the future spellings of names: Brooke Shield’s Grier (rather than Greer) and Angie Harmon’s Emery (rather than Emory).

Can you think of any others?

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Delilah and Desiree–Bad Girls Gone Good

When Pam and I wrote our first name book, Beyond Jennifer & Jason (back when Jennifer & Jason were still baby names), we had a little section called NAMES THAT ARE TOO MUCH TO LIVE UP TO, listing examples that had such a potent image that whey would overpower an innocent babe–including such biblical temptresses and goddesses as Jezebel, Salome and Venus. Well, things have now changed to the point where those names and others equally powerful have slipped into  the mainstream.  Why?  Partly the current anything-goes atmosphere, partly some tipping point moments, such as:

DELILAHWHY THE BAD GIRL RAP? Biblical temptress who betrayed Samson.  DEFUSER? Lame old Tom Jones song; was considered as baby name by Rachel and Ross on Friends.

DESIREEWHY? Precocious French teenager engaged to and then jilted by Napoleon.    DEFUSER? Jumped onto the Social Security list in 200 at #181.  Not sure why.

JEZEBEL: WHY? Scheming, promiscuous New Testament hussy; name came to mean hussy.  DEFUSER? Feminists started to see her as a victim, became the name of a hot weblog.  Name still means hussy.

LOLA: WHY? Sexy 19th century Spanish dancer/courtesan Lola Montez, sexy Marlene Dietrich character in The Blue Angel, sexy Pajama Game song ‘Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets’. DEFUSER? Madonna nicknames baby Lourdes Lola, Kelly Ripa mentions daughter Lola every mornining

LOLITA: WHY? Iconic Nabokov lollipop-licking nymphet; DEFUSER? Actress Lolita Davidovich says it’s a common name in Eastern Europe, director Brian de Palma bestows it on his baby.

SALOME: WHY? Deceitful dancing New Testament seductress, seen as even worse in Oscar Wilde play and Strauss opera; DEFUSER? Not sure, but it was defused enough for TV actress Alex Kingston to use it for her daughter.

SCARLETT: WHY? The Scarlet Letter, phrase “scarlet woman,” spoiled and selfish Scarlett O’Hara;  DEFUSER: Scarlett Johanssen

VENUS: WHY? Roman goddess of love, deadly Venus Flytrap plant; DEFUSER: Tennis ace Venus Williams

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