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    Literary baby names ranked from least to most cringey.

    Janet Manley

    March 29, 2023, 11:55am

    Tell me about my name, each of my children often begs, running through the kitchen like torn pages in search of their story. You can picture a young Rainn Wilson doing the same, and his parents sitting him on their lap to relay the first time they read Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke, hoping that perhaps their child will become attuned to the soft colors of life and finding, decades hence, that a gentle and philosophical name is not enough to stop a celebrity from getting upon his soapbox to decry the anti-Christian sentiments of an apocalyptic television show based on a video game.

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    Like many people, my husband and I stole our kids’ names from novels we liked, with the general idea that we might imbue them with some favorable traits. Scout was a mostly uncontroversial choice (as we will discuss below), but Japhy, named for the whooping Gary Snyder character in Dharma Bums, is doomed to go through life with people referring to him as “Joffrey.” Not great, though not as bad as the parents who changed their toddler’s name from “Atticus” to “Lucas” after the posthumous release of Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird sequel, Go Set A Watchman, revealed Atticus as a racist.

    The marketplace for baby names is wide, and always in search of an undiscovered gem—something with a good sound, a good mouth-feel, a rollicking story to match. But you need to do your research. A peruse of SparkNotes at the least, but ideally a close re-read of the source material with clear eyes before you commit to decorating the nursery to look like Winterfell. Herein, a ranking from least to most cringe.

    Data used: the Social Security database (pulling 2021 rankings), the Nameberry.com rankings (which may or may not be real), and the gut instincts of me, who loves your baby no matter their name. [EDITOR’S NOTE: LitHub welcomes the factual corrections! We have these names—and this blog—for life, and do want to get it right. As such, some updates have been logged.]


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    Keats (not in charts)
    Either you thought it would be sweet to name your child “shed worker” or you’re a fan of John Keats, the sensual, romantic poet who died at 25 from TB (or, option C, you were wooed by Jane Campion’s biopic Bright Star based solely on Ben Whishaw’s sideburns). Whatever the inspiration, Keats is an underused and strong baby name with little to no cringe and a real youthful feel. Go for it.

    Oliver (SSN rank #3)
    When you’ve been charmed by a shiny-cheeked young boy in a newsboy cap in a philharmonic production of Oliver!, it’s easy to forget how depraved Oliver Twist’s story was in Dickens’ novel. What kind of future do you envision for your child when you name them after the poor urchin who runs around with Fagin and sings for his dinner? Then again, the attire—rags, sad beige clothing, dirt on face—is a perfect aesthetic compliment to today’s parent. We see why the name was the third most popular in 2021.

    Austen (Nameberry ranking #932 (boys))
    Austen only came up under the list of boy names, so: Is there a contingent of Jane-ites out there covertly naming their sons after their feminist hero, or are the lads named for someone else? Consider the popularity of Darcy as a girl’s name and the Austen legacy becomes even more complicated. Regardless, any child should be proud to wear the Austen name (unless the name is Collins).

    Ezra (SSN ranking #37)
    Huge fan of Ezra Jack Keats here, so you’ll brook no argument with me for naming your child for a children’s book artist who captured the impossibly fleeting joy of being a kid with his snipped out paper shapes and lively words. Get that baby a stick!

    Nathaniel (SSN ranking #133)
    We like Nathaniel, yeah? Generally against witch burning and making pariahs of women.

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    Scout (SSN rank #829)
    Cards on the table: Yes, I took this name for my very own ham, envisioning her as a future rabble rouser, ready to call out the jerks and help herself to the spoils of the world’s tree-holes. The potential downside with choosing a name like Scout, connoting a special, one-of-a-kind child, is that if enough of us do it, it screams, “Yes, we are all individuals.”

    Orlando (Nameberry ranking #754)
    Hey, you’re a fan of As You Like It! Nice, man. As Shakespearean heroes go, Orlando is absolutely solid—romantic, good of heart, happy to live in the forest, and a poet to boot! No real concerns here.

    ETA: A nod also to Woolf’s Orlando, memorably brought to life onscreen by Tilda Swinton, and a great choice if you want your child to live a very long life.

    Percy (Nameberry rank #1263)
    A note on the data: We have discounted the possibility that people are naming their babies after the baby-faced green steam train in Thomas & Friends and focus here only on the character from Percy Jackson & The Olympians. So, while it’s a heroic baby-name, we must ask how well it will age when Percy is 45, working for Fidelity Insurance, and still attending summer camp to prepare to fight the Titans.

    Atticus (SSN rank #266)
    If you like your babies to have a real dad-feel, then by all means give Atticus a roll, but be aware that for people who go on to read Go Set A Watchman, there could be a bit of explaining to do over some of the additional (racist) qualities not seen in TKAM. Overall cringe ranking: Low; no one has read Go Set A Watchman since July 2017.

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    Lennie (no ranking)
    There are a lot of Leonards through inheritance out there, and we are not speaking to them here. Rather, we’re looking at what it says about you that you would name a helpless baby Lennie, after a sweet-hearted giant who accidentally keeps snapping necks. You like Steinbeck? You like buddy comedies? I’m not sure.

    Sawyer (SSN ranking #114)
    AREN’T YOU FOLKSY. Another popular outcast with a heart ‘o gold to instill in your child a love of running away and being generally hostile to adults. Great, I guess!

    Holden (SSN ranking #236)
    I have seen the teen years described as “fuck you tuck me in.” If you name your kid Holden for the J.D. Salinger character, then strap yourself in, buddy boy, because the kid who asked so many questions at 3 will be badgering you nonstop from ages 13 through 18 with pointed inquiries like “WHERE DID YOU PUT THE DUCKS” and running up hotel bills all over town.

    Ophelia (SSN ranking #321)
    ‘Tis a pretty name. ‘Tis also the name of a character who drowned herself after her boyfriend killed her father. What were you going for, exactly?

    Achilles (Nameberry ranking #855)
    Something I found out while researching the popularity of the son of Thetis and Peleus: Achilles is Greek for “thin-lipped” lol. My middle name! I’m assigning this to the cringier end of the spectrum since naming your child after someone whose defining characteristic resulted from distracted parenting seems self-defeating. Possibly why he has mommy issues.

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    Dorian (Nameberry ranking #567)
    Do you believe in dying for beauty? As far as giving your child a cursed name goes, we really have to respect this choice, which honors a character so amoral that his portrait withers and decays while he’s out living his life.

    Paloma (Nameberry ranking #886)
    Just noting for those inspired by the cocktail that J.D. Salinger’s Paloma was a call girl, which no judgement! But just so you’re aware.

    Arya (SSN ranking #120)
    So A Song of Fire and Ice did not, in the end, age too well, but I think the one redeemable part of the whole charred mess is the character of Arya (Ah-i-yah), who still has a direwolf out there somewhere, and conducted herself admirably.

    Augie (Nameberry ranking #1830*)
    This is a great name, whether or not you’re particularly fanatical about Saul Bellow’s The Adventures of Augie March or just heard it in a Brooklyn dog park. Who doesn’t love a indomitable character off on a series of hijinks while the Great Depression bums everyone else out? The big strike against the name is its sheer popularity: while Augie as a legal name is down the charts at 1,830, August is 121 and the existence of other variations (Augustus and such) mean this is much more common than ya rapscallion heart may like.

    Rand (no ranking)
    The Rands of the world are named for author and brave bootstrapper Ayn Rand in some cases, for Rand al’Thor, the main character of Wheel of Time in others, and—possibly?— for the South African currency in marginal cases. (Also potentially for the devil in The Stand? Randall Flag did have some sex appeal in the miniseries.) Let’s focus on Rand from Wheel of Time. If you choose this name, you’re invoking a very distinct character, per the Wiki:

    His palms have brands in the shape of a heron and his forearms are covered by two scarlet and gold dragon tattoos that mark him as the Car’a’carn. He has a wound that does not heal in his side, although this is not visible while he is fully clothed. Lastly, he lost his left hand from a fireball thrown by Semirhage.

    Imagine you’re asking Rand once again to clean up the Lego and he’s all “MoOoOom, I can’t since Semirhage took my left hand.”

    ETA: Rand Paul, apparently not named for Ayn Rand (but perhaps for the currency).

    Walden (no ranking)
    You’re good people, I don’t doubt. You obviously like nature and cabins and—if you’re lucky—the hard work of sponging off your buddy Ralph Waldo Emerson down the road. The worry is that this name is a little too self-serious and “I can do without Nameberry!” to be well-liked. No one wants to be cornered by someone who insists on listing out exactly how much cordwood he used during his little sabbatical.

    Khaleesi (Nameberry ranking #310)
    Even if I could handle the sight of the pale bums of Khaleesi and Jon Snow—aunt and nephew—coming together in the cabin of a ship, I remain incapable of handling the fact that there are 5-year-olds out there named for a [*****SPOILER*****]

    genocidal maniac . If George R.R. Martin had written a bit faster we wouldn’t have this problem.

    Four (Babyname rank #4009 and climbing!)
    There was a moment about eight years ago where Veronica Roth’s Four was the hottest thing to happen to YA since Gale in a threadbare henley. Theo James(!) played the role in the ill-fated film adaptation, opposite Shailene Woodley’s “Tris.” The dystopia in which their characters grew up (a Chicago in which the El no longer has doors) subjected them to a room 101 of their fears, and Four only had four fears to conquer. I can promise you that your child will have more than Four fears: buttons, bees, cup holders, jam band music—that’s four just the top of my head and we haven’t gotten to any of the big ones. Anyway: This is pretty cringe.

    Romeo (SSN rank #349)
    Did you think I’d put Romeo down here as the most cringey of all names? Romeo is a guy who was all moony over one girl then immediately transferred his crush to someone new and managed to needlessly wind up dead, thereby inspiring his crush to kill herself, after a convoluted plot to elope of COURSE didn’t pan out, because he used the all-time worst accomplice, Friar Lawrence. This is a terrible baby name—it didn’t make it past Act V.

    (If you’re Italian, you get a pass.)


    Finally, this is all just good fun, and I do very much love all the children of the world. In the words of Refinery29, “In 2023, I Am Cringe But I Am Free.

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