Editor’s note: This post was originally published on June 10, 2009. It was substantially revised and re-posted on March 4, 2013.
He’s the original disaffected youth from Catcher in the Rye, but does he still have his literary cachet?
Thanks to JNE for suggesting Holden as our Baby Name of the Day.
JD Salinger was quite the name-giver.
The fictional Holden Morrissey Caulfield was named after Salinger’s friend, Holden Bowler. Bowler was born in Idaho. He and JD met up when they both worked on a cruise ship.
More than many distinctive literary names, it is tough to hear Holden and not think of the character. The novel was published in 1951 and remains a winning combination of required reading and beloved book.
Holden was a perfect pick for the symbol of teenage angst. The Old English word for hollow was hol; the second element- den - means valley. The meaning is usually given as deep valley. Somehow that captures the tormented character nicely.
Like many names related to fields, forests and other features on the landscape, Holden was a place name used primarily in Lancashire and Yorkshire. In other parts of England, Holcomb or Holcombe would’ve been the equivalent.
Like Holcomb/e, Holden is far more common as a surname. A handful of uses immediately come to mind:
- Fictional Baywatch babe played by Yasmine Bleeth, Caroline Holden.
- Cleveland’s Holden Arboretum, named for philanthropist Albert Holden.
- Then there’s Hollywood’s William Holden. His long career include a Best Actor Oscar and an Emmy, too.
It is sometimes said that the actor was the inspiration for Caulfield’s name. In 1947, Holden starred with Joan Caulfield in Dear Ruth, placing the two surnames on the same marquee. But Salinger had already debuted the name in a short story nearly two years earlier.
But Holden’s popularity is thanks to As the World Turns’ Holden Snyder, introduced in 1985. Holden and Lily Walsh became a soap opera supercouple, with a relationship spanning three decades.
In 1987, Holden debuted at #911. He’s risen steadily ever since. As of last year, he had climbed to a high of #299.
Plenty of celebs have used the name along the way, including:
- Rick Schroeder, back in 1992.
- Brendan Fraser has a son called Holden Fletcher.
- Mira Sorvino’s younger son wears the name – a brother for Mattea, Johnny, and Lucia.
- Backstreet Boy Howie Dorough just welcomed a newborn Holden, too.
If he once felt dramatic, today Holden is mainstream.
He fits right in with all of those two-syllable, ends-in-n names we’ve long loved for our sons: Brennan, Rowan, Dawson, Dalton, and Paxton are all used at about the same rate. They share a certain preppy appeal.
Add in our continued interest in surnames, and Holden fits right in with other up-and-comers, like Beckett and Brooks.
It’s also a popular place name. You can find him in the US, Canada, Norway, and in outer space. There are crater on the Moon and Mars called Holden after American astronomer Edward Holden.
With his literary cachet and current sound, no wonder Holden continues to catch on.