Literary Baby Names: Promising possibilities from Edgar Allan Poe
Halloween is behind us, but now that the days are getting darker and the nights longer, you might still feel in the mood for some ghostly, gothic names. There are plenty to be found in the poems and stories of Edgar Allan Poe.
Poe is best known for his macabre writing, although he also wrote science fiction, detective stories, and many literary essays. A favorite topic of his is some unfortunate man mourning the loss of a beautiful woman – who often returns to haunt him.
You might know The Raven, where the narrator is visited by a sinister bird who is apparently the departed spirit of his fiancé Lenore. (If you can think of that poem without thinking of The Simpsons’ version, you’re doing better than me.)
Poe clearly chose his ladies’ names with care. He drew many from history and myth, and used some that were standard in the early nineteenth century but are off the beaten track now.
You might notice that Poe liked ‘L’ sounds in names. He may have found they made his poems sound more musical – never more so than the title character of Ulalume. This chimes with today’s fashion for L-heavy girls’ names like Olivia, Layla and Lily – although it could be a while before Ulalume is in the charts.
Here are ten of the most haunting women’s names from Poe’s works.
A peasant girl in the poem Tamerlane, probably inspired by Ada Lovelace, the mathematician and daughter of fellow-poet Lord Byron. This short name is rising through the ranks, hot on the heels of Ava and Adalynn. It’s in the Nameberry top 100, so it’s on a lot of people’s radar.
“We loved with a love that was more than love, I and my Annabel Lee.” Like the childhood sweetheart in Poe’s last poem, Annabel has a sweet, innocent feel…at least it did until 2014, when the film Annabelle was released. Thanks to that creepy doll, all spellings of this name took a dive in popularity. With a sequel due out next year, we’ll have to wait and see if this association is too strong, or if Annabel will bounce back.
In Poe’s short story Berenice, the poor woman suffers a lot of misfortunes, but she does at least have really good teeth. With that dated -ice ending, neither Berenice nor the variant Bernice are used much today. That’s a shame, because the name has plenty of depth and history, and has been worn by royalty and saints. In Berenice’s favor, it has spunky short forms like Bebe, Berry and Ren.
Poe’s poems aren’t always dark – Eulalie is a cheerful poem about a woman who brings joy to her husband’s life. After not ranking in the States for over 50 years, it returned to the records in 2012 and was given to ten girls last year. It’s early days, but it could be the start of a rising trend. With those L sounds and a French ending like rising star Sylvie, Eulalie has potential.
A rebellious angel in the poem Al Aaraaf, Ianthe is a flower name as well as a nymph in Greek mythology. Although it’s unusual, it’s not completely unknown, thanks to a few well-known bearers like writer Ianthe Elizabeth Brautigan. Short, sweet and fairly straightforward, Ianthe makes a rare alternative to names like Isla and Ivy.
Poe used this name not only in The Raven but also in another poem called, appropriately, Lenore. Elsewhere he wrote of women called Eleonora and Helen – it looks like he was drawn to this group of names. Lenore has risen over the last few years: it was given to 67 girls in 2015, and latinate Lenora to 130. The Spanish and Portuguese form, Leonor, is the second most popular name in Portugal, and all forms of the name make it one of the most international girls’ names starting with L.
Another name so nice, Poe used it twice: for an angel and a woman who, you’ve guessed it, comes back to haunt her husband. Ligeia is a siren in Greek mythology, and Ligeia Mare is a lake on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. With several possible pronunciations, this might not be the simplest name to wear. The Portuguese forms, Lígia and Lygia, are more streamlined.
A ghostly woman in one of Poe’s horror stories, Morella is a mysterious name with several possible origins. That Mor- sound gives it a dark feel, and fittingly it’s another name for the black nightshade plant. It’s also a Spanish place-name and possibly a latinized form of Muriel. It gets some use in Latin America, and was given to 5 girls in the US in 2015.
Poe’s friend Octavia Walton is immortalised in a short poem he wrote for her. With Olivia near the top of the charts and Ophelia rising, this four-syllable O-name might not be far behind. Octavia rose from 71 girls in 2014 to 173 girls in 2015, so it’s one to watch next year.
Rowan is rising fast for both sexes, but the more feminine, whimsical Rowena is nowhere near as popular: it was only given to twelve girls in 2015. But it’s a go-to name for gothic and fantasy women. Poe used it for a character in his short story Ligeia, and it’s also the name of characters in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, Harry Potter, and the TV show Supernatural.