17 Baby Names You Didn't Know Were "Totally Made Up"

Apr 8th 2015

Want to drive the baby-naming public up the wall? Tell them you're naming your daughter Renesmee. Author Stephenie Meyer invented the name for the half-vampire child in her wildly popular Twilight series. In the story it's simply an homage to the child's two grandmothers, Renee and Esmé. To the traditional-minded, though, Renesmee has become a symbol of everything wrong with modern baby naming: It's not a "real name." The author just made it up, then parents followed in imitation of pop culture.

All undeniably true, yet that history itself is surprisingly traditional.

Writers have always made up names, and thank goodness. Our naming culture is much the richer for their inventions. Shakespeare in particular introduced many names we now consider classics, and centuries of writers have followed in his footsteps. Renesmee may or may not end up joining the name canon, but remember that the names below were all just as "made up" once upon a time.

[Note for sticklers: Each of the writers below is credited with using the name inventively -- as a coinage rather than a recycling of a familiar name -- and with introducing the name to the broader culture. Scattered previous examples of usage may exist, since name creativity isn't limited to writers.]

Wendy. Wendy looks like a nickname, and may have occasionally been used as one. But we know it today entirely via Peter Pan. Author J.M. Barrie named his Wendy after a childhood nickname "fwendy-wendy" ("friend").

Cedric. Sir Walter Scott created this name in 1820 for the father of Ivanhoe. He was probably thinking of the actual Saxon name Cerdic. Close enough.

Miranda. Shakespeare took his name-building seriously. The name of The Tempest's heroine tells you she's an object of admiration: Miranda is Latin for admirable, or "to be marvelled at."

Vanessa. If you want an 18th-century Renesmee, here's the name for you. Jonathan Swift wrote the poem "Cadenus and Vanessa" for a woman named Esther Vanhomrigh, and constructed the heroine's name out of bits of Vanhomrigh's first and last.

Coraline. Coraline is the title character of Neil Gaiman's creepy 2002 children's novel, which became a creepily beloved animated film. The name's origin was a simple mistake: Gaiman mistyped Caroline and like the result. Hundreds of girls now receive the name every year.

Evangeline. The poem Evangeline, A Tale of Acadie was Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's greatest popular success. If the heroine's name sounds like a saintly French classic, tip your cap to Longfellow.

Amanda. 17th-century writers took a page from Shakespeare's folios, building this name from the Latin for "lovable" on the model of the Bard's creation Miranda. Playwright Colley Cibber is usually given the credit.

Gloria. Gloria is the Latin for "glory," but it owes its life as a women's name to two popular writers of the late 19th century: George Bernard Shaw and E.D.E.N. Southworth. (That's short for Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte, thank you very much.)

Dorian. Oscar Wilde's Dorian Gray was a reprobate with a hidden, damning portrait. He's one of literature's most fashionably named heels.

Clarinda. In Edmund Spenser's epic poem The Faerie Queene, Clarinda (also called Clarin) was the duplicitous maidservant to Radigund, Queen of the Amazons. But style talks: it was Clarinda, not Radigund, that caught on as a name.

Cora. James Fenimore Cooper introduced this name in The Last of the Mohicans. It's been speculated that he was inspired by the Ancient Greek Kore ("maiden"), which was a name for Persephone and thus boded ill for poor Cora.

Pamela. Elizabethan poet Sir Philip Sidney introduced this name, though he stressed the middle syllable. The name caught on more (and acquired a new stress pattern) after the 1740 publication of Samuel Richardson's novel Pamela. Even then, it was hardly conventional. Henry Fielding poked fun at Pamela in a novel of his own, writing "a very strange name, Pamela, or Pamela; some pronounced it one way, and some the other."

Fiona. This Scottish and English favorite was invented by 18th-century Scottish poet James Macpherson. The Irish name Fíona may look the same written down, but strangely enough it's completely unrelated.

Jessica. Jessica was the daughter of Shylock in The Merchant of Venice – apparently it was Shakespeare's idea of a typical Jewish name. Speculation is that he based it on Jesca, a spelling of the obscure biblical name Iscah/Yisca that's found in some Bibles of his time.

Lucinda. This romantic extension of Lucia first showed up in Spanish in the form of Don Quixote's Luscinda, then leapt to French as Lucinde thanks to a Molière play. But it was in the English spelling Lucinda that the name became immortal.

Ronia. Swedish Legend Astrid Lindgren, creator of Pippi Longstocking, had another great hit in the 1981 book Ronja Rövardotter ("Ronia the Robber's Daughter"). Ronja has become a modern classic in Northern Europe.

Imogen. Like Coraline, this name was born of a spelling error. The character Imogen in Shakespeare's Cymbeline is based on a legendary Queen Innogen. Shakespeare, or quite likely his printer, read the n's as an m, and a new classic name was born.


April 8, 2015 9:02 PM

Other literary coinages: Stella (from Sidney's Astrophel and Stella), Rima (from Green Mansions), Arwen and Eowyn (Tolkien), Ayla (Clan of the Cave Bear), Haidee (Byron's Don Juan), Lucasta (Lovelace), Malvina (McPherson's Ossian), Nerissa (Merchant of Venice), Norma (the opera).  Successful coinages come from people with excellent verbal skills.

People who are not Shakespeare give us names like Nevaeh and Quvenzhane.

April 9, 2015 2:41 AM

My middle name is Renelle, which I love. My mother says she made up the spelling for it after hearing it once. 

April 9, 2015 4:11 AM

Ok that's it, I've had it with the whole English speaking world thinking that Neil Gaiman "invented" the name Coraline! Don''t get me wrong, I love Gaiman, but Coraline has been in my family for generations, my great-grand mother, her mother, my grand mother, my niece all bear/bore that name, heck! it's even MY middle name! Look it up. It's been around for centuries.

April 9, 2015 9:28 AM

Re: Coraline and Gaiman -- in the realm of name inventions, coincidences often confuse matters. The fact is that Gaiman did make a typo, turning Caroline into Coraline, and he did decide that he liked the "mistake". He didn't know that his typo happened to coincide with a previously-existing name, and neither did most of the rest of the world -- it was his character who made the name generally known. So it is not inaccurate to credit Gaiman with the name, whether you say he invented it, or discovered it, or whatever other action word you care to use.

There's a similar situation with the name Christabel, which was "discovered" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge -- the name occurs in medieval romances, which is probably where the poet got it, but there's enough of a temporal disconnect between the uses that for modern purposes, Coleridge can really be credited with the name.

April 10, 2015 10:11 AM

What and uneducated (and partly racist) comment! For one, half of those names you mentioned are barely ever used today, and most people would in fact believe that the writers probably made them up.

Secondly, if you actually did your research, you would find that the first part of Quvenzhane Wallis' name comes from her parents names, and the second part (Zhane) means fairy in swahili. But maybe only western origins matter to you?

Her parents might not be 'shakesperian' (what does that even mean? old? white? a writer?), but they clearly thought that name through, and it's no stranger than, let's say,  Imogen or Renesmee. Neither is the pronounciation, in my opinion. 

April 11, 2015 1:35 PM

I second everything Jumelia wrote.

Not to diminish Shakespeare or his linguistic skills (which of course were extremely impressive -- that's a given), I'll add that it's incredibly difficult (from a writer's perspective) to make up names. It's much more difficult than you might think. "Excellent verbal skills" are of no doubt a huge asset when making up names, but there's a lot more to it than that.

For example, I'll admit I'm not a fan of the Twilight saga, but Renesmee is quite clever and well thought out. And, while I'd never name a child Nevaeh or Quvenzhane, they're perfectly acceptable names IMHO and all parents have their reasons (and as Jumelia said of Quvenzhane's name, those reasons sound deeply meaningful).

For what it's worth, all names were made up at one point, and I don't think anyone makes up a name without giving it careful, serious consideration, despite what you're suggesting by your comment.

April 12, 2015 12:15 PM

Many of these names that people think are modern coinages -- pointing to received info commonly repeated about various authors inventing names -- are actually much older.

Wendy and Cedric can both be found in early 17th C English parish registers; Miranda is found in mid 14th C Perigueux, France; Amanda shows up in England in the 13th C; and Cora and its diminutive Corina can be found in Imola, Italy, in the early 14th C.

April 14, 2015 3:04 PM

Aren't all names made up at some point?

April 15, 2015 1:19 AM

I think that if the name existed before a poet or author used it in their piece, they technically did not invent the name, regardless of their ignorance to the names prior history and/or usage. And just because they may have 'popularized' a name, they cannot rightly be credited with inventing a name that pre-existed their writing.

If a poet wants to use a name in their poetry, or a writer in their literature, they can create wonderful associations with the name, regardless of where it originated. But that still does not mean that they coined the name.

They could be credited with changing its general usage from a word from a dead language into a name, or the word for another expression or inanimate object into a name for a person. Just as an example, Gwyneth Paltrow named her child Apple. Does this mean she 'invented' the name Apple? Who invented the word Apple, don't they get any credit, or is that like asking, who invented words?

April 14, 2015 9:01 PM

I came here to agree with #3, Helene's comment. It's pretty irresponsible of Laura Wattenberg to state such demonstrably false 'facts' about Coraline. The name even ranked in France prior to 2002! Look it up, people! 

February 13, 2016 9:51 PM

I actually named my daughter Indigo!  I have no regrets. I do live in California where people are more free in their naming perhaps. My other daughter is Phoenix. They both like their names. I do think that people are a little surprised that someone working in a conservative profession has kids with such bohemian names, but they should have seen the names I discarded for being too out there!

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August 11, 2016 1:46 PM

Well in fairness, all names are essentially made up. Names were not written on stone and said this is what people are to be called.  Lol

August 11, 2016 1:47 PM

Well in fairness, all names are essentially made up. Names were not written on stone and said this is what people are to be called.  Lol

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