Great Character Names – Part Two

After last week’s post about some of the characters in Charles Dickens’s “Bleak House,” I received suggestions for a few others of note.

My friend Kim Stebbins mentioned Nurse Ratched in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” the main antagonist in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel and portrayed by Louise Fletcher in the 1975 movie version.  Did we ever know Nurse Ratched’s first name?  Did it matter?

How about Major Major, from Joseph Heller’s novel “Catch-22?”  In the novel, we learn that he was named “Major Major Major” by his father, as a joke.  According to Professor of Literature at Rensselaer Alan Nadel, everything about the character signifies nothing: The character’s name is an empty repetition of “the name of authority.” The character’s promotion to squadron commander is meaningless.  Even the character’s physical identity is not his own, but rather that of Henry Fonda.

And my friend Lottie Nevin added Miss Havisham, of Dickens’s “Great Expectations.”  She (Miss Havisham, not Mrs. Nevin) is a spinster who lives with her adopted daughter, Estella.  Dickens describes her as looking like “the witch of the place,” “a cross between a waxwork and a skeleton.”

More recently, I was struck by Suzanne Collins’s memorable character Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist and heroine of “The Hunger Games” trilogy.  Katniss’s first name comes from a plant that is more commonly known as arrowhead, which is usually found in water.  The root of the plant can be eaten, as Katniss remembers from her father’s teachings.  Her last name comes from Bathsheba Everdene, the central character in “Far From the Madding Crowd” by Thomas Hardy.  According to Collins, “The two are very different, but both struggle with knowing their hearts.”

I’d love to hear from you!  What character names have you encountered recently that resonate?

Note: Are you wondering where all the photos are?  I recently read Roni Loren’s great post ( and until I have a stockpile of royalty-free photos, I’m being extra cautious.

10 thoughts on “Great Character Names – Part Two

  1. I’m a Terry Pratchett fan, and he’s come up with some brilliant character names over the years, such as Adora Belle Dearheart (Going Postal), Nobby Nobbs (one of the City Watch – carries a certificate to prove that he is an actual human being because he looks like nothing on earth that anybody has ever seen before – a sort of cross between a Dwarf, a Gnome and a Troll), Captain Carrot Iron Founderson (another Watchmen), Esmerelda “Granny” Weatherwax, Githa “Nanny” Ogg, Magrat Garlick (Wyrd Sisters), Greebo (Nanny Ogg’s evil cat), Detritus (Troll from Moving Pictures), Bloody Stupid Johnson (a take on Capability Brown) and Rincewind The Wizard (although Rincewind spells it “Wizzard” on his hat).

    I really could go on with the awesome names, but I’d be here for the rest of the year!


      1. I suspect that this is why I’m so drawn to it! In fantasy you can come up with the silliest, most impossible names, places and objects and nobody can criticise you for it because it’s fantasy!


  2. This is great Martha – I love inspiring posts that make me think!
    Very touched that you mentioned me in your post 🙂 thank you.

    Here is my line-up for today……
    Humbert Humbert from Nabokov’s Lolita. Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs.
    Dick Diver in F.Scott-Fitzgeralds Tender is the night (that’s got to be a winner….!!)
    Tintin (can’t remember how you spell the authors name!)
    and James Bond, a very ordinary name but it somehow works!
    Oh and on the subject of Bond, Paddington the bear from the books written by Michael Bond.

    I’ve enjoyed reading what everyone has come up with so far, it’s fun!


    1. Lottie, I almost wrote about Humbert Humbert in this post, especially after writing about Major Major. We’ll save him for later. These are great!
      I may hold a naming contest for an upcoming character – 🙂


  3. Ps- I think Nurse Ratched’s first name must be ‘Nurse.’ As for the photos, Flickr Creative Commons has a lot to offer; however, sometimes you can just write and ask for permission. Sort of puts a damper on the time crunch but can actually be very rewarding, in that you sometimes get link-backs due to your attribution and linking to the source. ( I’m writing some blog posts for my work and am learning a lot from our marketing firm!)


  4. I LOVE your new ‘series’ Martha. So much fun! You have started something! Here we go: Harry ‘Rabbit’ Angstrom ( John Updike’s Rabbit novels). That name is loaded…
    Holly Golightly (Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Capote)
    And as I adore mysteries and spy novels: George Smiley ( John LeCarre novels) and the very astute Miss Jane Marple ( Agatha Christie)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s