Oh, You’re a Character From That Book

I have had a long fascination with word and name origins. As a soon-to-be first-time grandfather, I have become more interested in baby names.

Julie Beck, a senior editor at The Atlantic, wrote a piece I found about people naming babies after characters from fiction. which was something I never considered when naming my sons, but I did consider in naming pets.

I know several boys who are named Atticus after the beloved father in To Kill a Mockingbird. Atticus’ halo got a bit tarnished when that prequel/sequel by Harper Lee was published in 2016.

I suspect that the novel got at least a few babies to be named Scout too. I know of Scout LaRue Willis who is the daughter of actors Demi Moore and Bruce Willis. I don’t think Jem was ever a popular name and the same goes for Boo. (Although my son, Drew, was called Boo when he was very young, though it had nothing to do with the novel.)

As Beck points out, “Naming a child after a fictional character is a high-stakes proposition. Like naming a kid for a family member, it can be more meaningful than just picking a name out of a baby book, but it also comes with much more baggage.”

little women
The 4 March girls of Little Women (2019)

She cites a family with three girls named Amy, Meg, and Laurie Jo (AKA Jo). It’s Little Women for sure and perhaps parents and friends might even look to see if the girls pick up any of the characteristics of the characters (who were based on real people). Shouldn’t have gone for another child so that they could have a Beth?

I suspect that if any boys named Atticus end up being lawyers, they will never lack for jokes and jabs at their name. And will people pay attention to Jo (Josephine in the book) for any signs of her being stubborn, hot-tempered or “boyish”?

With yet another film version of Little Women out now and getting Oscar attention, there will probably be some babies named after characters in the book.   Maybe some mother will be nicknamed Marmee. The “boy next door” is Laurie, whose real name is Theodore Laurence. I doubt that any 2020 boys will want to be named Laurie even if their given name is some version of Laurence.

Books, movies, TV shows and celebrities all bring attention to names and sometimes cause a jump in babies getting that name.

Khaleesi
Might a Khaleesi baby become a Queen – or a despot?

The article notes examples of babies named Bailey (from a character on the sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati)  a Calvin (named for the main character in the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes), Jolenes (named after the Dolly Parton song -where Jolene is a husband-stealer) and a bunch of babies who will carry the name of a character from Game of Thrones into the world, such as Khaleesi.

Samantha Stevens
Samantha babies, even if witchy, would be good witches, right?

Samantha was not a popular name until 1964 when the lovable witch of TV’s Bewitched debuted.

And Samantha’s TV daughter was named Tabitha which certainly had not on any top baby names lists before she was “born” in 1966.

I loved that show and I thought Tabitha was a totally invented name. It turns out that it is a girl’s name of Aramaic origin meaning “gazelle.” I knew it as the name of one of Beatrix Potter’s storybook characters who is a cat (Tabitha Twitchet) and it was the name of one of my neighbor’s cats, though we called her Tabby. I suspect the show’s writers made that cat-witch connection. Less likely was that the writers were going for a character in the Bible who was restored to life by Saint Peter. Actors Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick bestowed it upon one of their twin daughters. I don’t know why they picked it. The other twin is Marion.

         

I will become a grandfather for the first time this spring. Of course, I have gotten tuned in to names for girls though I have no idea what names are being considered (big secret) by her parents. I know it’s an important choice. With my two sons, we went with family-connected first and middle names. That is still a tradition for many parents.

Barbie and Ken
Barbie and Ken out for a drive in their beach cruiser

My mother went with my name Kenneth and my sister’s Karen because she liked having two “K’ initials and also liked the meaning of the names as listed in those baby name books. Kenneth is of Scotch-Irish origin, of which I have not a drop of DNA and it means “born of fire and handsome.” Growing up I knew several other Kenneths and it probably peaked in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. We had to deal with Ken being the name of Barbie’s (the doll) boyfriend and dream date. More than once, other girls tried to set me up with a Barbara classmate. I’m not sure if Barbie caught on at the same time as a girl’s name.

My youngest son started a website called What’s in a Name? when he was 11 as a contest entry project. It included a section on popular baby names, so we both did a lot of research on the topic back then. I took over the site and revamped it into Why Name It That? and I still try to write weekly entries about interesting names. Besides first names, I am fascinated by origins and etymologies of the names of bands, product names, place names, titles, sports teams and the origins of any words and phrases that catch my interest.

On my names site, one of the most pages is about “sexy” first names. I wonder if parents-to-be are looking there? Certainly, many parents today are looking for names that are distinctive and set their child apart in a good way. Sometimes that is done with a different spelling – Zooey becomes Zoe. Even the ever-popular Michael has many variations: Miska, Mikael, Misha, Mikel, Micha, Miquel, Mikhail, Mikkel, Mischa, Mica, Michon, Meical, Miguel, Mikael, Mikko, Micho, Mihangel, Misi, and Michel all appear on name lists. I even discovered an interesting crossover of first names that are used as street names.

There are many books about names and websites popular with expectant parents searching for a name, and people who want to know what their name means and where it originated.

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Ken Ronkowitz

A lifelong educator on and off the Internet. Random by design and predictably irrational. It's turtles all the way down. Dolce far niente.

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