The Curious Origins of the Girls’ Name Imogen

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle examines the supposed literary origins of a popular girls’ name

Where does the name Imogen come from? Some name origins are more interesting than others. And the origin of the girls’ name Imogen is more interesting than most.

Read more

10 First Names That Have Their Origins in Literature

The origins of 10 popular given names in the writings of famous authors

Literature has given us many – well, many given names. Popular first names have been created specially for novels or plays, and have become established as names for thousands if not millions of people born ever since. Here are ten Christian names which we owe to literature, either because they were invented or, at the very least, greatly popularised by writers. Writers from Shakespeare to Oscar Wilde have been responsible for creating or popularising first names, and although not all of them are hugely popular (there aren’t as many Dorians in the world, for instance, as there are Richards), they have nevertheless had an afterlife beyond the literary character who was the first to bear them.

Vanessa. The man who gave us Gulliver’s Travels (and, quite possibly, a treatise on human excrement) also gave us this girls’ name. Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) came up with it as a pet name for his friend and lover Esther Vanhomrigh, by taking the ‘Van’ from her surname and altering her given name into ‘essa’. A new name was born. It appears in Swift’s poem Cadenus and Vanessa, written in 1712.

Pamela. Sir Philip Sidney came up with the name Pamela in his vast prose work Arcadia, which is sometimes regarded as one of the first English novels. The name Pamela means ‘all sweetness’.

Read more