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.
Angie Rogers-Howell says
My 9-year old Step-Son’s name is Holden. I’d never heard of it before I met his Dad. It’s certainly not a common name around Central Indiana, but I couldn’t imagine him being anything else. We often shorten it to Holdie 🙂
By the way, we went to Holden Beach, NC for vacation last year as well. We picked it because we saw it and our Holden said “Look, it’s MY Beach!”
My son’s name is Holden and we call him Holdie!
I’m naming my son Holden, I’ve never even read catcher… So I have no literary connection to it… I do find it funny that its a car in Aus but I don’t live there so no big deal for me!
We do surnames my other son is Shepard!
Holden is actually named after the beach we got married on, Holden Beach in NC!
So that’s my only connection to the name 🙂
That’s a great story!
I love Holden! It’s among my very favorite names for boys, along w/ Spencer and Darwin. The college of nursing was too far removed from the English dept for me to get turned off by it.
Emmy Jo says
Holden is fine. Not a choice I’d use, but one I can respect.
Photoquilty — I guess I’m technically one of those “English Lit types” too. But my former roommate and I (both English majors) always felt miles removed in attitude and personality from the pretentious, snobby ones in most of our classes. I’m sure you know exactly the kind I’m talking about, and we used to make fun of them at home.
Anyway, my literary taste in names runs toward the traditional Victorian (Frederick, Eleanor) and the obscure medieval (Gawain, Clerimond) — though for usability’s sake, I imagine my kids will all end up with the former.
I know those people, for sure!
Mmm, not such a fan of surname names, but I can appreciate the literary associations of this one.
Holden is a very popular brand of car down here (and a racing team, as well), regarded as being quintessentially Aussie, and most people here would think you were just being a bogan if you named your kid Holden.
Not a terribly attractive choice overall but I can definitely see why people use it.
I agree, for many Australians the first association would be the car and not the literary character.
This. For me, it would be like calling my child Toyota or Honda 🙂
I am surprised there was no mention of the great actor William Holden. That’s my main association with the name.
*Sound of forehead hitting desk.*
Right you are, Kat!
I like Holden for someone else. It is one of those names that I’d consider using if it was in my family (but, it isn’t). I just can’t see myself using “surname” names unless they are actually family names for me. I really like the sound of lots of them but without the family connection I think it sounds contrived. Holden is one of those names I think would make people ask, “oh, is that a family name?” I wouldn’t want a child of mine to have to answer, “um, no…my mom just liked it.”
I do like Holden so if you don’t have my hangup with “surname” names I’d say go for it!
All I hear is lazy “holding”. Honestly, this name just holds no appeal for me.
As for the literary connection, I’m with Photo on this one – it seems everyone is calling JD Salinger/Catcher in the Rye/Holden or Harper Lee/To Kill a Mockingbird/Scout their favorite book and are looking to use Holden or Scout as some kind of honorific. I find it more appealing when people are a tad subtle with nods to literature.
(by the way, Calvin is awesome! Miles above Holden)
The only thing that puts me off about Holden is its pretentious-factor. So many English Lit majors I have ever known (and having been an English/Creative Writing major, I knew plenty) has called JD Salinger their favorite auther, Catcher in the Rye their favorite novel, Holden Caufield their favorite character, etc. Oh there is another thing that puts me off. Ever see The Good Girl? Jake Gyllenhaal’s character plays Holden. Actually, it’s not his real name, but he identifies with Caulfield or something. Well, he was a little bit…let’s call it…mentally unsteady. Dark.
I don’t know. I would feel pretnentious offering this one up to my husband. We’re still more likely to use Calvin inthe future.
I’m chuckling to myself because my tastes in ‘literature’ are generally very pedestrian at best – seems odd to be lumped in with Lit types (based on the name of course, because it certainly wouldn’t be based on my reading list)… but it’s good to know it has a “trying to hard”/sad and obvious lit snob aspect to it.
Funny about “The Good Girl,” I really liked that movie and had forgotten that character. He struck me as more, say, lackluster than dark, but unbalanced to say the least. No strong associations w/ Calvinism?
I started reading the beginning of this and I was all, wait, what ATWT? And then reading further saw how influential the soap had been. I wonder how many other boy soap names have gotten more popular following a popular character coming on? I remember hearing anecdotes that Laura had a surge in the early 80s, but I’ve never heard if Luke did as well.
It doesn’t hurt that Holden Snyder is a handsome fellow. 🙂
I’m generally not up for surname names, and the trendy pattern is a little disconcerting, but I do still like Holden. Being as both Baywatch and daytime soaps are not things I tune into, I had no idea that there were connections there. And I love “Catcher in the Rye” but am not sure it’s a characer name to use. For now, Holden is hanging out on the longer list, but I’m not sure he’d ever get truly considered.