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.
In Treasure Island, Jim Hawkins is the young lad swept up in pirate adventures. At the time Jim was an everyman name, almost as common as Jack, but nowadays it’s not so common. Only a few dozen boys were officially called Jim last year, which probably means that not many Jameses are going by Jim either. That’s good news if you like a short, chirpy, not-too-fashionable nickname.
Think of a famous fictional pirate, and Long John Silver will be near the top of your list. His surname reflects his thirst for treasure, but there’s more to him than that: he’s a complex character with some good qualities. Silver is currently hovering under the radar. It’s given to a few dozen children each year – more girls than boys – but it could be one to watch in the next few years if it piggybacks on the rise of similar-sounding Sylvie.
Moving from metal to stone, the pirate Captain Flint buried the treasure that all the fuss was about. Flint is a tough-sounding name, with a fiery edge. Besides the seafaring associations, it also has a cool cowboy vibe, like Flynn crossed with Clint.
Squire Trelawney is the landowner who funds the voyage in Treasure Island. His name is from a Cornish place-name – appropriately, since he lives in south-west England – and it might bring to mind wild-eyed Professor Trelawney in Harry Potter. It’s rare as a first name, but it would make an interesting alternative to surname names like Kennedy and Delaney.
David Balfour in Kidnapped gets caught up in adventures that take him through the Scottish Highlands and across the sea. Like Jim, it’s a good everyman name for a young hero. David has long been a popular name in Scotland – it was worn by two medieval kings – and it still ranks slightly higher there than anywhere else in the UK. In true Scottish style, it gave rise to the delightful feminine forms Davina and Davidina.
Many name lovers are trying hard to share the love for Ebenezer, and move away from its Scroogey associations. I wish I could say that David’s uncle Ebenezer in Kidnapped helps the cause, but sadly that’s not the case. He’s a sinister character who does his best to dispose of his nephew. Even so: if you can rise above that, Ebenezer is a distinctive biblical name with revival potential.
Alan Breck Stewart (Gaelic: Ailean Breac Stiùbhart) is a real historical figure in Kidnapped, an eighteenth-century Jacobite soldier. The name has been well used in Scotland through the centuries, giving rise to alternative spellings and surnames like Allen and Allain, and the splendidly Scottish feminine form Alanina. If you think Alan is just a dad or grandad name (as I used to), think again. It’s in the top 200 in the US and the UK, and the top 100 in Ireland.
The Highland chieftain Ewen MacPherson of Cluny, better known as Cluny MacPherson, is another real-life figure. If the name rings a bell, you might have heard of his namesake who invented the gas mask in the First World War. Fans of the Redwall fantasy books will also know Cluny as a villainous one-eyed rat. I’m surprised that this name is barely being used anywhere, not even in its native Scotland or Ireland. If you like unisex Gaelic surnames like Rooney and Keegan, and you can get over the George Clooney associations, Cluny might appeal.
The heroine of Catriona, the sequel to Kidnapped, is the fictional granddaughter of legendary Scottish outlaw Rob Roy. Her name is the Gaelic form of Katherine, pronounced like Katrina. This anglicised spelling has dropped steeply in popularity since Hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2005, but Catriona would be a way to get the sound, and extra Scottish points, without the bad association.
Edward Hyde is the evil alter ego in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, but take the character away and you’re left with a smooth, unusual surname and place name. It’s also a word name: if you can Chase and Wade, why not Hyde?
Prince Otto is an obscure Stevenson novel, but its hero has one of the fastest-rising names on this list. Out of fashion in German-speaking countries, Otto is climbing the charts on both sides of the Atlantic, along with other short, sweet -o names like Enzo and Arlo. Bonus character name: Otto’s princess is the gloriously-named Amalia Seraphina.
This is my wildcard, inspired by Stevenson’s trek through the Cévennes mountains in France in Travels with a Donkey. Cévenne seems to have been used very occasionally for girls in France, but I can see it working for boys too – after all, that ending works for Etienne.