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.

Alivina Houghton, The Lost Girl, D. H. Lawrence

Amaranta Ursula, One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel García Marquez

Amaryllis, Back to Methuselah, George Bernard Shaw

Ayla, The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel

Caithleen Brady, The Country Girls, Edna O’Brien

Cathinka, The Monkey, Isak Dinensen

Edmée, Chéri and The Last of Chéri, Colette

Elya Gruner, Mr. Sammler’s Planet, Saul Bellow

Fortitude, Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh

Kismine Washington, The Diamond as Big as the Ritz, F. Scott Fitzgerald

Lenina Crowne, Brave New World, Aldous Huxley

Lindo, The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan

Love Simpson, Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns

Melanctha Herbert, Melanctha, Gertrude Stein

Meridian Hill, Meridian, Alice Walker

Monina McLeod, Barbary Shore, Norman Mailer

Oedipa Maas, The Crying of Lot 49, Thomas Pynchon

Prairie Wheeler, Vineland, Thomas Pynchon

Praxis Duveen, Praxis, Fay Weldon

Sabbath Lily Hawks, Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Sethe, Beloved, Toni Morrison

Sula, Sula, Toni Morrison

Tallis Browne, A Fairly Honourable Defeat, Iris Murdoch

Tristessa, Tristessa, Jack Kerouac

Zazie, Zazie, Raymond Queneau

Zilla Riesling, Babbitt, Sinclair Lewis

 

Antanas Rudkus, The Jungle, Upton Sinclair

Athens Ebanks, Far Tartuga, Peter Matthiessen

Barley Blair, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, John Le Carré

Bascom Pentland, Of Time and the River, Thomas Wolfe

Battle Fairchild, Delta Wedding, Eudora Welty

Binx Bolling, The Moviegoer, Walker Percy

Blazes Boylan, Ulysses, James Joyce

Brackett Omensetter, The Sunlight Dialogues, William Gardner

Brick Pollitt, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams

Brinker Hadley, A Separate Peace, John Knowles

Commerce St. Croix, The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy

Coverly Wapshot, The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever

Cross Damon, The Outsider, Richard Wright

Cutler Walpole, The Doctor’s Dilemma, George Bernard Shaw

Darl Bundren, As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

Doremus Jessup, It Can’t Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis

Duddy Kravitz, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Mordecai Richler

Elyot Chase, Private Lives, Noel Coward

Ensor Doone, Lorna Doone, R. D Blackmore

Fenian McCreary, U.S.A., John Dos Passos

Finch McComus, You Never Can Tell, George Bernard Shaw

Florentino Ariza, Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Foxhall Edwards, You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe

Guitar Baines, Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison

Gulley Jimson, The Horse’s Mouth, Joyce Cary

Hoover Shoats, Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride, William Goldman

Japhy Ryder, Dharma Bums, JAck Kerouac

Jester Clane, The Ballad of the Sad Café, Carson McCullers

Jolyon Forsyte, The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy

Joxer Daly (nn), Juno and the Paycock, Sean O’Casey

Kilgore Trout, Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Leonce Pontellier, The Awakening, Kate Chopin

Manx Martin, Underworld, Don DeLillo

Melchior, Brideshead Revisited Evelyn Waugh

Orest Mercator, White Noise, Don DeLillo

Plinio Designiori, The Glass Bead Game, Herman Hesse

Rockingham Napier, Excellent Women, Barbara Pym

Seneca Doane, Arrowsmith, Sinclair Lewis

Soames Forsyte, The Forsyte Saga, John Galsworthy

Solace Layfield, Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Stingo, Sophie’s Choice, William Styron

Tadzio, Death in Venice, Thomas Mann

Taggert Hodge, The Sunlight Dialogues, John Gardner

Tradd St. Croix, The Lords of Discipline, Pat Conroy

Utah Watkins, Under Milk Wood, Dylan Thomas

Valerian Street, Tar Baby, Toni Morrison

Vivaldo Moore, The Amen Corner, James Baldwin

Weedon Scott, White Fang, Jack London

Wing Biddlebaum, Winesburg, Ohio, Sherwood Anderson

Zoyd Wheeler, Vineland, Thomas Pynchon

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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11 Responses to “Literary Baby Names: 77 Quirky Characters from 20th Century Lit”

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maggiemary Says:

February 20th, 2014 at 5:26 am

For me personally, these are the ones I see as being usable…

Amaryllis
Ayla
Caithleen
Elya
Meridian
Zilla

Barley
Florentino
Inigo
Jolyon
Valerian

freddiethepink Says:

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!

Maerad Says:

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.

Michell Says:

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.

miloowen Says:

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.

peach25 Says:

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.

Daisychain Says:

February 20th, 2014 at 3:14 pm

Whatever you do, do not name your daughter Oedipa! Good god, people.

maggiefromcanada Says:

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”! 🙂

Mischa Says:

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?

JulieBirkett Says:

February 20th, 2014 at 9:11 pm

They are far too unusual. Most of them border on the ridiculous.

riah Says:

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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