12 Literary Ladies: Unique names from Abra to Sapphira

October 27, 2014 Linda Rosenkrantz

By Linda Rosenkrantz

Novels and plays are filled with wonderful character names that provide great naming inspiration–recently we’ve seen that reflected in the newfound popularity of Holden from Catcher in the RyeAtticus and Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, Scarlett from Gone with the Wind.

Today we’re looking at some of the more unique girls’ names that haven’t gained that kind of popularity–some of them perhaps not likely to. It was hard to make a choice, but here are a dozen that made the cut.  We’ll be doing the same thing for boys soon.

1. Abra

Source: East of Eden by John Steinbeck, 1952

Character: Abra Bacon is a sweet, goodhearted character, played to perfection by Julie Harris in the movie version, movingly involved with the character of Cal Trask —James Dean in his first film.

Name: Like most of the names in the novel, Abra is biblical, where she is a favorite of King Solomon. Never popular here, Abra was well used in seventeenth century England

2. Alabama

Source: Save me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald, 1932

Character: Alabama Beggs is a quintessential Southern belle, and the archetypal Jazz Age flapper—much like the author herself.

Name: A state name of Native American (Choctaw) origin, Alabama is an up-and-coming southern place-name, already chosen by a few celebs—Travis Barker and Drea de Matteo and Shooter Jennings.

3. Amaryllis

Source: Back to Methuselah by George Bernard Shaw, 1920

Character: In the part of this play set in the year 31920 (yes!), Amaryllis is a baby born from an egg right on stage, who emerges aged 16.

Name: One of the most promising of the newer floral names on the scene, though its usage dates back to ancient Greek poetry; Amaryllis stars in Virgil’s Ecologues. 

4. Blue

Source: Playland by John Gregory Dunne, 1994

Character: In this novel, Blue Tyler is a precocious child star whose life does not have a Shirley Temple happy ending.

Name: This character was created almost two decades before Blue Ivy Carter arrived on the scene and brought this color name into the spotlight. It’s been picked up in a variety of spellings, mostly in the middle spot, for boys and for girls.

5. Bonanza

Source: Even Cowgirls Get the Blues by Tom Robbins, 1976

Character: Bonanza Jellybean is an uncompromising but romantic leader of a band of feminist rebels who have taken over a western cattle ranch.

Name: Though the surname turns the whole name into a joke, could this exuberant word possibly be an exuberant middle, or a first nicknamed Bonnie?

6. Clea

Source: Clea, The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell, 1968

Character: Clea Montis is an artist living in Alexandria, Egypt, the protagonist of this novel who also appears in the others Quartets.

Name: A lovely name—possibly associated with Cleo—that may have been invented by Durrell. Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman’s daughter Claire Olivia was always called Clea.

7. Dagny

Source: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, 1957

Character: Dagny Taggart is the brilliant but cold and driven protagonist of the novel—a powerful railroad executive.

Name: This underused Scandinavian name, which means “new day,” has a much brighter and livelier feel than the character does, and is beginning to attract some attention.

8. Eudoxia

Source: The Twyborn Affair by Patrick White, 1979

Character: Judging by her name, she is not surprisingly the daughter of a man who believes himself descended from Byzantine emperors. This Eudoxia is young and romantically mysterious.

Name: Eudoxia (sometimes Latinized as Eudocia) was widely used in the Middle Ages, associated with an early Christian saint, and with Roman and Byzantine royalty. Anne Rice also used it in her novel Blood and Gold.

9. Magnolia

Source: Show Boat by Edna Ferber, 1926

Character: Raised on a Mississippi showboat, the warm and kind Magnolia Hawks Ravenal becomes an actress, then a star, but winds up back on the Mississippi as queen of the river boat Cotton Blossom.

Name: Magnolia is a lovely floral choice, redolent of the Old South. On the popularity list until 1940, it reentered the Top 1000 this year, as one of the year’s fastest rising names.

10. Rain

Source: The Sandcastle by Iris Murdoch, 1957

Character: Rain Carter is a shy and naïve young painter whose arrival sets the plot in motion in the third of Murdoch’s many novels.

Name: With its fresh cool image, Rain is one of the water/weather names now firmly on the grid. It’s worn by one of the nature-named Phoenix family sibs and the grown daughter of Richard Pryor.

11. Sapphira

Source: Sapphira and the Slave Girl by Willa Cather, 1938

Character: Sapphira Doddridge Colbert is a proud patrician Southerner in the years before the Civil War.

Name: Sapphira is a New Testament name that feminizes the gem name Sapphire, and has very much an old-novelish feel, much like Sophronia.

12. Thomasin

Source: The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy, 1878

Character: Thomasin Yeobright–also called Tamsin— is portrayed as a gentle and sensitive, wholesome, serene and sympathetic symbol of renewal and life.

Name: An earlier and less common feminization of Thomas.  We prefer the shortened form Tamsin.

There are lots of other wonderful girls’ names to be found in novels—some of my own favorites are Ariadne, Aurora, Cecily, Christabel, Clarissa, Dorothea, Flora, Isadora, Leonora, Maisie, Pilar, Sylvie, Velvet and Zuleika. How about you?



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