Literary names have so much meaning. Not just the names, but the characters. Sometimes a bad character can make a good name unusable. But a great character can make a plain name unforgettable. Here are some of my favorite literary protagonist names for girls. (None of these are from children’s books, that’s going to be a different list.)
Penelope – Odysseus’ ever-faithful wife in Homer’s The Odyssey, Penelope is a Greek name meaning, “weaver”. This is one of my favorite names and I love the reference. Penelope is a strong name made more friendly with the adorable nicknames, Penny, Poppy, and Nell. At #200, it is certain to gain in popularity after Tina Fey named her daughter, Penelope Athena.
Viola – In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Viola survives a shipwreck and disguises herself as a man in order to find work and her lost twin brother, Sebastian. Latin for “violet”, Viola as has certain musical flair, even though it has a different pronunciation than the stringed instrument.
Jane – An English name meaning, “God’s grace”, Jane is the name of Charlotte Bronte’s eponymous heroine character in Jane Eyre. She is determined and opinionated. Just the sort of heroine to look up to. As a variation of John, it can be the namesake of many names, like Jean, Joan, Janelle, Jeanette, etc. Also, the “plain Jane” connotations are not true for this sweet and spunky name. Also, at #384, Jane is neither common, nor popular, yet familiar.
Elinor – Jane Austen’s incredible Sense and Sensibility is my favorite. It’s just amazing. And Elinor is my favorite character. Sure, most people go for Pride and Prejudice or Marianne, but I have more in common with the proper and level-headed Elinor. Although more commonly spelled “Eleanor”, Elinor has a spunky, Welsh-type feeling to it. Meaning “shining, bright” it has some equally sunny nicknames in Ellie and Nora.
Josephine – Jo March. I wanted to be Jo March. She didn’t take “no” for an answer. She stood up for what she believed in and remained true to her heart. She wanted more for her life than what was expected of her. Josephine is the feminine variation of “Joseph”, meaning “Jehovah increases”. At #186, it certainly has increased in popularity over the past twenty years, but may start to level off soon. I adore the nicknames potential. From feisty Fifi to jovial Josie to precious Posey, Josephine gets a gold star in my book.
Scarlett – Scarlett O’Hara from Margaret Mitchell’s epic Gone with the Wind is the quintessential southern belle. A wealthy woman who is used to getting her way, Ms. O’Hara goes through intense hardship and comes out a survivor. Scarlett is an English name meaning “red”. Some parents spell it without the additional “t”, but I prefer to think that “scarlet” is the color and “Scarlett” is the name. While the intense Scar may not be the nickname you prefer, Scarlett lends itself to a plethora of familiar choices: Carlo, Cari, Lettie, Etta, Arlie, etc.