Literary Baby Names: 77 Quirky Characters from 20th Century Lit
By Linda Rosenkrantz
If you’re looking for a really unusual name, you might not have to look any further than your nearest library.
What follows is a melange of quirky character names—a mix of word names, surname names, nickname names, invented names–found in modern literature. To keep it from going on into infinity, I’ve limited the list to mainstream twentieth century novels and plays, avoiding for the most part the often bizarre nomenclature of sci-fi and other genre lit.
Cathinka, The Monkey, Isak Dinensen
Edmée, Chéri and The Last of Chéri, Colette
Zazie, Zazie, Raymond Queneau
Athens Ebanks, Far Tartuga, Peter Matthiessen
Duddy Kravitz, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richler
Fenian McCreary, U.S.A., John Dos Passos
Jester Clane, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers
Orest Mercator, White Noise, Don DeLillo
Plinio Designiori, The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse
Which, if any, of these are usable? Please feel free to add your own favorite quirky character names in the comments.
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on February 20th, 2014 at 5:26 am
For me personally, these are the ones I see as being usable…
on February 20th, 2014 at 6:11 am
I think many of them are usable, particularly if you love the book in question!
Those that intrigue me personally…
Amaranta, Edmée, Meridian, Prairie, Tallis
Athens, Finch, Hoover, Inigo, Soames…
That’s not to say I’d ever use any of them though!
on February 20th, 2014 at 7:21 am
I may have just fallen in love with the name Meridian….
In general I love the suggestion of looking for unusual names in books – Maerad is actually the name of the protagonist in my favourite book series, which contains many other great names: Zelika, Hekibel, Nerili, Sylvia, Ardina for girls, and Cadvan, Saliman, Hem, Cai, Malgorn, Arkan. And so many more!
Although as a fan of books that are either fantasies (so quite out there names) and then books like the Secret Garden which has names like Mary and Colin and Martha, all of which are lovely names, but not that wild.
on February 20th, 2014 at 10:49 am
Zazie is a standout for me. It’s absolutely charming! It could work as a nickname for Saskia/Zaskia (a name that is often overlooked in the US) or Zosia. My favorite from the boys list was Cutler, although it reminds me of Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler.
My husband loves the name Leonidas, he first heard it in “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield.
on February 20th, 2014 at 10:56 am
I fell in love with the name Louisa from the heroine of Christina Stead’s iconic The Man Who Loved Children; Jemima, from Ben Ames Williams’s Come Spring; Jennie from Robert Nathan’s A Portrait of Jennie; Olwen from Alan Garner’s The Owl Service, and Angharad from Richard Llewellyn’s How Green Was My Valley and Margaret Mahy’s The Tricksters. For boys I love Pip and Trot from Charles Dickens (Great Expectations and David Copperfield; Trot was David’s middle name, Trotwood), Simey (Simon) from Patricia Wrightson’s The Nargun and the Stars, Geordie and Hughie from Paul Gallico’s The Three Lives of Thomasina, Reuven from Chaim Potok’s The Chosen; oh, and Keziah and Amos from Hariette Arnow’s The Dollmaker.
From this list, of course Caithleen is the Irish pronunciation of Caitlin, my daughter’s name. I love Solace but for girls and Love is a family name, deriving from Love Brewster, the second son of William Brewster of Plymouth fame. Melanchtha is interesting. Is it perhaps a nod to Philip Melanchthon (my great-grandfather Hammett’s name) who was Martin Luther’s sidekick? Duddy is of course a Yiddish nn for Dovid or Duvid (David) and Japhy is a nn for Japhet or Yaphet, popular in Israel. I think Finch is a terrific substitute for both Harper and Atticus. You keep the literary allusion without the “again” quality.
on February 20th, 2014 at 11:31 am
Fun list. Classic crime fiction often has good names, from authors to characters. I’m thinking Dashiell, Marlowe, Spenser, Christie, Lovejoy, Sayers, Chandler, etc.
on February 20th, 2014 at 3:14 pm
Whatever you do, do not name your daughter Oedipa! Good god, people.
on February 20th, 2014 at 4:23 pm
Interesting list! I like Amaranta, Amaryllis, Meridian, Sabbath (a bit too much for me to use, but I like it), and Zilla for girls; Bascom, Florentino, and Valerian for boys. Some of these are pretty wacky! I can’t imagine using Oedipa (???), Commerce, or Jester. Tristessa is kind of strange. I’m not naming my daughter “Sadness”! 🙂
on February 20th, 2014 at 4:33 pm
I think these choices are usable in the first or middle name spot. The character’s last names are included if I like the fn and surname together.
Amaranta Ursula – I would only choose one of these though
Amaryllis – mn only
Edmée – I love Esmé/Esmée too.
Fortitude – an awesomely quirky middle name
Meridian Hill – I prefer this name to the newly trendy place/Disney name of Merida.
Prairie – a cool mn if you live in a very flat land
Sabbath Lily Hawks – it has an evil and religious vibe mixed with a musical association all in one!
Sula – I find the sound soothing.
Tallis – I prefer Tallis to Wallis
Zilla – an underused Biblical name
Bascom – mn onlyy
Fenian McCreary, U.S.A., John Dos Passos
Finch – one of the few bird names that really work for a boy
Florentino – luxurious and romantic
Gulley – I don’t know why but I like this one.
Inigo – love love love this one!
Jester – a mix of Chester and Jasper
Jolyon – I do prefer Julian
Leonce – a rare “Leo” name
Melchior – I like all of the three wise men names with Balthasar being my fave.
Seneca – an ancient male name
Soames – a better alternative to Sloane?
Solace – one of my favourite word names. It’s so calming and comforting.
Tadzio – has the popular “z” sound and “o” ending that modern parents seem to like.
Valerian Street – too bad the Roman Emperor was so cruel but I like this name anyway.
Vivaldo Moore – I love the surprising blend of Italian and Irish here.
Zoyd Wheeler – we have Floyd and Lloyd so why not Zoyd for a modern twist?
on February 20th, 2014 at 9:11 pm
They are far too unusual. Most of them border on the ridiculous.
on February 23rd, 2014 at 6:09 pm
The names off this list that I adore include Meridian, Coverly, Ayla, Elya, Barley, Jolyon, Orest and Solce.
I’ve fallen in love with the name Cordelia after reading This is All: The Pillow Books of Cordelia Kenn by Aidan Chambers, and Tally from the Uglies Trilogy by Scott Westerfield.
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