Within the pages of books from all periods of literary history—from classical, metaphysical and Elizabethan poetry and plays to the Romantics and the Realists, right up to modern novels—can be found gems of names that have been lost to time, either because they’ve been identified with a singular character or simply because they’ve gone out of style. Here are twenty such girls’ names, with the boys group to follow next week.
ALIA—Alia Atreides is a key figure in the Dune sci-fi series created by Frank Herbert, appearing in four of the novels. A variant of the Hebrew Aliyah, it means “ascending.”
BRIONY is the young girl who sets the plot in motion in Ian McEwan’s Atonement. It’s a variant spelling of Bryony, the name of a perennial vine, coming from the Greek meaning ‘to grow luxuriantly’.
CALIXTA—Calixta is an alluring woman in Kate Chopin’s At the ‘Cadian Ball, a novel set in the Creole south at the turn of the century. In Greek, it means “most beautiful.”
CATRIONA is the eponymous heroine of a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. This Gaelic form of Katherine is pronounced ka-TREE-na.
CLEA—An artistic character in the volume of the Lawrence Durrell Alexandria Quartet that bears her name—and also the sorceress lover of Dr. Strange in the Marvel Comics universe.
CORINNA –After appearing as the main female character in Ovid’s Amores, Corinna became a favorite in 17th century poetry, including Robert Herrick’s Corinna’s Going A-Maying. It’s a Latinized form of a Greek name meaning maiden.
FANTINE—The name of the beautiful, naïve, self-sacrificing character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.
GINEVRA—The name of a young English girl in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, this is the Italian form of Guinevere (meaning “fair, white, smooth” ) and also is the Italian version of Geneva.
IANTHE—One of the most poetic of names, found in the romantic verse of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley (who chose it for his daughter) and Walter Savage Landor. In Greek, it means “violet flower”
KAMALA—A beautiful courtesan in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. Also another name for the Hindu goddesses Lakshmi and Durga.
LILIA—A high-spirited character in E. M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, and one of the prettiest of the Lil names.
MALTA—In Dickens’ Bleak House, one of the three happy children—along with Quebec and Woolwich—of the Bagnet family, which would make an unusual place name.
MERIDIAN. The spirited title character of Alice Walker’s 1976 novel, a word name with several possible nicknames
PERSIS—the wife of the protagonist of William Dean Howell’s The Rise and Fall of Silas Lapham. It’s a Greek New Testament name meaning ‘Persian woman.’
PRAIRIE –a modern Valley Girl (she works at the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple) in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland.
TAMORA—A Gothic queen in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, this is a variation of the Hebrew Tamar, meaning “date palm.
TEMPLE—Temple Drake is a complex character who appears in two William Faulkner novels, Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun.
THISBE—A mythical character in the play-within-the-play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retelling the tragic Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.
TITANIA—The powerful queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Latinate name, probably meaning ‘of the Titans.’
TRILBY—In George du Maurier’s eponymous novel, Trilby is described as “out of the common clever, simple, humorous, honest, brave, and kind,” who unfortunately falls under the spell of Svengali.