Shapes are only dresses… and dresses are only names

Book Meme 2012

Question 5: Characters and literary figures I’d name my children after

As I am me, I am going to take this very literally. With the wealth of wonderful writers, illustrators, characters and places, it is tempting to wax poetic about naming a child of mine Eowyn, or Cadfael, but in reality, I think too much to do such a thing. So while there are plenty of names I would like to honor, most are names I would give to pets, not children. I have strong opinions on names because, well, a real person is going to have to deal with their name and all its connotations until they reach the age of 18.

In general, I consider a name’s meaning and history as well as its sound. In this case, I also have to consider the namesake in literature. But what usually stops me from saying “oh I would name a child this, because it is lovely!” is the ever-dreadful, “what would someone with this name actually be called?” Even my own name gets turned from Anne to Annie, though only my parents can get away with it. I would love to name a child Harper, but the thought of its being shortened to “Harpy” gives me pause.

Like I said, I think too much.

Most of my favorite authors are out of the running. George is not a bad name, but I am not fond of it. John Ronald Reuel… no. I like Agatha, but not enough to give that name to a daughter of mine. Rosemary is worth consideration, but I have yet to read enough of her books to form much of an opinion of her. Jane is nice, as is Austen, but I am stopped by how enormous Austen’s fandom has grown. Do I really want my child forever tied to a fan-base? No.

As my literary taste runs to the fantasy genre, a lot of my favorite characters have beautiful names… that, again, I would not tie to a child of mine. There are exceptions though, and below I will choose my favorite literary-derived name for a boy and for a girl.


The name itself, I am told, means “gentle.” In some ways its bearer in Arthurian legend is gentle, but not so much that he will not fight for a cause and win. I must watch my step here because some of my readers (quite possibly all of them) are more versed in the Arthurian legends than I am, but from the versions I have read, Gareth and his brother Gawain have always been the characters to whom I was most drawn. They are not the highest or the mightiest, they are not the most pure (what is with Galahad, anyway?), but I find them to be both human and noble. Gareth is astoundingly patient, courageous, powerful, and relatively wise. That seems a good legacy for a son, to me. Best of all, the name is Welsh! Also part of the consideration: while “Gary” is not my favorite name, it does not set my teeth on edge.


This name comes from Greek mythology, and means “peace.” That alone, however, would not tempt me to choose it for this post. Irene is the name of the princess and her “grandmother” from The Princess and the Goblin, by George MacDonald. The little princess Irene is a mix of uncertain temper, and noble nature. She can be irritable or spoiled, but when the pressure mounts she shows herself to be bold, resourceful, loving and loyal. She alone would be enough, for me, to merit the choice of her name, but then there is her “grandmother.”

Queen Irene seems to be a creature of faerie. One moment she may be a withered hag spinning thread in a garret, the next a young queen with a cascade of golden hair standing in a stately hall, and the next a glowing gemstone down in the mines. The title of this post is a quote from her, an answer to young Curdie’s question as to her true form. Queen Irene is right: none of her shapes or names can tell the full truth of who and what she is. Perhaps I should take her advice and lighten up about names, eh? For all the uncertainty of her person, though, Queen Irene’s character is clear enough. She is full of wisdom, strength, and most of all, love for all that lives. On the whole, I think Irene would be an excellent name to have.

Here are the links to the rest of this series, in order:

1. Motley Crew

2. Cue Music/Shout Out

3. Villainy Most Vile

4. Very Ominous Endings

5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names

6. Chridonalchett

7. Verbage

8. The Scent Test

9. Personal Question

10. Packing Lightly


About jubilare

Just another tree in the proverbial forest. Look! I have leaves! View all posts by jubilare

26 responses to “Shapes are only dresses… and dresses are only names

  • palecorbie

    Cadfael is a fine name! Except people would think your son was Welsh and most US accents do nothing for the pronunciation, but still…

    • jubilare

      It is a fine name, but a name that is apt to be mispronounced at best, and teased at worst. There are many fine names, names I love, even, that I would not give to my child.
      I aim for names that are common enough that most people can pronounce them, and uncommon enough that my child will not be surrounded by people of the same name.

  • Colleen

    Anne, you have Welsh ancestors as well as Swiss, English and Irish. My paternal grandmother was a Wynne.

    • jubilare

      And don’t forget the Manx ;) I thought we had a Scottish connection too, or have I mixed something up?
      Yes, I know I have Welsh blood in me. Don’t you remember how excited I was when I found out?

      Also, compliments on the choice of my name. I am rather fond of it.

  • mjschneider

    I like both those names, and I loved that you draw a distinction between people names and pet names. My wife and I have obsessed over these very things for years, and we aren’t even close to being ready for kids. If anything, we’re best prepared to name our future children, as opposed to actually raising them.

    • jubilare

      My brother has come up with future names for the amusement of his wife and the rest of our family too. The ones that have stuck in my head are Edinburgh Linoleum, and Zimbabwe Excelsior. I favor the first one, myself, though they both have a nice ring to ’em.
      I expect naming is easy compared to raising. A sobering thought.

  • robstroud

    We chose all of our children’s names with their definition in mind… following the biblical pattern. We liked the sound of the names we chose as well, of course . . . but that was a secondary consideration.

  • bekindrewrite

    I had Eloquence Grace and Voyage West all picked out (they’d go by their middle names), but now that I think of adding literary characters to the mix, I think I’m just going to go with Dreadful Spiller and Artful Dodger. We’ll call them Drew and Arty!

  • David

    I think you made some very good choices. It’s not thinking too much to consider what connotations such a name is likely to bring to your child. One of the joys of fiction, I think, is getting to give cool and experimental names to characters without risking them on actual children. I named one character Ergwili Montafilus purely for the fun of pronouncing it, but I’d never give it to an actual child, my own or otherwise!

    Gareth is a good, solid name. I’ve actually gotten a bit annoyed at seeing it or variations of it pop up as the go-to name for fantasy’s standard everyman hero-farmboy (just like Gwyn or Gwyneth seem popular for heroines, probably because of their similarity to Guenevere). But on its own, it’s a fine name. I haven’t got as good a feeling for the Gareth of Arthurian legend, although his brother Gawain is my favorite (mostly due to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and my writing my thesis on it, but also because of other tales regarding him). They feel more like real characters, real men struggling to live up to the highest ideals. I don’t have anything against Galahad, per se, but he’s not a character, just a cardboard facsimile of the Perfect Knight. He’s a tapestry come to life, or rather the list of Chivalric Virtues personified, but without a personality. So he’s not very interesting. I’m much more interested in Gawain, who wants to live up to those virtues but struggles in very human ways.

    Irene is also a nice choice, although I think it’s one of those names that is really colored by the person bearing it. I could see it having connotations of an old aunt — but also of a beautiful young queen. And I haven’t even read MacDonald’s book yet, though hopefully I’ll get to it before the year is out.

    Nah, don’t lighten up about names. Characters need good ones, your children need perfect ones. I’ve had lots of ideas about what I’d like to name my future children, but I know a lot of that will get vetoed by my wife, whoever she will be.

    • jubilare

      You and my brother would enjoy a naming discussion, I think. You seem to have similar tastes in that regard.

      Gawain is my favorite Arthurian knight, with Gareth not far behind him, but Gareth is much less likely to be butchered in every-day pronunciation. That is why Gareth is on my list of possible names for children. The use of Gareth for fantasy “everyman” is a bit bemusing.

      A name colored by the person who wears it is, I think, better than a name that colors the person, if you know what I mean.
      Do! Read them!

      I probably won’t lighten up about my children’s names, but I could have had a lot of fun with this meme if I had gone for some of the names I like and yet would never use. :)
      As for name-vetoing, if I have learned one thing from my parents it is that a lot can change when you are actually faced with giving a name to a human being. If you have a handful of names you like, though, you at least have a starting-point for discussion, and as most of us are writers, there are some good places to put those names to use even if a husband or wife vetoes the name.

  • Motley Crew | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Book-Meme 2012 | jubilare

    […] Week 5: Characters and literary figures I’d name my children after […]

  • Cue Music | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Villainy most vile | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Very ominous endings | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Chridonalchett | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Verbage | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • The scent-test | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Personal Question | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

  • Packing lightly? | jubilare

    […] 5. Shapes are Only Dressess… and Dresses are Only Names […]

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