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Asterix is the hero of the Asterix comic books by René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo. The comic book series follows the adventures of a village of Gauls resisting Roman occupation. They manage to do this through a magic potion brewed by their local druid, which temporarily gives superhuman strength. Asterix is a diminutive warrior of great shrewdness, and because of his cunning and common sense, is usually chosen to lead important missions. Most of the Gauls in the comics have names ending in a suitably Gaulish -ix, echoing famous Gauls from history, such as Vercingetorix. However, each name is also a jokey pun – translations into English have been very clever at maintaining the spirit of the humour. In the case of Asterix, his name is a play on the typographical mark – the word asterisk comes from the Greek for “little star”, and Asterix is the “star” of the comic series. I have seen Asterix on an Australian baby, and this makes a quirky name for your own little star.
Atreyu is a character in the fantasy novel, The Neverending Story, by Michael Ende. In fact, he is the hero of the book which is read by a little boy named Bastian Bux, so he exists in a story within a story. Atreyu is a young warrior who is sent on a great quest to save the land of Fantastica by seeking a cure for the mysterious illness suffered by the land’s empress. He serves as a projection of Bastian’s “inner hero”, and only Atreyu can save Bastian from his own mistakes. In the 1984 movie version, Atreyu is played by Noah Hathaway. Atreyu was orphaned as a baby, and his name means “son of all” in his own (fictional) language, because he was raised by his entire village. It is pronounced ah-TRAY-yoo. Atreyu has strong connections with music, because not only is there a band with the name, but Atreyu himself has been referenced in songs. In the novel’s original German text, his name was Atréju, and this has proven a slightly geekier alternative.
Caspian is a character in C.S. Lewis’ children’s fantasy series, The Chronicles of Narnia. As a young boy in Prince Caspian, he had to fight for his throne against his usurping uncle to become king of Narnia, and as a youth in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, he led a daring expedition to the end of the world. In The Silver Chair, we meet him as a very old man, having reigned wisely and well, but also suffering personal tragedy. In the movies, he was played by Ben Barnes. Because of his great sea voyage, he is known as Caspian the Seafarer. Perhaps because of this connection, Lewis named his character after the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest inland body of water, which is bound by Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan. It is named after the Caspi, an ancient people believed to be the same as the Kassites, who were from modern-day Iran. The meaning of their tribal name is unknown. Caspian is a romantic geographic name which sounds rather like Casper with a Latin -ian ending, as in Lucian or Julian.
Dexter Morgan is the protagonist of the Dexter series of psychological thrillers by Jeff Lindsay. Dexter works for the police as a forensic blood spatter analyst, but is a serial killer in his spare time. A violent sociopath, he has been carefully trained to satisfy his homicidal urges by only killing murderers, rapists, and other criminals. Dexter is an English occupational surname for someone who dyed cloth, literally “dyer” in Anglo-Saxon. The word was originally specifically feminine, but Dexter has overwhelmingly been used as a male name. Dexter also happens to coincide with the Latin for “right handed”, with connotations of being skilful. Dexter Morgan is certainly dexterous in committing his crimes, while it seems apt the name is connected with dying. The books have inspired a popular television series, with Michael C. Hall in the title role, and since Dexter began airing in 2006, the name Dexter (which was about to slip off the Top 1000) has gone steadily up in popularity in the US; it is currently #362. It may seem strange that a serial killer could save the name, but Dexter Morgan is an oddly sympathetic murderer. Michael C. Hall makes him both likeable and amusing, and (perhaps slightly worryingly) female viewers find the character very attractive. Dexter fits in the surnames-for-boys trend, and has a cool X sound in it. The name Dexter is #218 in Victoria.
Dorian Gray is the protagonist of Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Dorian is an extremely handsome young man, who wishes his portrait could age while his own beauty remain changeless. His narcissistic wish is granted, and he spends his life in debauchery while retaining a youthful and innocent appearance. Meanwhile, Dorian’s hidden portrait bears the mark of his every corruption. The story has often been adapted into film; the most recent is Dorian Gray, with Ben Barnes in the title role. It is usually assumed that Wilde took the name Dorian from the Dorian people of ancient Greece, whose name means “upland, woodland”. The ancient Greeks did have names from this source, such as Dorieus and Doris. However, Dorian is also an Irish surname from O’Deoradhain, meaning “son of Deorain”. Deorain is an Old Gaelic name meaning “exile, wanderer, stranger”. Use of the name predates the novel’s publication, and in Eastern Europe it may be a pet form of Teodor. Dorian is sometimes used for girls. Despite Dorian Gray being an evil character, the name has remained in use, and is #558 in the US, and #549 and rising in the UK.
Heathcliff is the male lead character in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, the foster-brother and love interest of Catherine Earnshaw. The novel explores the deep and obsessive love that Cathy and Heathcliff have for each other, and how the thwarting of that love turned Heathcliff into a tortured monster – or perhaps revealed the brute he already was. It’s an eerie tale, but many will think of Heathcliff as the Byronic hero and romantic lover whose passion lived beyond the grave. In film, he has been portrayed by Laurence Olivier, Timothy Dalton, and Ralph Fiennes. Heathcliff is an uncommon English surname meaning “heath on the cliff”; it doesn’t seem to have been used as a personal name before Wuthering Heights, and only rarely since. The name connects Heathcliff to the Yorkshire moors, the natural world outside society where Heathcliff and Cathy can love each other freely. Actor Heath Ledger was named after Heathcliff (and his sister after Catherine!), and as Heath is a fashionable name at present, Heathcliff doesn’t seem too bizarre as a long form, although admittedly a bold choice.
Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is the protagonist of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the best friend of the hero in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Huck is the son of the town drunk, a neglected vagabond who lives a carefree existence until he is adopted and “civilised”. He runs away with an escaped slave named Jim, and the two of them travel down the Mississippi River by raft in search of freedom. Huck has been portrayed on film by Mickey Rooney, Ron Howard, Elijah Wood and Jake T. Austin, among others. Huckleberry is North American dialect for the bilberry, although in practice applied to several wild berries. The word has long been part of American slang, usually to suggest something small and insignificant – the perfect name for Huck Finn, a child of little consequence in his town. Later it came to mean “companion, sidekick”. Huckleberry was in occasional use as a personal name prior to the publication of Twain’s novels. This would make a sweet, offbeat name, while Huck is a hip short form.
Rhett Butler is the love interest of Scarlett O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind. A black sheep, he becomes entranced with the spirited Scarlett, and admires her will to survive. Although viewed as a cad by polite Southern society, Rhett is tall, dark, handsome, charming, intelligent, and has a very good understanding of human psychology – especially female – which he utilises to devastating effect. He is the only person who can stand up to Scarlett, and beat her in a battle of wits. In the 1939 movie, the biggest box office smash in history when adjusted for inflation, Rhett is played by Clark Gable. Rhett is a surname which comes from the Dutch de Raedt, meaning “counsel, advice”. Mitchell seems to have chosen the name as an allusion to her first husband, “Red” Upshaw, on whom the character of Rhett Butler is based (with a dash of Rudolf Valentino). Rhett is a sexy bad boy name, not often seen here, although cricketer Rhett Lockyear is one Australian example. In the US, it is #508 and rising.
Robert “Rocky” Balboa is the title character in the Rocky movies, played by Sylvester Stallone. Rocky is from the slums of Philadelphia, a grade school drop-out with few skills apart from being able to land punches, so he makes his living as a boxer known as “The Italian Stallion”. Always the underdog, his main weapon (apart from fists like bricks) is a refusal to give up. The movies follow his career through the victories, the losses, the fame, the fortune, the brain damage, and the incredible comeback. Rocky is a humble man with great heart, and although barely literate, possesses a lot of wisdom about life and love. He is named after the boxer Rocky Marciano, whose real name was Rocco. Rocky can be a nickname for similar names, but also signifies incredible strength and toughness. A famous Australian with the name is rugby union champion Rocky Elsom. Rocky is a fun and even cute name, with a namesake that has an important message: it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, but whether you go the distance.
Sherlock Holmes is the world’s most famous detective, the creation of Arthur Conan Doyle, and the hero of many stories. Known for his use of deductive logic and bewildering array of disguises, he has become an archetype, with his interest in forensic science helping spawn the modern crime genre. The character of Sherlock Holmes was so loved by the public in his own day that Doyle was forced to resurrect him after killing him off, and his popularity continues, with numerous adaptations to stage, radio, film and television – in fact, he is the most prolific character in cinema. Sherlock is an English surname dating to before the Norman Conquest; it comes from the Old English for “shining locks”, referring to someone with fair hair (although dark-haired, brainy Sherlock Holmes does have a “bright head”). Sherlock has been used as a personal name since the 18th century, and early use may have been influenced by Thomas Sherlock, a popular bishop and Christian apologist. Contemporary adaptations of the Sherlock Holmes stories, such as Sherlock, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and Elementary, starring Johnny Lee Miller, show this character has lost none of his pulling power, although the name is still closely tied to the brilliant detective. Locky would make an appealing short form – more appealing than Shirley, anyway.
POLL RESULT: People’s favourite names were Caspian, Dexter and Rhett, and their least favourite were Asterix, Atreyu, and Rocky.
(Picture shows Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role of the BBC TV series, Sherlock)