As a child, I was obsessed with names. I bought myself an enormous book of baby names which remains to this day the most annotated text I own. But I wasn’t obsessed with babies. Just names. Names for pets, names for dolls, names for characters in games and stories and drawings. NAAAAAMES.
So here are some of my favorite names in literature. Not all of them, of course, because there are far too many. But some. Some really, really good ones.
1. Lancelot Satterwhite – Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
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Many characters in Groff’s triumphant, sprawling novel have excellent or at least unusual names: Denton Thrasher (!), Gwennie, Chollie, Mathilde, but the trophy goes to the protagonist Lancelot (Lotto) Satterwhite. What a name. Many of the monikers that crop up in this novel are almost too good to be true, by which I mean, if it were any other text that deals with the human condition from differing perspectives, such names would take the reader out of the text, would render the story ever so slightly unbelievable, make it seem untrue. However, Groff’s names only add another element of dreaminess and impressiveness to her beautiful, ambitious book. While Lancelot is commonly associated with the royal and impressive, the name Satterwhite is not one I had encountered before. According to Genealogy.com, the name means settlement in the thwaite or woodland clearing. ‘The Satterwhites were Norsemen who first migrated to England and then on to America.’ By directly referencing the family’s origins and specific location in the name, Groff could be drawing a contrast between it and Lancelot’s constant search for belonging. A king with no throne.
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Oh look, she is talking about Joan Aiken again. “What a surprise,” you say. Soon I will have converted you all to the wonders of the Aiken-verse. Soon. Perhaps once you’ve read about precocious urchin Dido Twite you too will become a loyal follower. Dido, a Cockney orphan, befriends my first literary crush, artist, and bee-keeper Simon, when he moves to London to study art after the events of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. She is:
a shrewish-looking little creature of perhaps eight or nine, with sharp eyes of a pale washed-out blue and no eyebrows or eyelashes to speak of. Her straw-coloured hair was stringy and sticky with jam and she wore a dirty satin dress two sizes too small for her.
She is hilarious, infuriating, smart, and goes on to be the protagonist of several more novels in the Wolves sequence. In Greek mythology, Dido was the founder of Carthage (Tunisia) and while the idea of Dido being at all royal or divine seems at the beginning laughable, as her story progresses, her hidden depths justify her great name.
3. Lucius Reeve – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
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Donna Tartt is another author who excels not only in the field of writing in general, but specifically in the naming of characters. The Goldfinch is one of my favorite books of all time. It’s a vast, ambitious tome that moves between New York and Los Vegas, loss and friendship, crime and love. It contains characters called things like Hobie, Xandra, and Kitsy (I don’t need to tell you what they’re like; you already know because those names are so well-selected). Lucius Reeve is, as you might expect, a slimy antiques dealer. He is a fairly minor character in the great scheme of the novel, but he is so aptly named. Granted, there are not that many friendly Luciuses in fiction *glares accusingly at Lucius Malfoy* but that is because it just such an appropriately bad name. It sounds almost like luscious (a slightly creepy word anyway) but can also be made into a spiteful hiss of an utterance. Apologies to any Luciuses reading. It’s not my fault you’re evil.
4. Bustopher Jones – Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Eliot.
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A character in T. S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and later in the Broadway musical Cats! Here are some things to know about the wonderfully named Bustopher Jones:
Bustopher Jones is not skin and bones – / In fact, he’s remarkably fat…No commonplace mousers have such well-cut trousers / And we’re all of us proud to be nodded or bowed to / By Bustopher Jones in white spats!
Bustopher is one of many marvelously titled felines in Eliot’s poetry collection, along with Mungojerrie, Rumpleteazer, and Skimbleshanks among others. I like Bustopher Jones because it’s a terribly pleasing, round-sounding name that evokes the smug swagger of a life-loving cat. I also like him because I like the mention of trousers in his poem. When I was small, my godmother had two cats, Trousers and Puddings. When left alone in the house, Trousers would turn on the taps, the radio and the heating and have himself a good party. Puddings did not participate. As an adult, I learned her name was not actually Puddings, but Shitless. Because she was scared shitless of everything. I had been lied to.
5. Coriander – I, Coriander by Sally Gardner
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Coriander, or as it is referred to in the US, cillantro, is a controversial herb. People get tattoos about how much they love or hate it. I am reasonably indifferent to coriander as a seasoning, but I love it as a name and I adore Sally Gardner’s novel. Coriander is not exactly a divisive character, but hers is an un-Christian name and there is an attempt made to get her to change it to Ann. Coriander is nine for much of the plot. Nine and a bit lost and also caught in the midst of fairy activity and the political intrigue of Puritan London. It’s a pretty cool mixture and a pretty cool book with a pretty cool name.
I don’t think I had highlighted, noted and researched any of these names in my studying of the precious names book. In fact, most of these names weren’t even featured (there is a severe lack of baby Bustophers scampering about) so that’s why I take such great delight in these ones- the absurd, the evocative, the unusual. NAAAAAMES.
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