Literary Character Surnames: Wentworth, Gatsby and Holmes
Wentworth Miller, the actor from the former hit show Prison Break, has a very distinctive name. He is a third, after his father and grandfather, and he may share his name with a few others in the world, but his first name is by no means a mainstream one. Jane Austen fans recognize it immediately, and the fact is the three Wentworth Millers were named after the hero of her novel Persuasion, Captain Wentworth. According to IMDB, it was his great-grandmother’s idea, and what a great one it was. Such formal names may not be obviously considered as first names, but why not branch out?
Wentworth has a deep history as a surname in England and has a meaning of “pale man’s settlement” or “village of the white people.” In Old English, it can be drawn from the words for “winter” and “enclosure.” Ancestry.com writes that it could have referred to a settlement only inhabited in the winter. It is also a place name. We can only guess what drew Miss Austen to the name, but no matter what that was, Wentworth was assigned to a character who became the inspiration for a baby boy’s name.
Miller was born in England in 1972. As far as I know, there’s no way for me to see if there were any other Wentworths born in England (where Miss Austen is from as well). I have found the following instances of baby Wentworths in the United States: 1917 (6), 1919 (5), 1921 (10), 1923 (6), 1924 (5), 1926 (6), 1935 (5), and 1947 (7). I would call that a rare name.
I know there are many parents out there who want that “one and only” name for their child. Are there any other character surnames in literature that could be an inspiration for them? Concentrating on possible boy names, here are several that caught my eye and ear:
Copperfield – From Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. Yes, this is a big name to carry and might be more suitable as a middle name. But a character considered to be influenced by the author himself might be inspirational enough to some parents willing to take a truly unique route. Also, Copper would be a great nickname.
Holmes – From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle‘s novels. Everyone would know who is honored by this first name, and I don’t think anyone could deduce a reason to object. Watson is another name from these stories that warrants consideration… and did inspire the parents of 42 baby boys in 2011.
Thornton – From Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South. At least nine sets of parents agree that this would be a great first name, since that is how many baby boy Thorntons were born in 2011. So while it may not be completely unique, it is still one to be considered for its strong and masculine sound (and a great nickname in Thor).
Tilney – From Jane Austen‘s Northanger Abbey. This name sounds like the feminine Tilly, however the “n” does give it some harshness appropriate for a boy. And the charismatic and romantic character of Tilney makes it a wonderfully different option for parents.
There are a lot of situations where people are called by their last names… in the military, in service (Branson on Downton Abbey is one that comes to mind), and on sports teams. And the concept of using surnames to name children is definitely not foreign. So while it may take some deep love of a novel to use any of the names mentioned above, it only takes a brave set of parents to go with their heart and possibly start a trend.
What character surnames might inspire you to take this step?
Kelli Brady is a stay at home mom of two who needed an outlet for her name obsession. She found it at NameFreak!, a blog dedicated to a wide variety of name-related whims and fancies. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
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on May 8th, 2013 at 12:00 am
Tilney is my favorite Austen hero. He’s smart and flawed and a little sarcastic, which I love. I hadn’t really ever considered Tilney as a first name possibility, but I think I kind of like it.
on May 8th, 2013 at 12:45 am
I really like Watson, but my favorite literary surname from Sherlock Holmes is Adler.
on May 8th, 2013 at 3:19 am
I love so many of these – Holmes, Crusoe, Knightley and Thornton are such great names!
I’m also a fan of Carmichael, for the family known as the “large” family by Sara Crewe in Frances Hodgeson Burnett’s “A Little Princess”. It’s one of my all time favourite books 🙂
on May 8th, 2013 at 9:56 am
Lawrence – after Theodore Lawrence from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women series.
on May 8th, 2013 at 12:05 pm
I can tell you where Jane Austen got the name Wentworth from – the Earls Wentworth-Fitzwilliam who owned an estate called Wentworth Woodhouse. She was actually distantly related to them. A relative of the Wentworth-Fitzwilliams who lived in Australia and was a highwayman(!) was called D’Arcy Wentworth. There are four names from the one family!
on May 8th, 2013 at 4:13 pm
First of all, as a huge period drama fan as well as surname fan, I love this post!
@HannieKitt: As a big fan of Jane Austen, I fully appreciate your comment 🙂 I’m not surprised Jane used all four names – she never seemed to be very creative when it came to names. (How many Marys are there in six books? At least four.)
Other comments: I love Branson! (self-confessed Downton addict :)) I think it’s a great twist on Brandon (another literary surname, via Sense and Sensibility) without the question: “It is Brandon or Brendan?”
Another favorite, though probably guilty pleasure, is Fitzwilliam. I know, it’s a first name in Pride and Prejudice, but it’s also a surname. I love the “fitz” beginning, I don’t know why. I guess it just makes the name more distinctive and upperclass.
on May 8th, 2013 at 7:50 pm
I love the Baileys in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ so much that I would seriously consider using the name Bailey after them. But only for a boy.
on May 8th, 2013 at 8:24 pm
I have met a young Gatsby and an adult Thornton.
on October 17th, 2013 at 10:06 am
I love these, and I would absolutely consider naming a baby boy Holmes…if it wasn’t already my last name ;). Also:
Gale (Wizard of Oz)
Cuthbert (Anne of Green Gables)
Adler (Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal in Bohemia)
Author’s last names that could work as first names:
Grahame (Wind in the Willows)
Montgomery (Anne of Green Gables)
Carroll (Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, Sylvie and Bruno)
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