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Literary Names I Would Never Give My Children

Jennifer Paull

Staff Writer

Jennifer Paull walks quickly.

I suspect we all have a list of names we would never give our children, even though they sound unobjectionable to the average bear. Sometimes they’re names we associate with people we dislike: “I’d never name my kid Rachel, like that fourth-grader who made gym class a hellgauntlet.” Or it’s a reaction against a trend: “Those world-capital names are pathetic. What’s next, Rangoon?” At the risk of sounding persnickety, there are several names I consider doomed by their bad literary connections.

In my neighborhood, it’s common to overhear lit-names in the playgrounds and cafes, everything from Atreyu to Zelda. But it’s usually the less obvious names that make me shake my head. Certain troubled or downright nasty fictional characters made such a strong impression that even in an everyday context, their names carry a certain tang. Skipping over the dramatic flourishes (Humbert, Uriah Heep), it’s the otherwise ordinary names that get shadowed by my novel-fueled prejudice. A confession of my knee-jerk reactions, a.k.a. No Child of Mine…

Jay. Thanks to Gatsby, never what he seems and obsessive about rather ordinary dames.

Rebecca. Two-timing, manipulative, and liable to inspire arson.

Sebastian. No matter how far from Brideshead, the name evokes disintegrating beauty, clenched alcoholism, and wrongheaded relatives.

Beverly. Thank goodness there aren’t too many commonplace names in Jesus’ Son.

Joey. Post-Freedom, those two syllables bring a whiff of poisonous mother-son relations.


How about you – are there certain names whose literary connections haunt you?