Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wentworth: From Rare Inspiration

Persuasion by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen by reihayashi via Flickr

Wentworth Miller, the actor from the former hit show Prison Break, has a very distinctive name. He is a third, after his father and grandfather, and he may share his name with a few others in the world, but his first name is by no means a mainstream one. Jane Austen fans recognize it immediately, and the fact is the three Wentworth Millers were named after the hero of her novel Persuasion, Captain Wentworth. According to IMDB, it was his great-grandmother's idea, and what a great one it was. Such formal names may not be obviously considered as first names, but why not branch out?

Wentworth has a deep history as a surname in England and has a meaning of "pale man's settlement" or "village of the white people." In Old English, it can be drawn from the words for "winter" and "enclosure." writes that it could have referred to a settlement only inhabited in the winter. It is also a place name. We can only guess what drew Miss Austen to the name, but no matter what that was, Wentworth was assigned to a character who became the inspiration for a baby boy's name.

Miller was born in England in 1972. As far as I know, there's no way for me to see if there were any other Wentworths born in England (where Miss Austen is from as well). I checked the names of babies born in the United States in the 1970s and since it is nowhere to be seen, we know there were no more than five babies named Wentworth during that time. Nor was it found in the 2000s when Prison Break was a hit. It seems to be a truly unique name (in the States at least).

(Addendum: While looking at W names historically, I have found the following instances of baby Wentworths: 1917 (6), 1919 (5), 1921 (10), 1923 (6), 1924 (5), 1926 (6), 1935 (5), and 1947 (7). I would still call that rare.) :)

I know there are many parents out there who want that "one and only" name for their child. Are there any other character surnames in literature that could be an inspiration for them? Concentrating on possible boy names, here are several that caught my eye and ear:

Copperfield - From Charles Dickens' David Copperfield. Yes, this is a big name to carry and might be more suitable as a middle name. But a character considered to be influenced by the author himself might be inspirational enough to some parents willing to take a truly unique route. Also, Copper would be a great nickname.

Crusoe - From Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. The adventurer could inspire some parents to be adventurous themselves... with their son's name that is. If Cruz is acceptable, why not Crusoe?

Gatsby - From F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. While the character himself is not one to create inspiration, the sound of it is not too far from other two syllable names that end in -y.

Higgins - From George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I can't help but think this is a name a little boy can pull off. Of course, I also can't get Magnum P.I. out of my head.

Holmes - From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novels. Everyone would know who is honored by this first name, and I don't think anyone could deduce a reason to object. Watson is another name from these stories that warrants consideration... and did inspire the parents of 42 baby boys in 2011.

Joad - From John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath. Not exactly from a happy story, but Joad could pass for a little boy's name... a little like Joel, or a shortened form of Jody.

Knightley - From Jane Austen's Emma. Mr. Knightley has tremendous character from which to draw inspiration. It sounds like a name of nobility with a little cuteness mixed in.

Thornton - From Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South. At least nine sets of parents agree that this would be a great first name, since that is how many baby boy Thorntons were born in 2011. So while it may not be completely unique, it is still one to be considered for its strong and masculine sound (and a great nickname in Thor).

Tilney - From Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. This name sounds like the feminine Tilly, however the "n" does give it some harshness appropriate for a boy. And the charismatic and romantic character of Tilney makes it a wonderfully different option for parents.

There are a lot of situations where people are called by their last names... in the military, in service (Branson on Downton Abbey is one that comes to mind), and on sports teams. And the concept of using surnames to name children is definitely not foreign. So while it may take some deep love of a novel to use any of the names mentioned above, it only takes a brave set of parents to go with their heart and possibly start a trend.

What character surnames might inspire you to take this step?



  1. Great factoid about Wentworth Miller! My favorite of these is definitely Watson, which made our shortlist for two reasons: for my father's middle name, Walter and for Sherlock's sidekick, too.

  2. I saw someone recently suggest Holmes as a name, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. I think it's a great idea.

    Also loving Thornton, Knightly and Crusoe from your suggestions. Thorne has long been on my list, and I like the slightly more formal feel than Thornton would give it :)


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