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12 Unusual Literary Lads: Jabez, Japhy & Jolyon

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.

Beriah

From: The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner

Col. Beriah Sellers is a silver-tongued schemer who symbolizes the speculative spirit of the Reconstruction period. The name Beriah makes four appearances in the Bible, including as a son of Asher. This rarely heard name might be worth considering if you’re looking for an iah-ending name more manageable than Zebadiah.

Binx

From: The Moviergoer by Walker Percy

Binx Bolling—full name John Bickerson Bolling is–in this award-winning 1961 novel, a good-looking, successful New Orleans realtor searching for meaning in his life, partly through moviegoing. Though it’s as made-up-sounding as a nickname name could be, Binx has actually been worn by a model, named Binx Walton, a superhero cat in Hocus Pocus, and a term used for a highly intelligent person.

Cashel

From: Cashel Byron’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw

Cashel Byron appears as a highborn boxer in this early novel; he later reappears in Shaw’s play The Admirable Bashville.  Not uncommon in Ireland Cashel forms an interesting path to the popular Cash nickname. It was chosen by Daniel DayLewis and wife Rebecca Miller for their son. As a word, it refers to a circular stone fort.

Eben

From: Desire Under the Elms by Eugene O’Neill

One of the three sons of protagonist Ephraim Cabot, Eben is the youngest and brightest, and was played by Anthony Perkins in the film version. A lot more likable than its full form Ebenezer, Eben on its own is relaxed and appealing. It was recently inhabited by hunky Josh Harnett in a film, and is currently Number 836 on Name berry.

Finch

From: You Never Can Tell by George Bernard Shaw

Finch McComus is a strong, even imposing, middle-aged character in this Shaw play. We’ve started to hear this avian surname—with its indelible literary link to To Kill a Mockingbird—talked about as a male possibility joining the trending girl Larks and Wrens.

Jabez

From: The Devil and Daniel Webster by Stephen Vincent Benét (and also in the bestselling The Prayer of Jabez by Bruce Wilkinson.

Jabez Stone is a basically decent New Hampshire farmer in the 1840’s who, driven by bad luck, sells his soul to the devil, in this retelling of the Faust legend, and is defended by the famous lawyer Daniel Webster.  A sadly neglected Old Testament name, Jabez has a lot going for it in addition to the righteous biblical and literary cred—the jazzy z-ending and a charming Southern accent.

Japhy

From: The Dharma Bums, by Jack Kerouac

Japhy Ryder is a Buddhist poet in this novel, based on Kerouac’s friend, the Beat poet Gary Snyder. Japhy is a diminutive of Japheth, the name of a biblical son of Noah, and would make a unique and charming possibility for a modern boy.

Jolyon

From: The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy

There are two Jolyon Forsytes in The Forsyte Saga—‘Old Jolyon’ is the head of the family, a highly moral and sentimental character. ‘Young Jolyon’, his son, is a painter and a perceptive observer of his family’s position. Rarely heard in this country, or in modern England for that matter, Jolyon is Julian—of which it’s a Northern English form– only jollier. There have been a few notable musicians bearing the name.

Leander

From: The Wapshot Chronicles by John Cheever

Leander T. Wapshot is a wealthy ne’er-do-well who loves to sail on his boat and relive the golden days of his youth.  Leander is the name of the Greek mythological young man who swam across the Hellespont each night to see his beloved Hero; we see him as a credible cousin to Alexander, Evander, et al. And so do other Berries–Leander is currently Number 344 on Nameberry.

Lemuel

From: Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift

The peripatetic Lemuel Gulliver is an English surgeon and sailor whose adventures satirize the European governments of Swift’s era. We’ve often wondered why some lovers of the biblical Samuel haven’t turned to the less common biblical Lemuel, with its friendly nickname Lem. Is it too tied to the iconic Gulliver?

Seneca

From: Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

Seneca Doane is an idealistic socialist attorney in Lewis’s typical small Midwestern town of Zenith. Seneca is an intriguing off-the-grid name with ties to both the Native American culture and to a memorable ancient Roman philosopher-playwright.

Sergius

From: The Deer Park by Norman Mailer

Sergius O’Shaugnessy is the narrator of what was to be Mailer’s ambitious nine-novel series–a wry, cocky, intelligent Slavic-Irish Air Force pilot. Less fusty than many of the other ancient Romans, Sergius leads to short form Serge and the modern Italian Sergio.

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5 Responses to “12 Unusual Literary Lads: Jabez, Japhy & Jolyon”

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miloowen Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 9:08 am

Eben is still a name you hear in New England, and I have several ancestors on the Brewster side with that name, as well as having gone to school with a boy named Eben. Jabez(s) and Japhet are good solid names, with Japhet (Yafet) still being used in Israel.

Love Serge, Sergio, and Sergei but not Sergius.

There’s a student in my school named Finch, in tenth grade.

Missmolly Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 9:41 am

Don’t know if I’d ever be brave enough to use these, but I love most of them. A name that belongs on the list, right next to Jolyon, is Jubal. Heinlan and George Eliot give it literary cred.

iwillpraise Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 12:51 pm

Ever since reading a Birth Announcement here on Nameberry about the arrival of a little Eben, I’ve been quite intrigued by this name, as I had never heard it before! It melds a flair of Eden with the soft-but-manly Ben.

I’ve often thought about the name Leander as well. It is really beautiful (I know, I know, it is a boy’s name, but very romantic). Carries the same feel as the similar Anders, which I also fancy.

Seneca is a high school nearby..

mill1020 Says:

November 13th, 2014 at 3:58 pm

I can see Lemuel, Sergius, and Eben taking off. The only downside to Eben I can see is its similarity to Eeben Axelroot, the mercenary pilot from Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible.

tfzolghadr Says:

November 15th, 2014 at 12:18 pm

I like Seneca and Leander, but LOVE Eben. I’m not sure why more people don’t go for Eben, as it’s a nice alternative to Benjamin and Bennett…

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