My Small Child’s Halloween costume yesterday is today’s inspiration.
Originally, she planned to be a little Victorian ghost, but after a visit to Disneyland, Paris, back in September, she changed her mind, and decided to be the bride from the Phantom Manor.
So, in keeping with the season, here are some of my favorite ghostly names:
Alexander. One of the ghostly children of Lucy M. Boston’s Children of Green Knowe (1954), who lived and died during the reign of King Charles II. The most famous Alexander is, of course, Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE). Greek: alexandros “defending men.”
Araminta. Although not actually a ghost, Araminta “Minty” Cane travels in time and appears as a “ghost” to a boy in the eighteenth century, in Helen Cresswell’s children’s novel Moondial.
Banquo. The tragic figure of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who was murdered by his erstwhile friend. The origin is uncertain, but even the historicity of the man is questioned. It is quite probable he was invented by a sixteenth-century Scottish academic.
Caspar. The perennial “friendly ghost,” first introduced to the world in 1945. Caspar started out as the Dutch form of Jasper, but has long been established in the English-speaking world too.
Claudia. A child-vampire, and later ghost, of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles.
Elly and Blair. Elly Kedward is the name of the “Blair Witch,” a woman supposedly hanged for witchcraft at Blair, Maryland, in the eighteenth century. Elly is usually a short form of Eleanor or Ellen, but Elly Kedward is actually an anagram of Edward Kelley — the sixteenth century ceremonial magician and alchemist. Personally, what would put me most off Blair itself, is not the spooky connotations lent by The Blair Witch Project but by its association with our former British PM Tony Blair. Far too scary.
Elvira. The dead wife in Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit (1941), summoned by Madam Arcati. “Elvira, Mistress of the Dark” has added perhaps a bit too much color to poor old Elvira these days.
Emily. The “Corpse Bride” of Tim Burton’s film.
Erik. The “Phantom of the Opera.” Today, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is the definitive version everyone thinks of, but it actually began as a 1910 novel by Gaston Leroux (Le Fantôme de l’Opéra). Technically, of course, Erik is not actually a ghost, but his heart was in the right place…
Hamlet. Probably the most famous literary ghost of all time, Hamlet’s father — also called Hamlet — is pivotal to Shakespeare’s play. The late medieval English name Hamlet is a pet form of Hamon, from the Old German haimi “house” and “home”; but Hamlet in the play is used for the medieval Danish Amleth, which is probably a form of Olaf.
Helena. Helena Ravenclaw is the reclusive “Grey Lady” of Ravenclaw House, in Rowling’s Harry Potter tales. The original Greek Helenê means “torch,” but as far as Helen of Troy’s name is concerned, this may be coincidental — but certainly, the Ancients used to interpret the name as meaning “shining.”
Herbert. The young man killed in W. W. Jacobs’ classic 1902 short story The Monkey’s Paw, brought back to life by the second wish… Herbert is a Germanic name meaning “bright army.”
Jacob and Marley. With his clunking chains and grey, transparent palor, Jacob Marley typifies the classic Victorian image of the restless ghost, when he appears to Scrooge on Christmas Eve to warn him to mend his ways.
Linnet. Linnet Oldknow is another of the ghosts of Green Knowe. A “linnet” is a type of small songbird, but as a name, its roots probably lie ultimately with the Welsh Eluned.
Marty. Marty Hopkirk is the ghostly partner of a detective agency — Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased), of the classic Sixties British television series and its remake of ten years ago. Marty is the friendlier, less formal form of Martin, which derives ultimately from Mars, the name of the Roman God of war.
Melanie. The ghostly bride of Disneyland, Paris’ Phantom Manor. From the Greek, meaning “black.”
Peter and Quint. Is Peter Quint a ghost — or not? He is one of the former employees that the governess thinks she sees and grows increasingly fraught about in Henry James’ masterpiece ghost story The Turn of the Screw.
Sam. Sam Wheat is the ghostly hero of the massive 1990 film Ghost. Usually short for Samuel, Sam could also be used as a short form of Samhain (although Samhain is pronounced “SOW-en”).
Simon. Sir Simon de Canterville is Oscar Wilde’s Canterville Ghost, who fails miserably to scare an American family from his family home. In America, Simon falls very much in the class of “British names”; something which many Brits are quite surprised about, as over here, it is seen as a very “normal” name, at its most popular in the Sixties and Seventies.
Toseland. Another of the Green Knowe children, Toseland is a family name of the Oldknow family. The ghost of the name has the nickname Toby, while the living one goes by Tolly. Toseland is a village in Cambridgeshire, close to where the author of the Green Knowe books used to live.
Over to you. What are your favorite “ghost” names?