2 Tips for Using Literary Character Names as Baby Names

You want to name your baby after a literary character? That’s great. Character names often make good baby names. But they don’t always make good baby names. How can you tell if the name you like is a good one? Here are two tips that might help.

Read the Source

You’ve seen the movie? Flipped through the CliffsNotes? Read the Wikipedia entry? Doesn’t matter. If you haven’t read the story, you don’t know the character. And if you don’t know the character, you may be in for an unpleasant surprise.

Iago, Tamburlaine, Quentin, Sauron….interesting names, but if you’ve never read Shakespeare, or Marlowe, or Faulkner, or Tolkien, you might not know that they represent some flawed and/or cruel characters.

The only way you’ll be able to make an informed decision about whether or not a character makes a worthy namesake is if you read the source.

Don’t Overshadow Your Child

Aladdin. Cinderella. D’Artagnan. Dracula. Frodo. Gatsby. Hamlet. Pangloss. Pinocchio. Quixote. Renesmee. Sherlock. Tarzan. Yossarian.

I can think of several reasons why giving a baby one of the names above would be a bad idea. One of the most compelling, in my opinion, is that names as distracting as these may upstage your child and take away from his or her achievements.

If Emma Miller does something notable, she’ll be congratulated. If Cinderella Jones does the same thing, she’ll be asked about her unusual name. (And maybe later she’ll be congratulated.)

If Jacob Wilson breaks into a burning house and rescues a family of five before firefighters arrive, people will say he’s a hero. If Tarzan Smith does the same thing, people will snicker. They’ll ask him if he swung in on a vine, or if the flames singed his loincloth.

What other tips can you come up with for people who are looking to literature for baby names?


9 thoughts on “2 Tips for Using Literary Character Names as Baby Names

  1. Maeve’s middle name is Beatrix for Beatrix Potter. Not technically the same thing…Sophia’s middle name is Esme for the Salinger short story “For Esme with Love and Squalor” which I read and loved dearly long before I considered the name. Leo’s middle name is Cassidy from the grateful dead song. My only advice would be that your second rule can be disregarded if you put it in the middle. You could be Michael Aragorn Smith and that could be actually downright cool, in a way that Aragorn Michael Smith would be absolutely not. Not.

  2. Your post could apply to historical names as well.

    Names should pass the pet test in two ways.

    First, they should not be the name of an animal or pet in a book (or associated primarily with such). Charlotte has many literary references, but Pantalaimon doesn’t.

    Second, they shouldn’t be frequently used as pets’ names among your circle of acquaintances. (I know of 3 or 4 dogs named Sadie at the moment.)

  3. @Bridgett – I agree. I think it’s totally fine to be more creative with middles. They’re just so easy to conceal. No one would ever assume the “A” in Michael A. Smith stood for something like Aragorn.

  4. My son’s name is Yossarian. We call him Yoshi for short.
    I agree with you on some of those names, as with very popular ones (Dracula, Tarzan, etc.) but Yossarian is so little known actually.
    Se lavi! No regrets.

  5. Amanda, that’s a good point. Most people know characters like Dracula and Cinderella, but relatively few know (or remember) characters like Yossarian and Pangloss. And whether or not a child would be overshadowed by a character name would really depend upon how well-known the character is in the first place.

    (It would also depend on how distinctive the name is–another point I missed. If the character has a common name, no overshadowing will take place because no one will ever catch the reference.)

  6. To C in DC:

    I was once told of a couple who loved the name Abigail, so that’s what they named their dog. When they had their first daughter, Abigail was out of the question, since they couldn’t chage their dog’s name. That would be another important tip.

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