The New Popularity of Storybook Names
Our focus today is on fictional characters in children’s books, though some older characters’ names in stories beloved by teens are finding favor too: Holden in Catcher in the Rye, for example, and Juliet in Romeo & Juliet.
The charming characters inspiring the names of an increasing number of babies include:
Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was first introduced to the world way back in 1865, and has found fame in many different ways over the decades. Disney made an animated version in the 1950s, but a 1999 live action film on NBC featuring Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Kingsley introduced the story to this generation of parents. Alice has climbed nearly 300 places in the past decade and now lies just outside the Top 100. Over the coming decade, she may well regain the Top 10 status she held a century ago.
- Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland was first introduced to the world way back in 1865, and has found fame in many different ways over the decades. Disney made an animated version in the 1950s, but a 1999 live action film on NBC featuring Whoopi Goldberg and Ben Kingsley introduced the story to this generation of parents. Alice has climbed nearly 300 places in the past decade and now lies just outside the Top 100. Over the coming decade, she may well regain the Top 10 status she held a century ago." >
- Charlotte's Web was not the little girl – her name was Fern – or her beloved pig, Wilbur, but rather the spider who teaches them the true meaning of life. The book was written in the 1950s and the animated film with Charlotte voiced by Debbie Reynolds released in 1973, which today’s generation of moms and dads saw during the VCR era of the 1990s. A new animated version voiced by Dakota Fanning, Julia Roberts, and Oprah Winfrey was released in 2006, and the name Charlotte reached new heights: She’s now at Number 11 in the US and is also a Top 100 name throughout Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany." >
- Eloise at the Plaza was first written by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hillary Knight, in the 1950s, but after the author and illustrator died in the late 1990s, freeing the way for a reissue of the original book plus the publication of new titles that had been held up by legal battles. Eloise gained wider fame among a new generation of children – who grew up to be today’s parents, reviving the antiquated and charming name for their daughters." >
- Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in the 1880s, was made into many films over the years, including one in 1993 starring Elijah Wood that undoubtedly caught the notice of many of today’s parents. Twain named his character Huckleberry reportedly because of the fruit’s humble origins and resistance to cultivation, but few real life babies were given the name until it was used by two sets of celebrity parents – Brad and Kimberly Williams-Paisley along with the Bear Gryllses – in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Last year there were 54 boys in the US named Huck and 14 named Huckleberry, but surname Finn is the real star of the show, now standing at Number 250 in the US and in the Top 50 in Ireland, the Netherlands, and Germany." >
- Madeline has had a longer popularity trajectory than many of the other names on this list, beginning her ascent in 1980 and in the US Top 100 for two decades. Ludwig Bemelmans’ books featuring the little girl who lives in a convent school in Paris were first published in the 1930s, and an animated television series and live-action film in the 1990s introduced the Madeline world to today’s parents. The last Madeline book, Madeline in America and Other Holiday Tales, was published in 1999." >
- Roald Dahl’s Matilda is a relative latecomer to the storybook scene, first published in 1988 but gaining widespread attention via the charming film starring Mara Wilson released in 1996. Today, Matilda is a hit play on Broadway, giving the name a long future on the charts: It just reentered the US Top 1000 in 2008 after a 50-year hiatus, now standing at Number 645 but in the Top 100 in England, Wales, Germany, and Sweden." >
- Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are was first published in 1963, and the name of its little boy hero Max started climbing in the US in the early 80s, about the time of the first readers of the book began naming babies of their own. A 2009 film brought new attention to the story and the name, and today Max lies just outside the US Top 100 and is an international hit, solidly in the Top 50 throughout Great Britain and also in Ireland, the Netherlands, Germany, and Sweden." >
- Huck Finn’s more buttoned-up pal Tom Sawyer has inspired a new generation of baby names of his own based on his surname, an occupational name meaning woodcutter. Sawyer is now just outside the Top 100 for boys and at Number 448 for girls, though the character on Lost has undoubtedly inspired at least as many Sawyers as the classic Mark Twain storybook boy, who famously tricked the other children into wanting to paint the fence." >
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on November 28th, 2014 at 1:37 am
I love literary names and a lot of the names on my list are literary names! I loved all the names in this list except for Max
on November 28th, 2014 at 11:13 am
I didn’t like many of the names on this list! The only one I did like was Sawyer for a little boy.
on November 28th, 2014 at 2:14 pm
My pets have always had literary names: Current cat names are Simey (Simon) for the main character from Patricia Wrightson’s The Nargun and the Stars and Duncan from the king in the Scottish play.
on November 28th, 2014 at 7:55 pm
I thought for sure Amelia would be on this list – as in Amelia Bedelia!
on November 29th, 2014 at 2:05 pm
Pippi longstocking was my favorite. I wish I was brave enough! I love Pollyanna too!
on November 30th, 2014 at 6:05 am
I love storybook names! I wish they weren’t becoming popular, though, because I don’t like to follow the trends in my name-choosing…
on November 30th, 2014 at 11:22 am
Love these. My daughter’s name is Madeline, and we also pronounce it with the long i sound at the end like in the book. The book was a dear favorite of mine as a child, and I am now a children’s literature teacher, so it was fitting to name her somewhat after the character. (We also just liked the name.)
I am actually trying to think of what we will name the next daughter if we do have another girl. I love Amelia, though I never read the Amelia Bedelia books as a child (strangely). Thanks Lo, for reminding me there is a famous Amelia in children’s books!
I do like Holden a lot for a boy, but I would have to get over my fear of looking pretentious in using it. 🙂 I love Alexander–no nickname–like in the Judith Viorst Alexander books. I also love the name Sal for a boy–which comes from my love of Blueberries for Sal, by Robert McCloskey. But Sal is a girl in the book (although bc of her short hair, I thought she was a boy for a long time…maybe that’s why I like Sal better for a boy?), which is cute too, I think.
on December 1st, 2014 at 2:58 am
I adore Eloise and Matilda. Unfortunately both are very popular where I live! You neglected to mention that Matilda is in the top 20 in Australia 🙂 And Eloise is #68! Lovely names though. My cousin’s name is Eloise.
on December 1st, 2014 at 1:12 pm
Love this list! Alice, Eloise, Madeline, and Finn are favorites of mine!
on December 2nd, 2014 at 12:58 pm
Are my favorites for girls, but all of them were lovely! *heart eyes*
on March 25th, 2015 at 7:25 am
Such a sweet list! Lots of good names here. And while I know Harry Potter is not really a storybook I think this generation will also have many children named after Harry Potter characters, which is totally a good thing if you ask me!
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