Fantastic Baby Namers in Fiction and Real Life
Children’s literature is one of my favourite sources for name inspiration, and it’s a growing trend amongst new parents too. Arthur and Arrietty, Luna and Lyra, Posy and Primrose… all are on the rise in the UK and beginning to be heard in the US, as parents turn to beloved childhood books for names that feel fresh and fun, but also cozily familiar.
The greatest writers of fiction are also truly great namers — it’s part of the magic of successful storytelling. The right name choices cast an aura of authenticity over the whole production; get it wrong, and the spell is quickly broken. So it should come as no surprise that many of our best-loved children’s authors gave their real-life offspring names as distinctive and meaningful as their fictional creations.
Let’s take a look at five of my favourite literary families:
Her best-known creation is Pippi Longstocking, a nine-year-old girl with bright red pigtails, super-human strength, and a character as formidable as her full name: Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackerelmint Efraimsdaughter Longstocking. The story goes that Lindgren’s daughter Karin dreamt up Pippi’s sweet and unconventional moniker when she was sick in bed as a child.
Lindgren herself was a creative coiner of new names, some of which have since been adopted by enterprising Swedish parents: Mio, Madicken, and — the biggest hit of all — Ronja, which is now in the Top 100. The author was apparently inspired by the Sami name of a lake in northern Sweden: Juronjaure.
Lindgren’s real-life children, Lars and Karin, were given traditional names near the top of the national rankings for their years of birth. Many of her fictional characters sport similarly established monikers: Annika and Anders, Erik and Emil, Margareta and Mattias… Some feel dated in Sweden now, but all would make for fresh and funky choices for parents further afield.
The Babar series of books, about an intrepid young elephant who is crowned king (the Urdu name Babar means “lion; king of the jungle”), was based on a bedtime story which the author’s wife Cécile invented for their two eldest sons.
The names in Babar’s alternative kingdom are an appropriately off-beat bunch. Legitimate French names (Céleste, Arthur, Flore, Alexandre, Isabelle, Victor) are used alongside novel word names (Zéphir, Pompadour), together with others that were either invented by the author or borrowed from elsewhere (Rataxès, Pom, Badou).
Interestingly, although the French names which de Brunhoff chose for his characters were under-the-radar or just plain unfashionable back in the 1930s, many feel cool and current again now. Others have already peaked and fallen back out of style. The author and his wife were ahead-of-the-curve namers: their three sons Laurent, Mathieu and Thierry (born in the 20s and 30s) have names that peaked decades later in France.
She’s a wonderfully playful namer: characters from her books range from the alliterative Grace Grapello, to the sing-song Soren Lorensen, to the off-beat Betty, Clem and Quincy, to the downright eccentric Clarice Bean Tuesday and her little brother Minal Cricket, who takes his name from a local sports club near the author’s home town of Marlborough.
Child’s own young daughter sports a gloriously quirky moniker which she shares with her mother’s best-loved fictional family: Tuesday.
Set in the English county of Hampshire, the classic children’s novel Watership Down follows the adventures of a group of rabbits that are forced to flee their warren to escape its imminent destruction. Author Richard Adams drew heavily on the nature of the Hampshire countryside for his characters’ names, coming up with some true rarities which could make for daring nature name choices today: Silver, Hawkbit, Buckthorn, Pipkin, Dandelion, Campion, Bluebell, Vervain…
Bruce Bogtrotter, Jennifer Honey, Violet Beauregarde, Willy Wonka… the names of the whimsical world of Dahl need no introduction. They’re as instantly recognisable as the iconic illustrations by Quentin Blake which always accompany his stories.
And if “a picture is worth a thousand words” — well, in Dahl’s books, so too is a name. His characters’ comical monikers reveal a lot about them: from their appearance (Agatha Trunchbull), to their personality (Veruca Salt), to their eventual fate (Augustus Gloop).
Dahl and his wife Patricia Neal gave all five of their children first names that sound right at home in 2017: Olivia, Tessa (originally called Chantal), Theo, Ophelia and Lucy. Their middles are meaningful: Sophia and Magdalena honour Dahl’s Norwegian mother, while Twenty is apparently a nod to Olivia’s birthdate (20th April) and the fact that Dahl had $20 in his pocket when he first visited his newborn daughter in the hospital.