The Bloomsbury Bunch: Literary names beyond Virginia and Vanessa
By Linda Rosenkrantz
There’s a new novel out that’s attracting quite a bit of attention titled Vanessa and Her Sister, the story of the Stephen sisters, Vanessa and Virginia—the latter far better known by her married name, Virginia Woolf. The two of them were key members of the influential literary circle known as The Bloomsbury Group.
Looking at the names of both the main members and the more ancillary ones in this creative coterie sometimes called the “Bloomsberries,” we find some appropriately distinctive, sometimes arcane, appellations. Beyond Vanessa and Virginia (who was born Adeline Virginia), here are the most interesting.
Adrian Stephen was the younger brother of Virginia and Vanessa, who, in addition to being a Bloomsbury author, was a psychoanalyst—one of the first Freudian analysts in London. The name Adrian is a solid choice, somewhat neglected because of its possible confusion with the female Adrienne. Current ties include a Harry Potter character and cute Entourage actor Adrian Grenier. It currently ranks at Number 60 in the US, Number 6 in Spain.
Aldous Huxley was one of the most famous members of the group, and during his Bloomsbury period wrote one of his most iconic books, Brave New World. Almost a one-person name via Mr. Huxley, Aldous does have a Latinate feel and lively short form Aldo. Russell Brand plays Aldous Snow in both Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall.
Angelica Bell was the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, a writer and painter. She wrote a memoir, Deceived with Kindness, about her experience growing up at the heart of the Bloomsberries; she herself was the mother of daughters named Amaryllis and Nerissa. Angelica is the most delicate of the Angel names; she’s currently at Number 413, having peaked at Number 106 in 1987.
Clive Bell (born Arthur Clive) was a noted art critic and the husband of Vanessa. His name has been the victim of stereotyping as the clipped British military man of old, but hunky Clive Owen may succeed in turning that image around.
Desmond McCarthy was a literary critic and journalist, editor of a number of periodicals, on the fringes of the inner circle. Desmond is a strong, sophisticated Irish name that has recently begun to catch on in the US, now having reached Number 330 and 167 on Nameberry.
Dora Carrington—The colorful Dora de Houghton Carrington—who often went by her last name—was a painter and decorative artist who had a long relationship with Lytton Strachey. She was the subject of the movie Carrington, starring Emma Thompson as the artist. Dora is one of the ora girls name that is poised for a comeback along with Cora and Flora, most recently associated with the animated Dora the Explorer.
Duncan Grant– Scottish-born Duncan Grant was a Post-Impressionist painter and designer of textiles, pottery and theatre sets and costumes. Duncan is an upbeat Scottish royal and Shakespearean name which I happen to love despite the often-pointed-out Dunkin’ Donuts association. David Bowie’s son Zowie wisely changed his name to Duncan.
Lydia Lopokova was a famous Russian ballerina whose connection to the Group was via her husband, the economist John Maynard Keynes. Lydia is a place name, a New Testament name and a Jane Austen name that has recently made her way into the Top 100.
Lytton Strachey (born Giles Lytton—the Lytton was after the first Lord Lytton) was a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group, a writer best known for his insightful biographies, such as Eminent Victorians and Queen Victoria, and was the inspiration for a couple of Virginia Woolf’s characters. Lytton, also spelled Litton, is a rare geographical place and surname.
Ottoline Morrell—Lady Ottoline Violet Anne Morrell was a British aristocrat and influential patron of the arts, whose favorites included Aldous Huxley, Dora Carrington and others like T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence. Ottoline is a charming and distinctive diminutive of Ottilie—itself another appealing option.
Quentin Bell –Quentin Claudian Stephen Bell was the son of Vanessa and Clive Bell, a ceramicist and author of a biography of his Aunt Virginia and several books on the Bloomsbury Group. He named one of his daughters Cressida. One of the most usable Q-names, Quentin means ‘fifth’, appears in several novels, and is currently hot in France, where he’s Number 41.
Saxon Sidney–Turner—Through his Cambridge University contemporaries Leonard Woolf, Thoby Stephen and Clive Bell, the intellectual Sydney–Turner, who wrote both poetry and music, became a member of the Group. Saxon is an occasionally heard surname name, originally given to those from the Saxony region of Germany; it was used for his son by actor Alex O’Loughlin
Thoby Stephen—born Julian Thoby Stephen, and known as the Goth, he was the brother of Vanessa, Virginia and Adrian, and is credited with starting the Bloomsbury Group’s Thursday evening gatherings. He died at the young age of 26. Thoby is a variant of the Hebrew Tobias, and has an energetic nicknamey feel.
Vita Sackville-West (born Victoria) was an author, poet and renowned gardener, the wife of writer and MP Harold Nicholson, connected to the Bloomsberries, largely through her romantic attachment to Virginia Woolf. Used on its own, the vivacious Vita is one of the life-meaning V-names; it was used by David Boreanaz for his daughter.
What’s your favorite Bloomsbury name?