Category: literary baby names
“…there is great power, and great peril, in a name.” The Tombs of Atuan
Ursula Le Guin is one of the best-known science fiction and fantasy authors of our time. For the last fifty years and more, she’s woven gripping stories and tackled no end of big topics: gender, class, the environment, the power of words – and the power of names.
She’s best known for her books about the world of Earthsea. If you’ve read any, you’ll probably remember it contains wizards (and a wizarding school long before Hogwarts was dreamt of), dragons, kings, dark powers and ordinary people. You might also remember names are hugely important – literally a matter of life and death.
I’m starting this series with my favourite 19th century novelist, Thomas Hardy. If you’re looking for whimsical Victorian names, biblical rarities or wholesome old-timey nicknames, you’ll find them all in his books.
Hardy is famous for his stories of drama, scandal and (usually) doomed love set in rural southwest England, which he called by its historic name of Wessex. (Incidentally, that was also the name of his dog.) Besides the dramatics, his novels are also full of warm scenes of ordinary country life, which Hardy saw vanishing in his lifetime.
His two best-known characters both have short, sweet and successful names. You might recognise them from the title of their books.
Jude (the Obscure) is no longer an obscure name at all. It’s been rising in popularity over the last couple of decades, helped by Jude Law bringing it to public attention, and the Beatles song ‘Hey, Jude‘. In the US it ranks at 162 and might just break into the top 100 in the next few years. It’s already there in England and Wales, at 65.
Tess (of the d’Urbervilles) is declining in popularity on both sides of the Atlantic, ranking 998 in the US and 763 in England and Wales). That’s not the whole story, as there are probably a fair few girls called Tessa and Teresa who answer to Tess. In the Netherlands, where short girls’ names are very on-trend, Tess was the top name in 2013, and in 2015 was no. 7.
His characters cover the whole social range from servants and farmhands to landed gentry, and their names are equally varied. Let’s take a look at some of the naming styles he used.
By Emily Cardoza
There is no play that illustrates the biting wit of Oscar Wilde better than The Importance of Being Earnest. And with a pun on names central to the plot, how could I miss the chance to make it my newest installment of Literary Names, in which I play the game of finding substitutes for the character names?
Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite authors, was well known in his day for biting one-liners and quick takedowns of the pretentious London nobility, as reflected in his books and plays. Here are some of his most interesting character names, excluding the great ones in The Importance of Being Earnest, which I’ll take up in a separate post.
By Emily Cardoza
As a bookworm, I find that some of the most fun in reading comes after I finish the book – imagining the characters’ worlds, thinking up possible new storylines – and even new names! I’ve been giving the name treatment to a few works of fiction in my Literary Names series on Nothing Like a Name. My last post for Nameberry, New Names for The Secret Garden, prompted a couple of requests to give the same treatment to Harry Potter characters. But since the cast is so enormous, I’ve decided to try it out with just a select subset – the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors.