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Happy Birthday, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – and Thanks for My Name!

August 28, 2012

By Gretchen Stern

Today is Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s birthday. Though I have not read his work, I have always felt oddly indebted to Goethe. Thanks to his most famous play, Faust, my name took its place on the world’s stage.

Gretchen was Faust’s love, and as the popularity of the play grew, so did the name.  As anyone who has read Faust knows, Gretchen’s story is sordid and tragic. Though my parents did not relate directly to Gretchen’s story, they fell in love with her name.

In a roundabout way, I credit the inspiration for my son’s name, Emmett, to the main character in one of my own favorite books: Inman from Cold Mountain.

Though the logic may seem choppy to an outsider, I’ll spell out a few pieces of this inspiration:

  1. Just to reestablish this, I absolutely love Cold Mountain: the plot, the setting, and the toil and personal growth of the characters.
  2. My son Emmett’s dad was born and raised in North Carolina and lived for years in the Western North Carolina mountains, a place I also adore.
  3. Inman was an incredibly poignant character. His humble, sensitive, and peaceful nature was unassuming and endearing, yet he was persistent, fiercely loyal, and quietly courageous.
  4. Though we considered using “Inman,” it didn’t quite grab us. But when “Emmett” tracked across our consciousness, we saw a peaceful farmer tucked in a hollow at the base of the Western Carolina mountains in the 1800’s. The name Emmett quickly forged a fierce connection with Cold Mountain and even has a familiar ring to “Inman” when Emmett’s dad says the name with his slight tinge of a North Carolina accent.

We agreed that raising a son to be humble yet strong, loyal yet adventurous, courageous yet tender, just like Inman, meant an immense amount to us. A name that likened itself to both the setting of Cold Mountain and the highly respectable main character was enough to confirm our love of the name.

Books can offer unique and affecting inspiration for a child’s name. Whether we read a name that jumps out at us or we carry deep admiration for a character and decide to emulate that emotion through using his or her name in our own lives, books can be credited with introducing, inspiring, and influencing a great number of name choices.

We’d love to hear from any of you who have been named or have named your own children from characters in books.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2012 8:22 pm

    Nick and Aiden both have middle names from Lord of the Rings – Nickolas Aragorn & Aiden Faramir.

    • August 29, 2012 2:35 pm


      That’s great! Is your partner a big Lord of the Rings fan as well? Or did you have to do come convincing?


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