So, read any good books lately? (JK Rowling and Charles Dickens)
OK, yes, I was waiting at midnight for my reserved copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The date had been marked on our family's calendar for months. I started with Harry back when the first book came out and was happy to be able to throw myself into that rarest of all moments, the global literary event.
They're books, they're movies, they're toys and costumes and a whole vocabulary that has permeated our times. Such a powerhouse of entertainment is sure to leave its mark on baby names too, right? Nope. You're still not likely to meet a little Hermione or Albus or Sirius, old friend Ronald continues to sink deeper and deeper out of fashion, and even Harry itself has continued its steady decline.
The fundamental law of celebrity naming influence still holds. It's not about the fame, it's about the name. A minor reality tv star with a stylish name can wipe up the floor with a Harry Potter or Seinfeld or Madonna. J.K. Rowling's wizarding world has left no impact on American naming because that's not her game. She doesn't name her characters the way we name babies. To understand Rowling's names, it helps to look back at the last comparable global literary event.
In 1841, eager readers crowded onto a New York wharf to await a ship from England bearing the final installment of Charles Dickens' serialized novel The Old Curiosity Shop. I remember reading about this in high school history class, where it was presented as an emblem of an unimaginably different age. Now, of course, we see that we're not really so different from the folks back then. It just took 166 years for the right book to come along.
Some observers have taken the Dickens-Rowling analogy further. Each author, for instance, brought a new popular legitimacy to what had previously been considered "low" literature. But in this space there can be only one comparison: the names. In Dickens and Rowling, names don't just represent people. They're drenched with mood and meaning, conjuring up scenes, backstories, and as often as not laughs. Many other authors have attempted the same thing, but it's a tricky sort of poetry. Make the name too obvious or too extreme and it all falls apart; the reader is jerked out of the book and finds herself staring face to face with an author who's trying a little too hard.
In celebration of the masters of the genre, here are some memorable Dickens-Rowling names. If you can't sort out which is which, perhaps it's time to start your reading with Harry Potter book 1.