One for the Books: 11 Baby Names From the Literary Greats
As true bookworms, we're familiar with that equally satisfying and hollow feeling you get when you finish a good book, especially if it's one of those difficult classics that take ages (and usually a consultation with Cliffs Notes) to get through. What now? Aside from the thought-provoking themes, innovative forms, and hypnotizing language, we get attached to books because of their characters. They're the human element that tethers us to the story, whether we like them or not. If you love reading as much as we do, you probably remember the names of characters for years after you've visited the books they live in.
Indeed, I even have a running list of my favorite names from books as well as literary figures who have offbeat and vivacious designations for longer than I can remember. Maybe it's because I feel so connected to my own namesake, Hadley Richardson, who inspired The Paris Wife. You may remember her as the woman who lost a briefcase full of years' worth of Ernest Hemingway's writing.
She was the first love for Hemingway, whose work I've never been drawn to since I like my sentences to sprawl and I'm seduced by odd abstractions rather than precision and clarity (perhaps also out of loyalty to Hadley). So what's in a name? Well, a lot, it turns out—at least for me. If you're expecting and love reading (or are just in need of some inspiration), you'll find something meaningful in this stylish yet timeless roundup of baby names. Scroll through our library of literary names and take notes from the classic muse, character, or author below.
The Namesake: Pilar is the beautiful clairvoyant resident of Gabriel García Márquez's magical world of Macondo in One Hundred Years of Solitude. She creates the new reality for the Macondians, a reality that was "less practical for them but more comforting." She transcends, or rather inverts, her status as a demi-pariah by being a reliable, free-spirited constant throughout the saga, always easing the chaos around her. She's also a heroine in Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls.
The Meaning: In Spanish, Pilar means "pillar," also known as a tower of strength.
Similar Names: Lola, Paloma, and Kailar
More From Márquez: Petra, Florentino, and Lorenzo
The Namesake: One of the central figures in The Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig, Valentín remains unbreakable despite much adversity. The entire novel happens within the prison cell as his lover Molina tells him stories.
The Meaning: It means strength and health. Though traditionally a boy's name, it works for both genders. With Latin roots, it's a French name, and it has romantic associations because of the holiday.
Similar Names: Mateo, Santiago, and Augustín
More From Puig: Molina and Leni
Muse Spotlight: Nelly
The Namesake: Ellen Lawless Ternan, or Nelly for short, was an English actress and is also well known for being Charles Dickens's lover. Though their relationship is a controversial one, it's worth noting that she's the inspiration behind some of the most notable, clever characters in literary history, including Estella in Great Expectations and Lucie from A Tale of Two Cities.
The Meaning: Though we love how Nelly stands on its own, it's also an endearing nickname stemming from more formal names
Similar Names: Eleanor, Ellen, and Cornelia
For the Library:
The Namesake: She's the precocious protagonist in a series of short stories by F. Scott Fitzgerald called Basil and Josephine, which is based on his own youth. She is spirited and beautiful, and rumored to be one of his favorite characters, as she was inspired by his childhood sweetheart.
The Meaning: Josephine is the female version of Joseph, which is interpreted as "God will add," so it's associated with abundance, imagination, and perceptiveness (a lot like the aforementioned fictional character). It offers a range of nicknames, from Jo to Josie and Fifi.
Similar Names: Clementine, Genevieve, and Penelope
More From F. Scott Fitzgerald: Daisy, Rosemary, Devereux, Dot, and Jordan
Author Spotlight: Willa
A true frontier woman, Willa Cather was born in the 1800s in rural Virginia and grew up in Nebraska before moving back east to New York City where she wrote and published My Ántonia. One of the most celebrated love stories in American history, it captures the Wild West in a nuanced, thoughtful, and honest way, so it'd definitely be an honor to be named after Carther.
The Meaning: We love how "Willa" rolls right off the tongue, evoking grace and subtle strength. Despite it's understated, gentle sound, it means "valiant protector."
Similar Names: Delilah, Tallulah, Wilhelmina, and Willow
The Namesake: Dubbed the modern-day Odysseus, Leopold Bloom is the protagonist in Joyce's Ulysses. For something softer and full, opt for the surname, Bloom.
The Meaning: This bold German name has aristocratic roots and has recently become hip again. For something shorter and less casual, call your little one Leo for short.
Similar Names: Cleo, Linus, Oscar, and Ferdinand
More From James Joyce: Simon, Blazes, Mina, Eileen, and Finnegan
Muse Spotlight: Vita
Perhaps one of the most famous literary affairs in history was between Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West. This is partially because there's much documented correspondence between the two, and much of it is seriously steamy. She herself was also a writer and is well known for her poems and a few novels. Many scholars have theorized that the hermaphroditic hero in Orlando is based on Vita.
The Meaning: The male form of the name, Vito, means "conqueror." It has a sharp, spry, and cheerful ring to it.
Similar Names: Vera, Evita, Ava, and Veronica
For the Library:
The Namesake: Matilda is the brilliant and charming heroine of, you guessed it, Matilda. She's an independent bookworm who is wise beyond her years.
The Meaning: The root of this name means "battle-mighty," which makes sense knowing about our fictional friend, Matilda, who survives the likes of Ms. Trunchable with a smile on her face. Tillie for short would be a great nickname, or something a bit more avante-garde and grown-up like Tilda.
Similar Names: Maude, Penelope, and Theodora
More From Roald Dahl: Violet, Augustus, Charlie, and Bruno
Darcy: This name has a handsome aura to it, largely because of Jane Austen's romantic hero, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, in Pride & Prejudice. He's the classic tall, dark, and handsome gentleman who becomes more and more loving and accepting of the heroine, Elizabeth, as the novel progresses.
The Meaning: This British name was derived from the French place name Arcy, and it literally translates to "dark" in Latin. Though traditionally a boy's name, it's become a lot more popular for girls as well.
Similar Names: Clarissa, Archie, Sadie, and Declan
More From Jane Austen: Elinor, Knightley, Emma, and Lydia
Author Spotlight: Zora
Zora Neale Hurston wrote 1937's Their Eyes Were Watching God, set in South Florida in the early 1900s and following protagonist Jane while she navigates her identity as a biracial woman after the Reconstruction era. Hurston wrote in an innovative style. Her formal techniques were quite revolutionary (she uses a lot of analepsis—a literary term for flashbacks), and her thematic exploration of a fragmented identity is equally subversive.
The Meaning: It translates to "dawn," which symbolizes the promise and potential of beginnings. As a huge player in the Harlem Renaissance, she certainly fulfilled this meaning of this name.
Similar Names: Zadie, Ezra, Vera, Zelda, and Aurora
For the Library:
The Namesake: Quentin is the highly intelligent protagonist (and sometime narrator) in a few of William Faulkner's books, like The Sound and the Fury and Absolom, Absolom! Quentin's niece inherits his name.
The Meaning: It simply means "fifth." Though slightly offbeat with plenty of intrigue, it's also accessible and pretty widely known, plus it's also androgynous.
Similar Names: Cedric, Clover, and Quinn
More From William Faulkner: Cash, Dewey, Addie, Dilsey, and Jewel
What are your favorite literary names? Did we miss any?