Category: literary baby names
Victor Hugo, the nineteenth-century French writer best known for Les Misérables and The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was a keen observer of people and society. I’d wager he was something of a name enthusiast, too.
His books contain not just memorably-named characters, but also a lot of comments on names.
If someone has an unusual name, it usually has a back story. For example, Quasimodo, the Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was named after the first word in the liturgy on the day he was found as an infant.
Hugo’s characters talk about names, their own and others, just like we do in real life. In Notre-Dame, a group of women laugh at Esmeralda’s outlandish name (although they can hardly talk, with names like Amelotte, Colombe, Mahiette and Oudarde). Elsewhere, a man called Félix complains that his name is a lie because he is not happy.
Wharton was one of the first authors to write about this period, and she knew it well, having grown up in it. Her books are about not only high society – the parties, the travel, the social deals – but also the private life that went on behind it. Love affairs, secret debts, scandalous behavior, it’s all there.
Now that winter is here, it’s a good time to look at names from the frozen north and beyond in the worlds created by Philip Pullman in his young-adult trilogy His Dark Materials.
If you’ve read or watched the first part, The Golden Compass (called Northern Lights in some countries), it’s hard to forget the heroine, a girl called Lyra, or the friends and foes she meets on her journey to the Arctic. She comes from a universe similar but different to ours: it’s a bit steampunk and contains colourful characters like witches and armoured polar bears.
In the following books, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass, we follow Lyra beyond the north into other worlds, including our own, inhabited by all manner of people: humans, angels, harpies, and even stranger creatures. With this eclectic mix of characters and Pullman’s love of symbols and hidden meanings, you can bet they have some good names.
Here’s a look at some of the most interesting names from The Golden Compass and its sequels, from wintry northern names to modern-sounding surnames. Warning: if you haven’t read any of the books or seen the film, there may be a few giveaway details here.
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.)
“The lost generation” was a term coined by Gertrude Stein in describing the generation of men and women who had survived World War I, coming of age then and in the subsequent Jazz Age. Referring to the sense of wandering and melancholy that plagued many during the era – especially the expatriates – this term now often applies to artists of the time.
In their books, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway included a variety of characters that personified the period in different ways. Here are some of the names of those “lost” souls who have influenced American literature today.