Number 26
Number 26 by Mike Gough via Flickr

I plan to name my son Finn, like in Great Expectations, my favorite book.

My jaw dropped when I spotted this quote in a discussion about names for boys.  Charles Dickens named his character Philip Pirrip, called Pip, and explained his name in some detail.  It’s not a forgettable detail.  Hollywood re-christened the character Finnegan, known as Finn, and played by Ethan Hawke.  It’s one of the many gulfs that separate the book from the movie.

It’s tempting to mock a statement like the one above, and still I wonder … does literature really have a role in what we name our children?  Are all those little Harpers and Emmas and Holdens really named after the characters?  Or does having a literary namesake put the stamp of approval on a name?  I’m fond of Huxley, a name I would explain by referencing Aldous H, the author of Brave New World.  But here’s the simple truth: if Huxley’s last name were Baumgartner or Krakwoski, my inclination to borrow his surname would be nil.

It isn’t just literary references, either.  We’re naming our kids the distinctive Lennon, not the fading classic John.  No matter how much meaning matters, rare is the parent that will overlook style.

Elsewhere online:

  • Dear Neve, will you please text me your child’s name?  I won’t tell – even though I’m sure it would be a huge scoop – but I love your name so much that I’m just dying to know.  Uma won’t share, either … let’s hope this isn’t a new trend!  While I recognize that I ought to respect the new parents’ privacy, I tend to feel the same way with any new baby.  I’d like the full name and the story, and I’d like it now, please!
  • Happily, Namestory fills in the gap by encouraging real live people to share the tales of their given names.  I thoroughly enjoyed this one on Ursula.  Incidentally, her story also reinforces my thought from above – literary associations are a bonus, not a driver, behind the names we choose.
  • So does Tori Spelling, who spills all about choosing her kids’ names.  (Thanks, Tori!) And also notes that Stella’s name was inspired partly by her love of Great Expectations.  P.S. – Tori, if you’re stumped on #4, just let us know – we’re all willing to help!
  • Did you see Waltzing More than Matilda’s post on Mirri?  Tracking down meanings is tricky, but I agree with Anna – great name, and I hope they get to use it.
  • So Phantom is a boy’s name, huh?
  • Elea has compiled the Top 200 names in England for the year 1900.  It’s a fascinating list, with rarities like Pretoria and Redvers represented, as well as some charming throwbacks – Hettie and Clement, anyone?
  • Speaking of throwbacks, Nancy posted the names of a new set of quints born in Texas.  There’s a Marcie!  And one of the boys is Will.  Not William, just Will.  Interesting …
  • I think I like Laker for a boy, though it is a little hoop star, though I find Lake to be gender neutral.
  • That reminds me … the Nameberry discussion on gender neutral names was fascinating.  There’s a long list of names that truly can’t be claimed by either gender.  I suspect that we are slowly moving towards a time when more names will be up for grabs …

That’s all for this week.  As always, thanks for reading, and have a great week!


About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I’m behind on emails, so am just now reading this. Thanks for posting about Namestory! I hadn’t heard of it. Great site!

  2. Ha. I read the first quote and thought, “Where was there a Finn in ‘Great Expectations’?” I seriously racked my brain for several minutes before reading on. And then I just sighed.

  3. Tori Spelling seems a bit like the person who said Finn was from their “favourite book” Great Expectations, because the girl in the book is called Estella, not Stella. This peeves me – if you *really* loved the book you would want to use the character’s *actual* name, not some trendy spin-off from it. Oh and you would know what the character was really called! SMH

    I guess it is rather like the ancestor thing – if you *really* loved dear-departed Great-Aunt Gertrude, you would want to use her actual name, at least in the middle position, not some trendy vague reference to it, like Gigi. Did GA Gertrude ever call herself Gigi? No she did not – she was Gert. How does this honour her, exactly?

    I know an imaginary character isn’t the same as a real person, but I still think their names should be given due respect. The author probably put more thought into them than many people’s names had put into theirs.

    1. “The author probably put more thought into them than many people’s names had put into theirs.”

      Now that’s an interesting thought. Do we name children more easily than we name fictional characters? And what does that say for us …

    2. Oh, and it wasn’t Tori who made those comments about Finn … though Finn does sound like the kind of name she’d pick for baby #4, doesn’t it?

  4. I’m a bit of a bibliophile so I love names that have a literary link. My own name was taken from the name of a book character, and so that also makes literary names a bit more special to me.

    I’m sure that I wouldn’t love some of the names I do without their tie to books (such as Tess [The Decoy Princess]) but my love for others is magnified because of it (like James [Anne of Green Gables series]).

    Yet the style of the name is somewhat important. I much prefer Lewis to Clive (or, goodness, Staples), but I don’t think I’d love Lewis nearly as much without the association of the author. It probably wouldn’t even make my list. [I will also note that Clive has been growing on me. :\ ] And though I don’t love John’s style, I would totally use it for the web of awesome namesakes (Cash, Milton, Tolkien, etc [John currently sits at #5 on my list]), plus I’d probably call him Jack (more my style and even more awesome namesakes [White, Johnson, London, etc.]).

    Yet for most modern parents I think that the namesakes are just bonus for a name that suits a parent’s style, possibly personally legitimizing an on-trend choice.

    1. I think “legitimizing an on-trend choice” is a good way to put it. There are so many great literary names, and they really can push a name from one I like to one I love.

  5. I was thinking about it in relation to family names: Everyone I know seems to have a dear great-aunt Rose or Ruby, a dear granddad named William or Jack, that they must name after.

    Nobody has a Harold or Linda. Which is astonishing, statistically. 😉

    I find the Jack thing especially funny because in my own extended family they were really Jacobs, and more mainstream-ly mostly Johns. But no baby Johns are being born…?

    Of course my personal peeve is the little girls being named Scout, and not Jean. Petty? Yes. But it grates me.

    Just like I find the trend to name for surnames of artists/authors, and not first names, a bit pretentious. It’s not enough to name your baby for them, you have to make sure everyone gets the reference. Becomes less about honouring and more about how you, the parent, are perceived. No, no, I can’t risk people thinking I’m just a boring person who couldn’t think of anything more interesting than John or Robert!

    1. Very good point! Surely there are some beloved uncle Ralphs out there who are simply not getting their fair share of namesakes …

      And yes, I always wonder about artist names. I remember meeting a little girl named Matisse years ago. Incredibly pretty name, and yet I found it too much. That might not be fair, but there it is …

    2. My grandfathers were named Harold and Lester. Both great men but I couldn’t bring myself to name my son after either one. Everything you said is so true! Many people claim “family” names that conveniently mirror today’s trends.

  6. Hey! I’m the Ursula in the post you link to and a regular lurker here. I’ve always loved names, maybe because of my own unusual name, which is why I filled out the Namestory questionnaire and why I frequent other name sites. I now have a little boy, Malcolm, whose name is both meaningful to me and relatively uncommon, which I like. I’m still on the hunt for a name for baby number two–even if the baby itself might be a few years away!

    1. Hi, Ursula – thanks for commenting. Malcolm is great! I think they’re both great, traditional names that are still unexpected.

  7. For me, a literary namesake ultimately felt too pretentious. We strongly considered Auden for a girl and I still absolutely love it. I love the poet and even have a line of his poetry engraved inside my wedding ring. And yet, it just felt like too much to use his distinctive surname on a child, particularly one who might grow up not even liking his poetry.

  8. This is so true. People are naming their kids “Harlow” and “Monroe” for the sound as much as for the screen name. No little “Dietrichs” or “Garbos” running around, though I’ve heard a few suggestions of “Hepburn” in a middle spot.

    But I’m as guilty of this as anyone. I certainly think sound comes first and if you don’t like the way the name sounds, you aren’t even going to get a chance to start thinking of connotations or justifying why you like it. But it goes both ways — maybe one of the reasons you always like Abigail was because of First Lady Adams, even if you could admire her plenty but not name your tot that had her name been Hepzibah.

    1. Yes, sound comes first, and relates to style, I agree, and I think you are so right about the literary associations, Abby. Although I’d much prefer Pip to the overused Finn, I’d never name a baby after Gertrude Stein (my favorite writer). Maybe a poodle 😉

      1. HA! I’d like to meet a poodle called Gertrude. I do like Trudy, but I’m not sure she stands alone.

    2. I agree – I read something like this about family names once. It’s easy to imagine passing on a name like Antonia Rose, but maybe not Ethel or Mozelle. And yes – I am waiting to meet a baby Garbo! Even David Boreanaz backed off Bardot … though I think that one kind of works.