for writers and readers….

Literary Names (and the seductive qualities of research) Writing article number 7 from the archives

name tagsThis post is really about the dangers of being seduced by research. It all started with a tiny snippet of irrelevant information on twitter telling me that a popular girl’s name was invented by Shakespeare. Hmm, I thought I wonder how many other names have been created by writers…and several hours later this is the result.
I’m not pretending it is definitive list. Or a useful one. Or that it will add to your general well being but hey, I had to do something with it and who would have thought that boring old Elizabethan Edmund Spenser would top the poll.

Invented by Edmund Spenser for his poem The Faerie Queen

The elf princess in Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings

Invented by Margaret Mitchell. Carreen was the younger sister of Scarlet in Gone with the Wind.

A prince in two of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books, probably named after the Caspian Sea in Russia.

Invented by playwright Maxwell Anderson and Laurence Stallings for a 1924 play What Price Glory set at the end of WWI. A few years later the play was made into a silent film and was remade in 1952 with James Cagney in the lead and a young Richard Wagner in a minor role. In the 1960s the Irish group The Bachelor’s had a hit song called Charmaine.

Another Edmund Spenser name and again it first appears in his poem The Faerie Queene. She was also a Shakespearian character (The Tempest) and Tennyson wrote a poem called Claribel in 1830.

Used by Lawrence Durrell in The Alexandria Quartet published in the late 1950s.

French playwright Racine used the name in his 1667 play Andromache.

Created by 16th century Italian poet Torquato Tasso in the poem ‘Jerusalem Delivered’

A name invented by James Fenimore Cooper for the heroine of the American classic The Last of the Mohicans written in 1826.

Not quite a literary invention, more an accidental discovery of a name that had been out of fashion for about 200 years. Coraline is the name of the main character and title of Neil Gaiman’s horror/fantasy novella of 2002, it started life as a typo. He intended to write Caroline.

Short form of Dorothy or Theodora, but first used as an independent name by Charles Dickens in David Copperfield.

Created by Longfellow for his poem of the same name.

Hard to believe, but this quintessentially ancient Celtic name was invented by a Victorian novelist – a Scottish one called William Sharp who used it as a pen-name to add an air of authenticity to a series of books on Celtic myths and legends.

The name of the good witch in Frank Baum’s The Wizard of Oz.

Short form of Adelaide or Adelheid but used independently in Johanna Spyri’s children’s novel Heidi set in the Swiss Alps.

The name of Anne Rice’s undead hero. The Vampire Lestat published in 1985 was the second in her Vampire chronicles.

Invented by R.D. Blackmore for his novel Lorna Doone

Invented by James Macpherson in the 18th century for a character in his Ossianic poems.

Created by Lord Byron in his poem The Corsair.

Some sources suggest it was invented by Shakespeare for the character in The Tempest

Is not the female version of Norman which means man from the north. The name was probably invented by Felice Romani, an Italian poet working at the beginning of the 19th century and writing mainly for opera. In Bellini’s 1832 tragic opera Norma, the main character is a druid priestess at the time of the Roman invasion of England

The name that started this post because I was intrigued when I discovered that it was first used by Shakespeare. He invented it for his heroine of Twelfth Night

Created by Sir Phillip Sidney for his poem Arcadia in 1590.

Nickname of a friend of Jonathan Swift

Created by Marie Corelli, the most popular novelist at the end of the end of the 19th century – said to be Queen Victoria’s favourite writer – and the inspiration for Lucia in F.E Benson’s Mapp and Lucia books (and I envy you if you haven’t read them because you have that treat ahead of you.) One of Corelli’s best-selling novels was called Thelma: A Norwegian Princess.

Yet another name invented by Edmund Spenser for his poem The Faerie Queen

Jonathan Swift invented the name for his 1713 poem Cadenus and Vanessa as a compliment to a woman friend Esther Vanhomrigh, taking parts of her first and last names to create it.

Perhaps the most famous invented name of all – no girl was called Wendy before J.M. Barrie’s play Peter Pan

Have you come across an interesting ‘invented’ name? Or have you also wasted valuable writing time doing non-essential research?


name tags

11 comments on “Literary Names (and the seductive qualities of research) Writing article number 7 from the archives

  1. paulandruss
    August 29, 2017

    Dear Bridget, very interesting and enjoyable post about these names. And while I can see what you say about people who have not read Fred Benson, I think us old Mapp and Lucia junkies have well had our own treats from them. They are definitely books I keep coming to. As are the TV shows (the recent BBC 3-parter and the 1980s series with Prunella Scales and Geraldine Mcewan (sadly no longer with us). It is lovely to meet another Luciaphile! And now I think I am going to have to watch the 1980s series again!

    • bridget whelan
      August 29, 2017

      I must re-read as well and the TV series was brilliantly cast…not just Mapp and Lucinda, but also Georgie and Quaint Irene and the whole lot. I don’t tend to do box sets but I wonder if I can download it from Amazon…how are you able to watch it again? I think I’m in need of a fix…(and guidance)

  2. Phillip T Stephens
    August 29, 2017

    I’m not sure it’s useless research. I suspect that sometime in the next few years a PhD student or social science researcher will reference this for a study on naming habits (widely read parents v. tv watchers, etc.) You may even find this post listed in the footnotes.

  3. Phillip T Stephens
    August 29, 2017

    Or somewhere, in the back of his/her mind, perhaps even me, you’ve implanted the idea for a story or a character who spends their days pursuing arcane research online and then sharing the bits, like bon mots at parties, or with a lover who doesn’t in the least bit care.

  4. bridget whelan
    August 29, 2017

    Hmm…Or the one who spends more time with Google than with people in the name of research and does nothing with it, except bore for England at parties, with inappropriately dropped ‘do you know…’segments while others do make connections, see the worth…
    …it has possibilities…

  5. patriciaruthsusan
    August 30, 2017

    Good post, Bridget. I’m a hoarder of names. You never know when you’ll need a special one for a character in a story. 🙂 — Suzanne

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