But there’s yet another choice when it comes to literary baby names – the literally literary ones. They’re terms that refer to something in literature, words that describe a genre, or a type of literature, or a device used in story-telling.
Some of these make great given names. Others feel best left to the middle spot.
But if you’re a book-lover with a creative streak, and a daring baby-namer, too, then these literally literary baby names could be exactly what you’re after.
Canon might bring to mind gore and war. Or maybe it refers to a canon, all of the most important works collected. (The Western canon is an oft-used phrase, but it’s far from the only one. How ’bout the Zora Canon, the 100 best works by African American women?) It’s an authoritative list of all the critical publications. Or perhaps “canon” is a synonym for “accepted and official,” as in science fiction and comic books. In genres where lots of authors contribute over many years, you might hear that a certain series of, say, Star Wars novels are not considered canon.
As literary baby names go, this one straddles the line between obviously inspired by all things bibliophile and something very different. But that’s the kind of ambiguity that might make this name the perfect pick for some families.
I’ve yet to write about Canon, but check back and I’ll update when I do.
Okay, I’m kind-of, sort-of making this one up. Except I found a handful of people named Canto in various US records, almost all with Spanish-sounding surnames. Indeed, canto means corner in Galician, explaining why it sometimes filters into use as a surname. It can also mean stone – a cantiero is a stonemason.
But it makes this list because it’s an Italian word for song, and also the division of an epic poem – roughly equivalent to a chapter in a book. With so many o-ending names rising through the ranks, Canto could make a daring, but wearable choice.
I’ve yet to write about Canto, but check back and I’ll update when I do.
It rhymes with vintage Mabel, and brings to mind girls’ names like Faith and Faye. But it wasn’t a name until 2008, when blogger Rebecca Woolf at Girls Gone Child put this one on the list of possibilities. And why not? Story remains on the edges of possible noun-names, the one that kick-started this list. While Story feels solidly unisex, Fable’s Faye-Mabel sound pushes it to the girls’ side.
I’ve yet to write about Fable. Check back and I’ll update when I do.
This feels like a big name for a little baby! It’s a lot to live up to, right? But it’s also an increasingly familiar choice, and just like we don’t assume every Grace is a ballerina, the more we hear Legend, the less we attach meaning and assumptions to the name. And make no mistake, Legend is trending. Unheard of in the early 90s, a video game and movie might have sparked the name’s uptick. But the real rise in use is probably down to singer John Legend, born John Roger Stephens.
I’ve yet to write about Legend, but check back and I’ll update when I do.
Lyric comes from the Greek for lyre – as in the musical instrument – as we tend to associate it with, well, the words to songs. But it started out as a type of poetry. Like many a word name, it’s seldom heard in regular speech, which probably makes it easier to imagine as a name. It rose in use following Jada Pinkett’s turn as Lyric in the 1994 movie Jason’s Lyric, but it’s been adopted for boys, too.
In the Middle Ages, Madrigal referred to a short poem. Today, you’re far more likely to hear it used to refer to a type of music. So maybe it really belongs on this list. But I’m going to make the case for it here, too, because it’s exactly the kind of rare word name that parents are so often seeking. It can shorten to Maddie or Maggie, blending in to dozens of favorites today. But in full, it’s a romantic, flowing stand-out of a name.
Stella, Ella, Bella … Novella fits right in. Add in the rise of Nova, and it’s easy to imagine Novella becoming a go-to among literally literary baby names. In literary terms, a novella is a shorter version of a novel, an original work of fiction. Both come from the Latin novus – new. And yet, Novella qualifies as a vintage revival. It appears in fourteenth century Italy – as did Novello – and ranked in the US Top 1000 into the 1940s.
I’ve yet to write about Novella, but check back for updates.
If Fable is an option, why not Poem? In our age of P names, from Penelope to Promise to Poppy, it fits in better than you might guess. And while I tend to imagine it for a girl, it’s not miles away from Liam, either. Like many literally literary baby names, interest in Poem is rising – but that hasn’t translated to use … yet. A bonus? Built-in nickname Poe, and blend-in nickname Emmie.
I’ve yet to write about Poem, but check back for updates.
We name our children Hunter, Carter, and Piper, but Poet? Despite it being a job at least as common as any occupational name in the current Top 100, it’s barely on our radar. Actor Soleil Moon Frye has a daughter named Poet Sienna Rose, which is just all kinds of gorgeous. And Poet reminds me of other -et ending girl names, from Scarlett to Juliet. So it has potential as a first, or maybe as a bold middle.
I’ve yet to write about Poet, but check back and I’ll update when I do.
We love a good three-syllable, ends-with-y name for a daughter, from vintage Dorothy to 70s darling Kimberly to modern Everly. Word names, like Felicity and Harmony, abound, too. All of that suggests that Poetry could wear beautifully as an unexpected word name, first or middle. It’s close to Poet and Poem, of course – and, at the moment, it’s actually the most popular of the three.
I’ve yet to write about Poetry, but check back and I’ll update when I do.
I haven’t added Journey to this list, but I think Quest qualifies as one of the literary baby names. It spiked in use in 2018 to an all-time high. The 2016 death of Phife Dawg, hip hop innovator and member of A Tribe Called Quest might have inspired parents. Or maybe it’s the rise of purpose names, those meaningful choices that aren’t exactly spiritual but feel meaning-rich, that is helping Quest quietly catch on.
A quintain is any poem with five lines, including limericks. As a given name, Quintain feels like an elaboration of Quinn, an alternative to Quinton and Quinlan. The downside? It’s an obscure reference, not obviously literary to anyone but maybe an English major. But that’s an upside, too, making this easier to wear than a word name heard in everyday speech.
I’ve yet to write about Quintain, but check back for updates.
Like Quest, Rhyme doesn’t seem very name-like at first. But it fits with lots of bold, single-syllable picks, as wearable as Free, Lux, or Glow. (Which is to say I really like it as a middle.) Reign is far more common, but if you’re after literary baby names, this might be a surprising option. It’s a little bit literary, but also maybe part hip hop and heavily children’s story. Now that is a quirky mix of influences!
I’ve yet to write about Rhyme, but check back for updates.
Sonnet is one of those wildly rare baby names that provokes an almost universally positive response. Maybe it’s because it feels a little bit like Summer and Janet and lots of familiar choices. Or maybe it’s just a name on the verge of becoming the next big thing, a logical successor to so many word names. Actor Forest Whitaker gave the name to a daughter way back in 1996.
Story had a moment about ten years ago, with a handful of high profile birth announcements, as both a middle and a first. And why not? It’s a great word name, meaning-rich but easy to wear. It rhymes with familiar choices, from Cory to Tori. I’d call it one of the most clearly unisex word names, too – even though it’s slightly more popular for girls at the moment.
What do you think of this group of noun names? Are there any that you would consider? Do you think they’re better in the middle spot, or work as first names?
First published December 7, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-published on January 20, 2020.