Who Doesn’t Love Harper Lee and Other Reasons to Name Your Baby After a Writer

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Walker, Flannery, and Harper Northrup are named for Southern writers. Everett? He was almost named Truman.

By Jack Limpert

Some babies are named for television or movie stars or popular musicians. Who names their kids for writers?

Steve and Elizabeth Northrup live and work in Washington D.C., and they named three of their children Walker, Flannery, and Harper—out of love for Walker Percy, Flannery O’Connor, and Harper Lee. A fourth child is named Everett—there’s a story there.

Here is how Elizabeth explains it:

How did you decide to name your children after writers?

I’m originally from Columbia, a small town in Tennessee, and I’ve got the South in my blood. Even through our children are not growing up in the South, I want them to know that connection. My mother taught English and I grew up hearing about and ultimately loving many southern writers. When I went to college at Tulane in New Orleans, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and was an English major and took classes and seminars on southern writers.

Why each writer?

I discovered Walker Percy at Tulane. He had lived in New Orleans and taught at Loyola University and its campus is next to Tulane’s. I read The Moviegoer and was hooked and then read Lancelot and loved it (all that psychological horror). I also like science fiction and Love in the Ruins and The Thanatos Syndrome both combine southern locations and science fiction story lines. New Orleans is one of my favorite cities and I love that Walker’s name makes me think of that time in my life. I can’t wait to take Walker and the other children to New Orleans and share the city with them.

Flannery O’Connor is one of my favorite writers—her short stories are so wonderful that I never tire of re-reading them. I also think that her personal story is so fascinating—she had a brilliant mind and was such a strong woman. To write what she did in her short life while dealing with the effects of lupus is pretty amazing.

Who doesn’t love To Kill a Mockingbird? I think that most kids read it in their childhood and it makes such an impression—and it’s a great story. And the fact that Harper Lee didn’t write another novel after the success of her first book makes it even more fascinating. I always said that I was going to name my first little girl Harper. I told one of my best friends this before I met Steve. This friend—Stacey—knew Steve from working on Capitol Hill. After Steve and I started dating, Stacey and Steve went to lunch and he pumped her for information about me. Stacey thought it would be funny to tell him what I wanted to name my first child. So the next time Steve and I went out—to an Oriole’s game in Baltimore—he started talking about how much he liked the name Harper. I was taken aback and thought, “Wow, how cool is it that he likes the name Harper.” But I also thought it was weird for him to bring it up and after asking him a few questions, he admitted Stacey had told him that I loved the name. I was annoyed with both of them.

Harper was on the list of names after we had Walker and I was pregnant with the twins but I told Steve he had ruined it by making fun of Harper those years before. We both loved Flannery so we went with that one. When we found out we were going to have another little girl, Steve told me that I was finally getting a chance to have “my Harper. “The other name we considered was Mathilda Belle for my great-grandmother. Steve didn’t like the name Mathilda so we decided on Harper Belle.

So why Everett, the twin of Flannery?

I wanted Everett to be Truman. I thought Flannery and Truman were unique literary names. But Steve couldn’t get the picture of Truman Capote out of his mind and said that he couldn’t name his son that. We couldn’t find a name we could agree on and then right before the twins were born, I was watching a movie and one of the characters was named Everett and I thought hey, that’s a good name. Steve liked it too.

Do the kids understand why their names are what they are?

Walker and Flannery both understand where their names come from—we’ve talked about it and they also know where Harper’s name comes from. After Harper was born, Steve and Flannery were at a Starbucks near where we live and a lady there heard Steve talking to Flannery and she said, “What a lovely name—do you know who Flannery O’Connor was?” and Flannery replied, “Yes, she wrote stories and had peacocks and I was named after her.” The lady asked Steve if he was the southern writer fan and he said that it was his wife and explained about Walker and Harper.

When you tell people the names of the four kids, does anyone ever figure out the pattern?

My mom and Steve’s mom are both retired teachers and both get a kick out of the names and telling people about them. Each of the children have a family middle name so they get a combination of literature and family ties. Some people do figure out the literary connection and I then often get a question about Everett.

Do you know anyone else who has named their kids for writers?

I don’t know of anyone naming kids for writers but I have heard of people naming children after favorite characters in books: Holden (A Catcher in the Rye), Atticus and Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird). There was an article in the New York Times about the names of characters from the Twilight series—Cullen, Edward, Jacob, Bella—becoming popular names for babies.

The next southern writer?

Steve will tell you that there won’t be any more baby Northrups. If there were, I might try for Truman again and I do love Eudora Welty.
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Elizabeth Northrup is executive vice president of McBee Strategic Consulting and does public affairs work for energy and healthcare clients. Steve, a former Senate aide, recently started his own lobbying firm, Rampy Northrup, with Stacey Rampy, the friend who helped bring Elizabeth and Steve together.  Steve also plays the saxophone in a band, Blame It on Jane, that plays in the Washington area.

Comments

  1. Harriet Eddlemon says

    What a delightful blog and especially for me, Elizabeth’s mom.
    I loved the story you told and the manner in which it was developed. Elizabeth, Steve and children are fortunate to have such a good and interesting neighbor.

    Harriet Eddlemon

  2. AnnMary Northrup says

    Jack, Steve’s dad and I both enjoyed your posting. The interview with Elizabeth truly captured the essence of how our grandchildren received their names. This article will also provide a keepsake for each of their baby books. Thank you.

    AnnMary Northrup

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