Literature gave us a complex, violent, romantic figure. Our generation knows him as a good-natured, sweater-wearing dad and a fat cartoon kitty.
Thanks to Bree for suggesting Heathcliff as Baby Name of the Day.
Heath combines Hollywood style and nature-name appeal to seem a perfectly likely candidate for a boy born circa 2010. Clifford lingers in fashion limbo, but just for now – given his history of use, it is easy enough to imagine he’ll be rediscovered in another few decades. Even now, rugged Cliff is beginning to surface on baby name boards.
But what about Heathcliff? The name’s origins are obscure. Oh, we know Emily Brontë chose it for her tortured foundling turned foster child of the Earnshaw family. Return to the novel, and you’ll recall that Heathcliff was named after a deceased child, the last son of Mr. and Mrs. Earnshaw, who died before the Heathcliff he remember was taken in to their home.
The foster son, of course, falls disastrously in love with his foster sister, Catherine. He eventually makes his fortune, but the pair never marry. Heathcliff’s later years are vengeful, angry ones.
You could deconstruct the name, cobbling together a definition based on the two halves. But it is nearly impossible to separate him from the literary figure, or at least from Laurence Olivier’s classic performance in the 1939 film adaptation.
Or, if you came of age in the 1970s and 1980s, Laurence Olivier and a fat, orange cat.
Cartoonist George Gately dared to appropriate the legendary figure’s unusual name in 1973, and Heathcliff the cat appears in over 1,000 newspapers every Sunday. Instead of prowling the moors, he trawls the fish market.
Just when you thought nothing could be less Heathcliff than that Heathcliff, The Cosby Show’s patriarch was named Heathcliff Huxtable, though Bill Cosby’s paterfamilias answered to Cliff.
None of this suggests that Heathcliff would make for a fashionable name for a son born circa 2010. And yet, the well-born British designer Lucy Sykes (her sister is novelist Plum Sykes) has kids called Heathcliff Felix Alastair Euan and Titus Jasper Jake Icarus.
Does that make Heathcliff an elaborate starbaby choice that just might catch on in the the mainstream? Or is he destined to remain an offbeat option only for the most daring baby namers?
My guess would be that he’s more the latter – but with easy nickname Heath, to say nothing of our growing tolerance for boys called Romeo and Orlando, perhaps I’m wrong.