Baby Names from Books: 20 Lost Literary Girls’ Names

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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29 Responses to “Baby Names from Books: 20 Lost Literary Girls’ Names”

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Abby Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 6:49 am

Ooh, I love Thisbe! I think Ginevra is the full name of Harry Potter’s Ginny Weasley, too.

Nephele Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 8:45 am

Ianthe is a favorite of mine and, because I’m looking forward to the Gilbert & Sullivan opera this January that I posted about in the Talk about Names forum (“Names from Ruddigore“), I can’t help but be reminded of the similar-sounding name “Iolanthe” (a character from a G&S opera of the same name).

Iolanthe (pronounced eye-o-lan-thee) is the name of a fairy in this opera (her name seems to suit her!) and also means “violet-flower” like Ianthe.

— Nephele

ricamaca Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 9:21 am

I have now fallen in love with Lilia! Thank you!
Also, my sister’s name is Alia. My mom always thought she had made it up! I passed this along to her! 🙂 Thanks for the info!

Rebecca E. Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 9:23 am

These names are great, but some of them have some very unfortunate associations. A lot of those characters are not very pleasant people. Tamora in “Titus Andronicus” is a revenge bent murderer and Briony in “Atonement” is a liar who destroys people’s lives. I love literary names, but for me, I’d have to be careful not to name my child after such horrific characters.

Andrea Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 10:46 am

My cousin’s toddler is named Lilia and called Lily. It’s a translation of a Finnish family name Lilja that she decided was too difficult in its original version. I’ve seen more than one girl named Prairie listed as survivors among the grandchildren in obituaries that my newspaper has run.

Salome Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 10:58 am

I’ve been digging Persis for a while. Why did Frances stick around and Persis get stuck in the cold, I wonder?

Kat Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 11:13 am

I’d probably pass up the Midsummer Night Dream references, since Thisbe is a man playing a woman’s role (and very silly, too!) and Titania has the unavoidable “tit” at the beginning. (There are several different pronunciations, but our vocal instructor in grad school recommended “tit-TAHN-ya”, so that’s how I’ll always say/hear it now.)

If Fantine is on the list, how about Eponine? 🙂 I like it better, though Cosette is probably the prettiest female name from Les Miz.

Kristine Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 11:19 am

Abby–Ginevra is Ginny’s full name, you’re right!

I love this blog! I’m always looking for new, great literary names! =)

Persis Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 1:00 pm

Persis is also mentioned in Paul’s Epistles “Thank our good friend Persis for she has laboured much in the Lord”. Persis is also the name of the chief character in Dare Wright’s “The Little One”, I wonder where SHE got the name from?

susan Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I love Briony the most!

Charlotte Vera Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Persis is also the name of a minor character in the later Anne of Green Gables series. I’ve loved the name ever since I first read it. Although I grew up in India, the only Indian name in the list of favourite girls’ names I gave my husband before our daughter was born was Kamala — it’s beautiful. Both Ianthe and Iolanthe are possible considerations should we have another daughter in the future. Great list!

Annika Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Wow, I think you picked out great names, even though I’d agree with Rebecca saying that it might be a little unfortunate to pick out a name connected with an evil character. I think I like Lilia and Ginevra best, even though the latter seems a little out there and may appear too Harry-Pottery… don’t know if I’d ever dare to use it.
By the way: Corinna is quite common here in Germany. I know at least two women with that name.

twinkle Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 4:40 pm

Ginevra (nn Ginger), Ianthe and Thisbe have all been on my list for a long while now – I adore literary names. Fantine is also on there, but the awkward nicknames deter me from using it.

Some of my other literary favourites are Cosette, Eponine, Undine/Ondine, Pollyanna and Cedric (the latter is from Little Lord Fauntleroy).

Emz Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 5:44 pm

I actually really like Prairie! If Meadow’s okay now then why the hell not? It makes me think of Prairie Dawn from Sesame Street playing her little piano.

Fantine’s lovely. I’ve never seen Les Mis but I keep hearing all these fab names from it.

Catriona’s perenially popular in Scotland. I see it all the time.

Charlotte Vera Says:

November 25th, 2009 at 11:36 pm

I thought I should add that where I live (in Western Canada) Meridian is pretty much out of the question as a name since it’s what we call the cement/landscaped medians that divide opposing lanes of traffic.

dancer4life Says:

November 27th, 2009 at 11:41 am

I really love this blog because I love reading! My favorite literary girl’s name of all time is Meg from Little Women. I also really like Catriona, Clea, Fantine, Ginevra, Kamala, Lilia, Malta, Meridian, Prairie, Tamora, Thisbe, Titania, and Trilby.

EvanescenceDolly Says:

November 27th, 2009 at 5:52 pm

I love Thisbe and Briony and Fantine and Tamora.

teabee Says:

November 30th, 2009 at 5:37 pm

I have to add my two cents that the character of Briony Tallis is young and confused rather than evil, which is part of why “Atonement” is so compelling. She doesn’t properly understand what is going on and her role in it until the damage is done.

Dove14 Says:

December 3rd, 2009 at 11:55 am

Ah I love literary names! Thanks for the post, and keep ’em coming!

P.S. I also agree that any evil/destructive character names should be noted as such.

Iolanthe Says:

January 31st, 2010 at 5:20 pm

I love names with a meaning and especially poetic names. My name is iolanthe and uncommon here in south africa. Its fascinating to hear these unique names.

lalaland_mamma Says:

March 23rd, 2010 at 2:20 pm

My daughters name “Radiant Starshine” is from a science fiction short story.

Sachiko Says:

April 9th, 2010 at 9:23 am

I loved Alia for years, because of DUNE. And I am so stealing Prairie.

Corinna’s been on my short list for years.

Howzabout Dulcinea, from the Dumas’ Don Quixote?

For example:

Prairie Says:

June 4th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

This is odd but I’m younger & signed up forthis website just to see I my name was on herrrre! 😛 I thought it was so uncommmon & use to hate it but nobody has it & I’ve learned to like it so thanks to everyone who loved it! 🙂

Prairie Says:

June 4th, 2010 at 5:17 pm

& eveyone always asks if my middle names Dawn but it’s actually Ann 🙂

pandora88 Says:

September 20th, 2010 at 7:41 pm

i absolutely adore ‘kamala’. ever since i read siddhartha i’ve loved it. besides, molly could work as a more common nickname, no?

Ashanti Oravec Says:

October 22nd, 2010 at 12:15 am

Intriguing…undoubtedly food for thought. I hope you don’t mind if I pass this on to a few other friends I know.

stripedsocks Says:

April 17th, 2013 at 8:42 am

Alia’s a pretty sound but I much prefer Aliyah or Aaliyah – and neither of those are actually obscure, one in the top 50 and one in the top 200.

I love Ianthe.

I like Bryony more than Briony, but I like botanicals.

Tamora is pretty but Tamar is a crisper cooler sound to me.

LaurieLW Says:

June 22nd, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Not completely literary, but literary by proxy….Ginevra was also the name of F Scott Fitzgerald’s first love.

Fourthseason Says:

January 15th, 2014 at 3:00 am

Antonia and clarimunda should be added to this list

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