Female names of literary origin, N-Z

U.S. actor Norma Shearer, 1902–1983

Nélida was created by French writer Marie d’Agoult for her semi-autobiographical 1846 novel of the same name, which she wrote under the pseudonym Daniel Stern. It’s probably an anagram of the pen name Daniel.

Nestan-Darejan was created by great Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli for the famous 12th century national epic The Knight in the Panther’s Skin (lit. One with the Skin of a Tiger). He coined it from Persian phrase nist andar jahan, “unlike any other in the world.” Nestan-Darejan is a princess.

Norma is the protagonist of Italian writer Felice Romani’s 1831 opera of the same name, possibly based on Latin norma (rule). It may also have been intended as a feminine form of Ancient Germanic name Norman (northman; i.e., Viking).

Nydia is a blind flower seller in British writer Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 novel The Last Days of Pompeii, which was later made into an Italian silent film. It may be based on Latin nidus (nest).

Ophelia as depicted inThe girlhood of Shakespeare’s heroines in a series of tales, 1881

Ophelia was probably created by 15th century Italian poet Jacopo Sannazaro for a character in his poem Arcadia, then later used by Shakespeare in 1600’s Hamlet. It derives from Greek ophelos (help).

Ornella was created by Italian writer Gabriele d’Annunzio for the 1904 novel La Figlia di Jorio (The Daughter of Jorio), derived from Tuscan ornello (flowering ash tree).

Pamela was created by English poet Sir Philip Sydney for the 16th century long pastoral romance poem The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, possibly intended to mean “all sweetness,” from Greek pan (all) and meli (honey). This name exploded in popularity during the 1940s and stayed on the U.S. Top 100 till 1976.

Perdita was created by Shakespeare for his 1610 play A Winter’s Tale, from Latin perditus (lost).

Pippi was created by Karin Lindgren, daughter of Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, for the title character of the Pippi Longstocking series. The first book was published in 1945. Her full name is Pippilotta.

Ronja was created by Astrid Lindgren for Ronja the Robber’s Daughter (1981), derived from Juronjaure, a Swedish lake.

Sandra was introduced to the Anglophone world by English writer George Meredith, who used it on the protagonist of his 1864 novel Emilia in England, reissued in 1887 as Sandra Belloni.

Scarlett, from a surname originally bestowed upon sellers or makers of scarlet cloth, possibly derives from Persian saghrilat. Just about everyone knows Scarlett came to attention as a forename thanks to the protagonist of Margaret Mitchell’s historical saga Gone with the Wind (1936).

Stella means “star” in Latin. This name was created by Sir Philip Sidney for the protagonist of his 1580s sonnet collection Astrophel and Stella.

Tímea was created by Hungarian writer Mór Jókai for his 1873 novel The Golden Man, probably derived from Greek euthymia (good spirits, cheerfulness).

Tinatin was created by aforementioned Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli for The Knight in the Panther’s Skin, possibly derived from Georgian word sinatle (light). Tinatin is the Queen of Arabia, and inherits the throne as the sole child of King Rostevan.

Titania was possibly created by Shakespeare for his 1595 play A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which Titania is Queen of the Fairies. It may derive from Latin name Titanius (of the Titans).

Tünde was created by Hungarian writer Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1830 play Csongor és Tünde, derived from tündér (fairy).

Undine was created by Medieval writer Paracelsus, derived from Latin unda (wave). He used it to refer to female water spirits.

Detail of The Quarrel of Oberon and Titania, Joseph Noel Patton, 1849

Valmai means “like May” in Welsh. It was created by Welsh writer Allen Raine for her 1899 romance novel By Berwen Banks. Allen Raine was the understandable pseudonym of Anne Adalisa Beynon Puddicombe.

Vanessa was created by British writer Jonathan Swift for his 1726 poem Cadenus and Vanessa, derived from rearranging the first syllables of the name of his friend Esther Vanhomrigh.

Veslemøy means “little girl” in Norwegian. It was created by writer Arne Garborg for the title character of his 1895 poem Haugtussa.

Viviette was created by British writer William John Locke for the title character of his 1910 novel. It’s a diminutive of Vivienne (alive).

Wendy was created by Scottish writer J.M. Barrie for his famous 1904 play Peter Pan, derived from his nickname Fwendy (i.e., Friend). Prior to Peter Pan, it was rarely used as a possible nickname for Welsh names starting with Gwen (blessed, fair, white).

Zerbinette was created by French writer Molière for his 1671 play Les Fourberies de Scapin (The Deceits of Scapin).

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Female names of literary origin, G-M

I belatedly realised I left out three names in the first post in this series:

Daiva was created by Lithuanian writer Vydūnas and possibly based on a Sanskrit word meaning “destiny.”

Dalma was created by Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty for his 1825 epic poem Zalán Futása. Though the original Dalma was male, later writers used it for female characters.

Etelka was created by Hungarian writer András Dugonics for the protagonist of his 1788 novel of the same name. It’s derived from male name Etele, which is possibly a form of Attila (little father).

Image of Jessica, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines, 1896, by Luke Fildes

Gloriana is the title character of Edmund Spenser’s 1590 epic poem The Faerie Queene, an allegory of Queen Elizabeth I. It’s an elaborated form of the Latin word gloria (glory).

Grażyna means “beautiful” in Lithuanian. It was created by great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz for the title character of an 1823 poem.

Gyneth is King Arthur’s daughter in Sir Walter Scott’s 1813 poem The Bridal of Triermain. It’s possibly a variation of Welsh name Gwyneth, either from Gwynedd (the name of a region in Wales, perhaps derived from Old Welsh name Cunedda) or the word gwyn (fair, blessed, white).

Haidee was created by Lord Byron for a character in the 1819 poem Don Juan, possibly derived from Greek word aidoios (reverent, modest).

Imogen is a princess in Shakespeare’s 1609 play Cymbeline, based on legendary character Innogen, which in turn is probably derived from Gaelic inghean (maiden). Her name was misprinted and never corrected.

Janice is an elaborated form of Jane created by Paul Leicester Ford for his 1899 novel Janice Meredith.

Jessica was created by Shakespeare for Shylock’s apostate daughter in The Merchant of Venice (1596), probably based on Biblical name Yiskah (to behold).

Jolánka is the protagonist of Hungarian writer András Dugonics’s 1803 novel Jólánka, Etelkának Leánya. It may have come from jóleán (good girl) or Yolanda (violet).

Juliet is an Anglicized form of respectively French and Italian nicknames Juliette and Giulietta. It was first used in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (1596).

Kinscő was created by Hungarian writer Mór Jokai in 1872’s The Novel of the Next Century, derived from kincs (treasure).

Lalage is a character in one of Roman poet Horace’s odes, derived from Greek lalageo (to prattle, babble).

Lalla is the protagonist of Thomas Moore’s 1817 poem Lalla Rookh, derived from Persian laleh (tulip).

Layla means “night” in Arabic, and was used in 7th century romantic poems. The variation Leila was used in several of Lord Byron’s poems.

Loredana is a character in French writer George Sand’s 1833 novel Mattea, possibly based on Venetian surname Loredan and ultimately place name Loreo.

Lorna was created by R.D. Blackmore for his 1869 novel Lorna Doone, based on Scottish place name Lorne and possibly ultimately legendary king Loarn mac Eirc of Dál Riata.

Lucasta was created by poet Richard Lovelace for a 1649 poetry collection of the same name, dedicated to his love Lucasta, Lucy Sacheverel. He nicknamed her lux casta (pure light).

Lucinda was created by Miguel Cervantes for a character in 1605’s Don Quixote, an elaboration of Lucia, ultimately derived from Latin lux (light).

Magnhild derives from Old Norse magn (strong, mighty) and hildr (battle). This is the title character of Norwegian writer Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson’s 1877 novel.

Malvina was created by 18th century poet James MacPherson for his Ossian poems, possibly intended to mean “smooth brow” in Gaelic.

Mahulena was created by Czech writer Julius Zeyer for his 1898 play Radúz and Mahulena, possibly derived from Magdalena.

Miranda, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines

Mavis was first used as a personal name in a character in British writer Marie Corelli’s 1895 novel The Sorrows of Satan. It comes from a bird also known as a song thrush, ultimately from Old French mauvis (unknown etymology).

Melantha may be a portmanteau of Mel (from names such as Melissa and Melanie) and suffix antha, from Greek anthos (flower). John Dryden used it for a character in his 1672 play Marriage à la Mode.

Mélisande is the French form of Millicent (strong work), used in Maurice Maeterlinck’s 1893 play Pelléas et Mélisande.

Minea was created by Finnish writer Mika Waltari for his 1945 hist-fic The Egyptian, possibly based on Greek name Minos (king).

Miranda was created by Shakespeare for the protagonist of The Tempest (1611), derived from Latin mirandus (wonderful, admirable).

Mirèio is an Occitan name first used by French writer Frédéric Mistral in the 1859 poem of the same name, possibly derived from Occitan mirar (to admire).

Moema means “lies” in Tupí, an indigenous Brazilian language. Poet Santa Rita Durão used it in his 1781 poem Caramuru.

Myra was created by 17th century poet Sir Fulke Greville, 1st Baron Brooke, possibly based on Latin myrra (myrrh), or an anagram of Mary. This is also the name of an ancient city of Anatolia.

Female names of literary origin, A-F

Cosette on first-edition 1862 Les Misérables cover, by Émile Bayard

While all names necessarily have to be invented at some point, names created for literary characters are usually more recent creations than other names. Their staying power and popularity seems to hinge on how well they blend into the language of origin; i.e., do they sound like actual names, or do they only work in a fictional world?

This post only covers names invented for fictional characters, not names which already existed but only became popular after their use in literature.

Albena is the heroine of Bulgarian writer Yordan Yovkov’s 1930 play of the same name. It may be based on the word alben, a type of peony.

Amaryllis is a character in Virgil’s epic poem Eclogues. The name comes from the Greek word amarysso (to sparkle). The amaryllis flower is named from Virgil’s Amaryllis.

Aminta is a character in Italian poet Torquato Tasso’s 1573 play of the same name, inspired by the Greek name Amyntas (defender).

Araminta was possibly first used in the 1693 William Congreve comedy The Old Bachelor. Its etymology is unknown. This was the birth name of Harriet Tubman.

Ariel means “lion of God” in Hebrew. It was first used as a personal name in Shakespeare’s The Tempest (1611), though the -el ending truly denotes a male name in Hebrew. Authentically Hebrew female forms are Ariella and Arielle.

Armida was probably created by the abovementioned Torquato Tasso for his 1580 epic poem Jerusalem Delivered.

Ayla was created for the protagonist of Jean Auel’s Clan of the Cave Bear series in 1980. It’s the Neanderthal pronunciation of her unknown birth name.

Bambi is derived from the Italian word bambina (little girl). It’s of course famous as the name of the (male) deer in the Disney movie based on Swiss writer Felix Salten’s 1923 novel. Prior, it was used in American writer Marjorie Benton Cooke’s 1914 novel.

Belphoebe was coined by Edmund Spenser in his 1590 poem The Faerie Queen, derived from French word belle (beautiful) and the Latinized name Phoebe. The latter ultimately comes from the Greek name Phoibe (pure, bright).

Briana was also first used in The Faerie Queen. It’s a female form of the Irish name Brian, which may derive from Old Celtic root bre (hill), and thus by extension mean “noble, high.” This name exploded in popularity in the Nineties, in countless spellings, but has now dropped down the charts significantly.

Rosalind and Celia, 19th century, by Margaret Gillies

Celia is the feminine form of Latin surname Caelius (heaven). Shakespeare introduced it to the Anglophone world in 1599’s As You Like It.

Charissa is an elaborated form of the Greek Charis (kindness, grace). This also comes from The Faerie Queen.

Charmaine was possibly first used in the 1924 play What Price Glory?, either the English word “charm” with the -aine suffix of Lorraine, or a form of Charmian, used by Shakespeare in 1606’s Antony and Cleopatra.

Clarinda again comes from The Faerie Queen, a combination of Clara (clear, famous, bright) and suffix -inda.

Clarissa, derived from Clarice and ultimately Clara, is the title character of Samuel Richardson’s massively long 1748 novel.

Cora comes from the Greek Kore (maiden), another name for Persephone. It arose as a name in James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel The Last of  the Mohicans.

Cordelia is an adaptation of Celtic name Cordeilla, of unknown etymology. Shakespeare used it for the youngest daughter in 1606’s King Lear.

Cosette comes from French chosette (little thing), and was used in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables (1862). Her real name is Euphrasie.

Csilla (CHEE-lah) means “star” in Hungarian. It was invented by András Dugonics for an 1803 novel.

Doreen may have been coined by Edna Lyall in her 1894 novel of the same name, from nickname Dora and suffix -een.

Dorinda comes from Dora and -inda, created for John Dryden and William D’Avenant’s 1667 play The Enchanted Island.

Cordelia, from The Graphic Gallery of Shakespeare’s Heroines, William Frederick Yearns

Dulcinea was created by Miguel Cervantes for Don Quixote (1605), derived from Spanish word dulce (sweet).

Eglantine comes from the word for a flower also called sweetbriar. It was first used, as Eglentyne, in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.

Enikő was coined by 19th century Hungarian poet Mihály Vörösmarty, inspired by Enéh, legendary mother of the Magyars. It may mean “deer” or “cow.”

Eponine was also used in Les Misérables, and may derive from Empona, a first century Roman Empress in Gaul. The Italian form is Epponina.

Ethel was created in the 19th century, from Old English root æðel (noble), and popularized in several novels.

Evangeline may have first appeared in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1847 epic poem of the same name. It means “good news” in Greek.

Fantine is another Les Misérables name, possibly derived from French enfant (child).

Fiammetta means “little flame” in Italian. This is one of the members of the brigata in The Decameron.

Fiona was possibly first used in Scottish poet James MacPherson’s 1762 poem Fingal. It’s the feminine form of Fionn (white or fair).

Names symbolic of short life

Content Warning: This post is about names befitting stillborns, infants with very short lives, and miscarriages.

I know this is a depressing, macabre topic no one should ever have to deal with, but fetal and neonatal deaths are an unavoidable fact of life. And as always, these names can also be used for fictional characters. I’ve used some of them for my own characters.

Though traditional Jewish Law dictates stillborns and infants who live less than 30 days shouldn’t be named or have Kaddish recited for them, I find it very meaningful to give such a child a simple but symbolic name. When I asked one of my rabbis about this, he said he’d never tell grieving parents not to say Kaddish for their dear baby, no matter what custom dictates.

Other traditions have different outlooks, and individuals of any faith or culture should make their own decisions. God forbid this should ever happen to me if I’m blessed with biological children before time runs out, but if it did, I’d opt against the name I’d previously chosen and instead use one of the following names, with the understanding this child would never be called that. A name that might seem corny or pretentious on a living child is transformed into something haunting and beautiful on one who was born asleep or barely lived.

Unless otherwise noted, all names ending in vowels are female, and all names ending in consonants are male.

Amala means “pure, clean” in Sanskrit.

Angel is rather self-explanatory.

Atropos (F) was the oldest the Three Fates, the one who cut the thread. Her Roman version was Morta.

Bedisa means “fate” in Georgian.

Blessing is self-explanatory.

Bracha means “blessing” in Hebrew. The male form is Baruch.

Clotho was one of the Three Fates, the one who spins the thread of Life. Her Roman version was Nona.

Dalisay (F) means “pure” in Tagalog.

Destiny is self-explanatory. This name has such a different image when used on a stillborn or someone who died in early infancy.

Faith is self-explanatory.

Glenda was created in the 20th century from Welsh elements glan (clean, pure) and da (good).

Heimarmene was the Greek goddess of the Fate of the Universe. The name may be derived from the verb meiresthai (to receive as one’s lot), from which the word moira (destiny, fate) also derives.

Hypnos was the Greek god of sleep, described as very kind, gentle, and calm. His Roman version was Somnus.

Inmaculada means “immaculate” in Spanish, after the Immaculate Conception. Other forms include Imaculada (Portuguese), Immaculata (Irish), Immacolata (Italian), and Immaculada (Catalan)

Innocent derives from the Latin Innocentius, ultimately from innocens (innocent). Other forms include Innocenzo (Italian), Innokentiy (Russian), Inocencio (Spanish), Innocenty (Polish), Innozenz (German), Inocentas (Lithuanian), Innocenz (German), Inocent (Croatian), and Inocenţiu (Romanian).

Female forms are Innokentiya (Russian, Bulgarian), Iñoskentze (Basque), Innocentia (Latin), Innocència (Catalan), Innocenta (Polish), Inocencia (Spanish, Portuguese), and Innocentja (Polish).

Juvenal means “youthful” in Latin, from original form Iuvenalis.

Kader (F) means “destiny, fate” in Turkish.

Kiyoshi (M) means “pure” in Japanese.

Lachesis (F) was one of the Three Fates, the one responsible for measuring the thread and determining length of life. Her Roman counterpart is Decima.

Memoria means “memory” in Italian.

Mneme means “memory” in Greek. She was one of the original Three Muses.

Mnemosyne was the Greek goddess of remembrance. Other forms include Mnemosina (Russian, Macedonian, Serbian, Tatar, Ukrainian, Azeri, Basque), Mnemosine (Italian, Portuguese), Mnémoszüné (Hungarian), Mnemozina (Bulgarian, Bosnian, Croatian), Mnemósine (Spanish, Asturian, Catalan), Mnemozino (Esperanto), Mnemasina (Belarusian), Mnēmosine (Latvian), Mnemosinė (Lithuanian), Mnemosin (Piedmontese), and Mnemosune (Afrikaans).

Neshama means “soul” in Hebrew. A diminutive form is Neshamaleh.

Oroitz means “memory” in Basque.

Peace is self-explanatory.

Pepromene was the Greek goddess of one’s individual fate. The name may derive from the verb peprosthai (to be fated, finished, fulfilled) or the noun pepratosthai (finite).

Qismat means “fate” in Arabic. This name is female in Sanskrit (Qismet) and Turkish (Kismet).

Remember, Remembrance. Though these were unisex names in Puritan times, Remember in particular has always sounded more feminine to me.

Safi (M) means “pure” in Arabic. The feminine forms are Safiya, Safiyyah (Arabic) and Safiye (Turkish).

Shalom means “peace” in Hebrew. This is a unisex name.

Syntyche means “common fate” in Greek.

Tahira means “pure, chaste, virtuous” in Arabic. In Turkish, it’s spelt Tahire. The male Arabic and Turkish form is Tahir.

Thuần means “pure, simple, clean” in Vietnamese.

Zachriel, Zechariel, Zachariel is the archangel who leads souls to judgment in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.

Zaha means “pure, innocent, fresh, clean, clear” in Hebrew.

Zakiyya, Zakiya, Zakiah means “pure” in Arabic. The male form is Zaki. In Tatar and Bashkir, it’s spelt Zäki. The Hebrew form is Zakkai, Zakai, Zakay.

A name that arose from the earth

Adam Mickiewicz (1798–1855), one of Poland’s great national poets, painted 1828 by Józef Oleszkiewicz

Adam means “man” in Hebrew, and may ultimately derive from the Akkadian word adamu (to make), the Hebrew word adamah (earth), or the almost-identical Hebrew word ‘adam (to be red; i.e., a reference to a ruddy complexion). All these etymologies obviously are very symbolic, given Adam is the name of the first man in the Biblical creation story.

The name is also used in English, German, French, Dutch, Georgian, Arabic, Catalan, Romanian, and the Scandinavian and Slavic languages. The variation Ádám is Hungarian; Ádam is Faroese; and Âdam is Jèrriais.

Adam has long been common in the Jewish world, but it didn’t become popular in Christendom till the Middle Ages. After the Protestant Reformation, it became even more popular. The name has been in the U.S. Top 500 since 1880, and began vaulting up the charts in the 1950s. It went from #428 in 1954 to #71 in 1970. Adam attained its highest rank of #18 in 1983 and 1984.

The name has remained in the Top 100 since. In 2018, it was #78. Adam is also #2 in Belgium, #3 in the Czech Republic (as of 2016), #5 in Hungary and France, #6 in Sweden, #9 in Ireland, #11 in Poland, #16 in Catalonia (as of 2016), #17 in The Netherlands, #18 in Northern Ireland (which hopefully soon will be reunified with the rest of Ireland), #24 in Scotland, #25 in Denmark, #36 in England and Wales, #39 in Israel (as of 2016), #40 in Norway, #41 in Spain, #43 in NSW, Australia, #44 in Slovenia, #50 in Switzerland and Austria, #51 in British Columbia, Canada, #55 in Italy, and #96 in New Zealand.

Adam was the name of one of my great-great-grandfathers, the father of the only great-grandfather I have memories of. Judging from the vintage newspaper stories I’ve found about him, he was quite the local character!

Scottish economist Adam Smith (1723–1790), author of one of the most boring books ever written, The Wealth of Nations

Other forms include:

1. Adamo is Italian.

2. Adán is Spanish.

3. Adão is Portuguese.

4. Ádhamh is Irish.

5. Aatami is Finnish.

6. Adomas is Lithuanian.

7. Akamu is Hawaiian.

8. Aadam is Estonian.

9. Aaden is Somali.

10. Adami is Greenlandic and old-fashioned Georgian.

11. Ādams is Latvian.

12. Adamu is Swahili, Amharic, and Hausa.

13. Adda is Welsh, though I’d avoid this in an Anglophone area. Unfortunately, many boys with names ending in A are teased, and there’s no saving grace of this being a widely-known male name like Nikita or Ilya.

14. Aden is Romansh.

15. Ārama is Maori.

16. Âtame is Greenlandic.

17. Áttán is Sami.

18. Hadam is Sorbian.

19. Jadóm is Kashubian.

20. Odam is Uzbek.

21. Adem is Turkish.

22. Y-adam is a rare Vietnamese form.

Feminine forms:

1. Adamina is English, Polish, and Romani.

2. Adama is Hebrew and English.

3. Adamella is a rare, modern English form. I’m really not keen on this name! Some names don’t naturally lend themselves to feminine versions, and look forced.

4. Adamia is English.