This blog was featured on 08/30/2016
What's In A Name? (Or, "Right Ho, Jeeves!")

Have any of you read P.G. Wodehouse?  I am devouring the Jeeves books right now (on "The Inimitable Jeeves" and just finished "Right Ho, Jeeves"), and one of the most delicious things about these books, which are like crack if you are a fan of British humor, is the names.  Gussie Fink Nottle.  Bingo Little.  G. D'Arcy "Stilton" Cheesewright.  Tuppy Glossop.  Bertram Wooster.  And, of course, Jeeves.  I consider J.K. Rowling another more recent master of the art, with names that almost eliminate the need for introductions for her characters: Bellatrix Lestrange, Albus Dumbledore, Draco Malfoy, Dudley Dursley.

The names of the character in the novel I'm working on are more of the "I browsed the student-directory of my kids' school" variety.  I am terrible at making up names.  But in some cases--or for some kinds of books--I think the names matter less than in others.  My book is set in contemporary New York, and my main character, in many ways, is meant to be a kind of every-woman: giving her a silly or unusual name wouldn't work.  On the other hand, Harry Potter is just the right name for a extraordinary/ordinary English boy, and I'm glad, for instance, that Rowling didn't name him Charles Smith.  (Though of course if she had, I might now think that was just the thing...though no, I don't think I would.)  

So I'd like to know -- what are some of your favorite names of characters from literature?  And, if you are a fiction writer, what are some of your favorite names of the characters in your own books?  

I do have one name in my novel I'm proud of -- it's the name I've given to the fictional physicist who invents...well I can't say more or I'll give too much away.  But her name is Dr. Diane Sexton.  She's named for my mentor and friend the late Diane Middlebrook, who wrote an award-winning biography of the poet Anne Sexton.  The real Diane was not a physicist, but of the fictional Diane, who retains much of her daring, panache, and brilliant determination, I believe she would have been proud.

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  • Oh, reading the recent posts reminded me of Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum mystery series: lots of characters with very coloful Jersey monikers ... Lula, Ranger, Connie Risolli, Diesel, Moon-Man, Tank, Salvatore "Sally" Sweet. Plus the many FTAs Stephanie's trying to apprehend, like Simon Diggery, Caroline Scarzolli, Melvin Pickle, Punky Balog, Myron Kaplan, Moses "Uncle Mo" Bedemier, Eddie DeChooch ...

  • Cheryl J. Fish

    Eva Peace in Morrison's Sula; Gwendolen Harleth in Eliot's Daniel Deronda; Septimus Smith in Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.

    In my novel Off the Yoga Mat, my protagonists  Lulu Betancourt and Nathaniel Dart (he is named after Nathaniel Hawthorne).

  • Just discovered Wodehouse. Okay, yes, I'm a late bloomer . . .

    Hmm . . . favourite names . . .

    One of my books, written about 10 years ago, features a young woman named J'Aime. (Pronounced Jamie). And her little niece named Bree. I was so disappointed when a popular YA writer used 'Bree' in one of her books. Sigh.

  • Wodehouse was excellent and Bertie, dear ol' Bertie, is my favourite wormy-kind of hero. Glad you're enjoying the Jeeves series, Kamy. Dickens had a wonderful way of naming his characters, too. 

  • Carol Apple

    I agree with the others who name Dickens as the master of fictional names and, being a big fan of Mr. Dickens, I  have to share a just few of my favorites: Samuel Pickwick, Noddy Boffin, Joe Gargery, Clara Peggotty, and Wackford Squeers. But aside from Dickins there are so many others, some of which end up being absolutely organic to the character or the story. Would Huckleberry Finn be the same character with a different name? And how could there have been Moby Dick without Ishmael? Not to mention Ahab, Queequeg, Starbuck, Stuff, and well, Moby Dick?

  • Jeanne Nicholas

    I loved the Tropical Storm series by Melissa Good and her primary character Dar is a great nickname for Paladar

  • I write murder mystery games, so many times my character names have something to do with the character's function within the plot line - such as "Carrie Cash" or "Miracle Mulvaney."  However, the name I write under, Cordelia Smythe, is a name I imagined years ago as an "alias" should I ever want to runaway.  Now that the children are grown, the urge to r-u-n-n-o-f-t is not near as strong, so I adapted it to a pen name.

  • Urenna Sander

    I named the main characters in my book after friends, a former teacher’s surname, a doctor’s first name, and some were developed:  Alred (Al) Demery, Consuela (Connie) Moreno, Olivia Moreno, Reina Linda Moreno, Eleni and Ptolemy Verenis. Ian Fleming was good at naming his characters unusual names.

  • Mark Hughes

    This discussion ties into a pet peeve of mine - parents (fathers) who give their daughters feminized men's names. As in Roberta, Carla, Pauline, Alexandra, Josephine, etc. To me, it's more patriarchy in action. I even knew a Larrie Jo at one point in my life (three daughters in the family, father named Larry). That said, the main character in my novel is named Daniela - and when someone tells her it's a beautiful name, she says it's a feminized man's name.

      All THAT said, I agree that the bird theme in To Kill a Mockingbird appeals to me, as do the way the English name things like people, houses, and pets in general. Winston Churchill. Howard's End. Windy Corner. Lucy Honeychurch. And then there is an American strain: Jay Gatsby, Starbuck, Willy Loman, Ilsa Lund, Shrek.

  • LOVE Wodehouse!!  So right about the names he came up with.  I have trouble naming characters, and I think it is

    timidity that is getting in the way.  The more unique a name is, the phonier it sounds, when it is your invention.

    To me the all-time champ was Charles Dickens.   How can you possibly improve on Uriah Heep?   Mrs. Gummidge is perfect for a "lone, lorn creetur," and Mr. Micawber's lugubrious and melodramatic goings-on. . .can't think of a superlative strong enough to describe how fitting the name is.   Dickens hit the nail on the head every time.

    I am drawing a blank right now re contemporary thriller writers who are good about choosing character names that are easy to sort out,  but it makes a lot of difference, I'm sure you agree.  Some of my faves are Lee Child, Jonathon Kellerman, and John Griffin, and they wouldn't be if their character names were often confusingly similar.

    I chose thriller authors because if there is one thing you don't want, it is for who's who to outweigh who-dunit, right?

    Not that names are less crucial in other genres. 

    Obviously writing by the seat-o'-my-pants.  Sorry.


  • Christina M. Rau

    I've always loved the name Beatrice from Much Ado.  And Holden from Catcher. Gabriel Garcia Marquez has wonderful names.  So does J. K. Rowling.

  • Anusha Judith

    In my book the character is an Indian girl so I named her Zoya, Zoe is pretty popular too. I love the entire cast of To Kill A Mockingbird. I have grown up with Harry Potter so definitely the entire cast of it, I love Wodehouse, Gabriel Garcia Marquez,  and of course Charles Dickens, they are Mastermen!!

  • Kathleen Kern

    I love Enkidu too! I've always liked Uriah Heep.  In my first novel, my main character's name was Unmerited Grace Yoder, or Eugie (U.G.) In my current novel, I have a lot of First Nations characters, so I have mostly been googling their web-based newsletters for name ideas.  If my novel sells, I hope to be able to people at their language schools to check out the sections that take place in the Autonomous Indigenous Regions of the future.

  • V. Lynne Murray

    Wow, some of those you have listed are amazing. I read through everyone else's suggestions as well. I must admit, though I have a soft spot for Dickens, I love To Kill a Mockingbird's cast of characters. The Harry Potter crowd are pretty far out but not as wild as Wodehouse. I named one of the girls in my short story, Artesia. I was scratching my head and it just came flying in there. As the series carries on, I expect she will reveal some serious depth to her character.

  • I suppose my all time favorite character name is Enkidu from The Tales of Gilgamesh.

    My favorite characters of my own creation are LaZanya DellaCamponyata, a die hard drama queen caught up in between choosing her innocent self and her invented self,  and Penelope Bridgewater, who carried a white ruffled hanky sprayed with fresh rose water each morning and a big red leather purse, with an assortment of leather, crocheted, and plastic make up bags and pencil cases filled with the necessities of her life.  Possibly a third would be a little street ruffian, Tuff Cooky, who just wanted to be someone's valentine and not a vagrant child..  

  • Elizabeth Yon

    Dickens probably wins the prize for character names, but one of my favorites is a character created by sci-fi writer C.L Moore. A space pilot named Northwest Smith. That is just great! From my own book of short stories, I like my recurring character Madame Babatskaya.

  • Renee M. Payne

    Anne Shirley, that's what Morella called Anne when she was in trouble.

  • Sorry I was reading on my phone and didn't see the first comments, Dickens, of course, an absolute master. But so many of these others too--Gabriel Oak I remember so well. And it's intriguing and delightful to hear your favorite names from your own books, and your methods for coming up with them. I agree that secondary characters are even more difficult...

  • Oh my gosh, this is fun! How could I have forgotten Garcia Marquez and the amazing Douglas Adams. It makes me want to read them both again...

  • Ruth Pe Palileo

    Hands down, I have to say that I love "Psmith" from Wodehouse.  Such a very cheeky name.  Thanks for posting. I agree with you Wendy, lots of Terry Pratchett's characters also have great names.

  • Ok, I've always had wonderful brushes with Wodehouse, but have not really sat down and read them--but Kamy, those names are too delicious. Must get some Wodehouse. 

    I think the first time I really noticed names was when I was in 6th grade and read Brave New World--I found the names fascinating (Helmholtz Watson, Lenina Crowne, Mustapha Mond) and the fact that there is mention of only 10,000 last names in circulation, like they did a lottery to pick the most popular ones. 

    I read a bit of science fiction, and there is a lot of crazy naming flexibility in that genre. Howver, Doug Adams is clearly in the Wodehose category for that genre (Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Trillian, Slartibartfast, Dirk Gently).

  • Renee M. Payne

    Jeremiah de Saint-amour from Love in the Time of Cholera and Aunt Escolastica from the same book.
    Tuppy from Lafy Winderere's fan.

  • Wendy Roberts

    Ha! I recently read Thank You Jeeves, my first Wodehouse, and I had similar thoughts on the names, too! I do love the names Terry Pratchett comes up with in his discworld novels, especially the three witches Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat Garlick.

    As a writer, I love choosing names for characters with some symbolic basis, even if I'm probably the only one who knows! (My characters go by their last names).  My favorites are Reineke, the German variant of the sly Reynard the Fox, and Amsel which means blackbird. Also Schillerglanz--to my mind it means something along the lines of "fool's gold".

  • Judith Newton

    You can't beat Dickens.  Chicksey, Veneering, and Stobbles on Mincing Lane in Our Mutual Friends. My favorite from my mystery novel is Frank Walker, a Native American professor who is frank and who walks a true path.

  • Elisabeth Kinsey

    Aloysius, the bear in Brideshead Revisited. Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (from the mixed up files...). Jarndyce and Jarndyce...Bleak House. Gabriel Oak (Far From the Madding Crowd). Mr. Slugworth from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Zooey from Franny and Zooey. Rosina from Orlando. (also, Orlando). :)