The Worst Character Names in the History of Literature

Vivienne Woodward


Vivienne Woodward lives in Philly and works as the events coordinator for an indie bookstore. She can often be found drinking too much coffee in the sunny spot on her couch and over-identifying with fictional characters. She enjoys collecting hobbies, dancing to radio pop, and rearranging the book stacks on her side tables.

When you think of the worst character names in the history of literature, there is one, undeniably, correct answer. There are a lot of bad, weird, and awkward names in the annals of literature and we will get to a couple of them. However, before we set off on that journey together, let’s just get the most obvious out of the way. There is a character name that has literally taken on a meaning all its own and that meaning is “killjoy.” You know who I’m talking about: it’s Ebenezer Scrooge!

Scrooges aside, there are several very fruitful categories of terrible names in literature. Today I would like to identify some of the worst. And by “worst” I mean I would not like to have them as my own name. I reserve the judgment their literary merit to you, reader. The two categories I’m going to focus on are on-the-nose names and names that are straight up awkward. Let’s proceed.

Too On-the-Nose

What does it mean to have an on-the-nose name? It means the thing you didn’t want pointed out about yourself is pointed out in every second of your life because it is your name. For example, if you had very big ears and were very arrogant, you wouldn’t want to be called Heary McMirror. Sometimes authors give their characters an on-the-nose name because they want to tell you exactly who their character is! Absolutely no room for doubt. I get it! Let’s look at a few examples.

Your name is Draco Malfoy. Draco sounds like a cross between “drag” and “psycho” so you know this person is both very unfun and also might be Patrick Bateman. Malfoy can only be a play off of the word/character Maleficent, right? Mal means “bad” in French, maleficent means “causing harm or destruction, especially by supernatural means” according to so yes, Draco Malfoy, is an on-the-nose name for a terrible character and a terribly on-the-nose name for a character of his persuasion.

Next: you are referred to professionally (AKA in Percival Everett’s novel So Much Blue) as “The Bummer.” That’s a bummer because, chances are, nobody likes it when you show up. Here’s another fun one: “Alyosha the Pot.” That is the title of a classic Leo Tolstoy short story. It is also what the main character is referred to. I actually think it’s kind of a fun name until you realize that the character is meant to be, well, very dense. In that case, I wouldn’t care so much to be referred to as a big, round, empty object. Two more that both come from the universe of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter: Dimmesdale and Chillingworth. Can you guess which one is a big dick and which one is sort of, um, to be polite: DIM? I thought so.

Well…That’s Awkward

Let’s move on to our next category: awkward names. I find that the awkward literary names tend to refer to something sexual, generally, that you might be a pervert? Let us not delay in calling out the clear winner in this category: Humbert Humbert from Nabokov’s Lolita. You had any doubts about the word that “Humbert” sort of reminds you of? Let’s just give it to you a second time. Blazes Boylan is a perfect second example. This character from Ulysses is a man’s man (did you have any doubt? FIRE!!), a seducer of women (blazes, no less!), and might have a venereal disease (fire goes out quickly with water, ya know?).

Before we wrap up, let’s give a special shout out to the king of terrible character names. You’ve seen him in the first paragraph and he’s back for a quick guest appearance, it’s the great Charles Dickens! Lord Lancaster Stiltstalking from Little Dorrit is a wild name. When I searched the name on the internet, warned me that my “safe search” wasn’t on so I might see nudity and/or graphic images. I’m serious! Come to think of it, Little Dorrit is not that much better. I know that is not her real first and last name, printed on her birth certificate kind of situation, but if people called me “Little Dorrit” I would not care for it one bit. A few others: Seth Pecksniff, Zephaniah Scadder, Toby Crackit, and Jane Murdstone. If I had read more Dickens, I might be able to assign these to one of the two categories above, but alas, they are relegated to a category all their own: names I love, but do not want.

Names are important, and you can find a lot of inspiration in literary names, if you’re looking for a change yourself or if you’re thinking of naming something like a baby or a pet. Might I just suggest avoiding some of the names listed above, if you want your kid to have a crack at success and/or making friends? You might also avoid something like Milo Minderbinder, if you would like to give your puppy a chance at a normal life (all of the other puppies might be wary of what kind of mental trap they’ll be caught in with him).