Literally Literary Baby Names: Fable, Novella & Poet

Literary Baby Names

Literary baby names could refer to great character names. Authors, too, have inspired many a favorite choice. Just look at the current US Top 100, packed with names like Emma and Harper.

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

Canon

Current US popularity: unranked; 114 boys and 5 girls received the name in 2018

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.

CANTO

Canto

Current US popularity: unranked; given to fewer than 5 children in 2018

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.

FABLE

Fable

Current US popularity: unranked; 12 girls received the name in 2018

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.

LEGEND

Legend

Current US popularity: #217

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

Lyric

Current US popularity: #323 for girls; #937 for boys

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.

Read more about Lyric here.

MADRIGAL

Madrigal

Current US popularity: unranked; given to five or fewer children in 2018

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.

Read more about Madrigal here.

NOVELLA

Novella

Current US popularity: unranked; given to 51 girls in 2018

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.

POEM

Poem

Current US popularity: unranked; give to fewer than 5 children in 2018

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.

POET

Poet

Current US popularity: unranked; given to 9 girls in 2018

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.

POETRY

Poetry

Current US popularity: unranked; given to 11 girls in 2018

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.

QUEST

Quest

Current US popularity: unranked; given to 50 boys & 5 girls in 2018

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.

Read more about Quest here.

QUINTAIN

Quintain

Current US popularity: unranked; given to fewer than 5 children in 2018

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.

RHYME

Rhyme

Current US popularity: unranked; given to fewer than 5 children in 2018

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

Sonnet

Current US popularity: unranked; given to 9 girls in 2018

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.

Read more about Sonnet here.

STORY

Story

Current US popularity: unranked; given to 74 girls and 10 boys in 2018

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.

Read more about Story here.

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.

Literary Baby Names

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31 Comments

This list is great! Fable and Sonnet are probably my faves. For parents considering the Poetry-like names, but think they are too much or something, PLEASE consider the Portuguese versions of these words/ names! Poema, Poeta and Poesia – so beautiful (Poeta has good use as a surname).

I think Bard belongs on this list. Maybe with the popularity of Irish names at the moment Baird would be more likely to catch. I also think Minstrel called Minnie could catch on.

I have a Story from 2007. I had never heard it used as a name, then while everyone was out of the room watching her be cleaned up I opened US Weekly and found out Jenna Elfman had just named her son that. I was worried because I went with what I thought was the more feminine sounding Britain for my older daughter (over the more masculine Paris or London) and had already figured out I had missed the boat with that one! There are three other Britains (Britten/Britton) in her class, all boys. I still think Story works better for a girl! My youngest is Keeper. I’ve never seen that one on a list. 🙂

I like Canon, but for the photography link. Love Fable and Poet! What about Page for a boy? I am so in love with it right now. Zakk Wylde just used it for his son’s middle. I like it more for the Tarot link, but it works for literary too. Oh, would Quill fit too?

Our second daughter became Fable… it took three years, a lot of tears, and a near fatal surgery to conceive her. She arrived the day before my own birthday en route to the hospital… earning her status as a car baby and a child who will have many stories to tell:) The inlaws openly hated the name which broke our hearts… as it just seems to fit her so perfectly. Most people need to “absorb” the name for awhile before they end up really loving it. We just felt she needed a name that had meaning to us, rather than just a popular label. Hope to hear of more Fables out there in the world:)

My son’s name is Fable. A lot of weird looks when you initially tell people. A lot of people didn’t like it at first. But it suits him so well now!!

Somebody wrote in to my blog last year wondering if she could use the word Ginko as a girl’s name – it’s the Japanese word for a meditative walk taken for the purpose of finding inspiration to write a haiku.

She never got back, so I don’t know if she ever used it, or even if she had a girl or not, but I think this would count as a literary vocabulary name.

How funny – I was just thinking the other day about Sonnet as a possible name for some reason. Weird because “noun names” generally don’t appeal to me, but I do see how that one could become popular, especially as Juliet and Violet become increasingly popular.

I really dislike the sound of Fable, but then I don’t like Faye or Mabel, either. 😉 I think Lyric has become a popular choice among musicians or DJs having kids – the same demographic naming their kids things like Jagger and Hendrix.

I guess Limerick wouldn’t really work, eh?

I’ve seen Rhymes (Rimes) in Genealogy records. While it’s usually a surname, it has promise as a given name.

While it’s not common in the US, there’s the Scandinavian name Saga, literally “fairy tale”. Saga is also a goddess of history and poetry in Norse Mythology.

Epic should fit in with Saga and Legend, especially with it’s similarities to Eric and Lyric. A part of me really likes it… but I realize that now days it would be on par with naming your child Awesome or Sweet. Maybe for a goldfish?

Funny, I had Epic on the first draft and struck it for pretty much those reasons. Definitely for a goldfish. For a kid? Well, Legend is catching on … and you couldn’t name Legend’s brother, Fred, right?

Saga should be on this list!

I’m surprised you didn’t include Selah- the Hebrew term for an artistic pause during a psalm to stop and deeply ponder the meaning of the words just sung.

Poet has been a favorite of mine, and Fable is growing on me. I think Paige could have been added to this list too. Author Ridley Pearson has two daughters named Paige and Storey.

Speaking as a novelist who gave her child a “literary” name, I balk at the idea of using something generic like “fable” or “poem”. I think most people who love reading and books are more likely to pick something from a particularly beloved poem or fable. And “novella” just sounds like an award category to me. It’s like naming your kid “documentary.”

Then again, write a beautiful story with a character named Story and maybe I’ll consider it (Lady in the Water DOES NOT COUNT!)

Maybe it’s because I’m not that well versed in music, or maybe it’s because I actually knew a girl named Lyric, but that works for me. Madrigal, too. (Madrigal actually is a character’s name in the excellent Daughter of Smoke and Bone series by Laini Taylor).

Eek! Love this.

Names with literary leanings are a very soft spot for me. And while I am more of a character or author namer some of these are really lovely… I especially like Madrigal, Sonnet, and Fable. Legend is also intriguing. Sonnet is my most likely to use option though. It’s one of my favorite poetic forms, though I’m also quite fond of the Villanelle, which also might make for a lovely name.

When I first saw this post though my mind went straight for Tome (there’s also a Hebrew name Tomer). I quite like it, and it’s possibly my favorite literally literary option for a boy. Then to go with Poem, Poet, and Poetry, there’s Poesie. And I’ve often wondered if Märchen could work as a name, usually coming to the conclusion that it sounds like a weird way of saying Martin.

Great post!

I love Fable and Story a lot. If I were to use one it would be Fable on a girl. Sonnet has been on our list for a middle name for a very long time because I am a huge Shakespeare buff, and my husband proposed with sonnet 18 and we had sonnet 116 read at our wedding. I like the idea of Novella, but I dont know if I would ever use it, it sounds pretty but somehow doesn’t have the whimsy that Fable and Story do.

I love Story and Fable! If we were going to actually use one it would have to be Story, though, because we have two girls with S names already.

I’m intrigued by Novella. It has a pretty sound. My high school choir group was called the Madrigals, so it has a connection for me but I don’t think it quite works as a name. Maybe a middle?

If Lyric and Madrigal are allowed, can I slide in with Psalm? I’ve considered it as a middlename. Husband isn’t impressed with it though, I’m religious but he’s agnostic. I wouldn’t push him on it but it’s at least a guilty pleasure for me.

I like Fable a lot. Sounding so close to Faye and Mabel makes it sound like a first name.

Sonnet and Story are the only other two I like. They’d be easier to wear as middle names though.