The 50 Greatest Writer Names of All Time

 

WE EXPECT WRITERS to come up with great names. Indeed, we’ve already compiled a list of those. But sometimes writers are themselves blessed with superlative names.

As always, this list is completely subjective. As always, plenty of worthy candidates were left off by reasons of space—I used mostly modern names, for example (but not too modern; sorry, Ben Fountain). As always, we encourage you to leave a comment giving us a hard time about our more egregious omissions. We may not see eye to eye on whom the best-named writer is, but I’m sure we can all agree that Dan Brown is the worst.

And now, without further ado, the 50:

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50. Edwidge Danticat

Like casting a spell, I’m pretty sure if you say these beautiful syllables three times fast, a rainbow will appear.

 

49. Ernest Hemingway

He gave his stand-ins simple names (Jake Barnes, Nick Baker, Fred Henry) to make up for his more grandiose one. “Ernest” is honest, and “Hemingway” sounds like a back road out of some godforsaken war zone.

 

48. J.R.R. Tolkien

The second “R” is for “redundant.”

 

47. Herodotus

You know how he figures prominently in The English Patient? Yeah, the story they cite is, like, the first one in the book. So someone didn’t read much Herodotus. Who sounds like a Transformer in league with Optimus Prime.

 

46. Saul Bellow

I read it as “Soul Bellow,” the awful plangent wailing of our core being, the terrible screaming of the lambs.

 

45. Sidney Sheldon

This guy managed to combine two of the least sexy first names out there and somehow make it work.

 

44. Franz Kafka

The word “Kafka-esque” would not have the same ring if his surname were, say, Chmerkovskiy.

 

43. Marguerite Duras

Definitely someone you’d follow on Instagram.

 

42. Kingsley Amis

The great novelist must not have dug his regal first name, as he dubbed his more famous son the couldn’t-be-more-dull Martin.

 

41. Fannie Flagg

Anyone who can get away with calling herself “Fannie” should absolutely do so. It’s like the female equivalent of “Dick.”

Baroness_Emma_Orczy_by_Bassano

40. Iceberg Slim

It doesn’t get cooler than “Iceberg.”

 

39. Camille Paglia

God is man’s greatest idea. This name is man’s second greatest.

 

38. Rainer Maria Rilke

“Rilke” is silky. The other two names seem to have been selected at random, perhaps from his mouthful of a given name: René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke. Also: I love when dudes go by “Maria.”

 

37. Baroness Orczy

Could be the villainess in the next Spider-Man movie.

 

36. Pablo Neruda

Say it out loud a few times. Luxuriate in its aural beauty. Then dig that it’s pab-LONER-uda. Then try and play Boggle with the letters of the name.

 

35. Sappho

Lesbian (literally) poet from 600 BCE, with the name of a 21st century hip hop star.

 

34. Hunter S. Thompson

The current trend of giving kids first names that are last names indicating jobs that people no longer have (Taylor, Reeve, Walker, Tyler, etc.) originates here.

 

33. Ezra Pound

The last name is a unit of currency, a measurement of weight, and what we do to our fist on the table when we find out about his politics. As for the first name, nothing is, ahem, better than Ezra.

 

32. Tennessee Williams

Clearly Lawrence Kasdan, or maybe it was Spielberg, had just seen Streetcar when trying to name his Raiders of the Lost Ark archeologist.

 

31. Willa Cather

Willa seems to be a popular name for girls nowadays. Wasn’t always that way. Ms. Cather was a (O) pioneer.

Maugham_retouched

 

30. Langston Hughes

Would also be a great football name. Seriously, doesn’t he play nickelback for the Seahawks?

 

29. Joan Didion

“Didion” is a good name for a modern art movement, a new poetic form, a prog band, and just about anything else. As for the first name, it’s no slouch, in Bethlehem or elsewhere.

 

28. Ogden Nash

Probably not a fun time to grow up with, as “Ogden” does not lend itself to diminutives, but for a comic poet who wrote “candy is dandy / but liquor is quicker”? Gold.

 

27. Agatha Christie

A harsh old-lady name combined with a sweet young-woman name. The latter has unfortunately been sullied by the corpulent governor of my home state.

 

26. e.e. cummings

Pioneer of the all-lowercase-letter style of writing made ubiquitous by the internet. Author of some outstanding poems and et cetera. And his last name would make Beavis chortle.

 

25. Danielle Steel

I always want to feminize the surname with that decorative, superfluous “e,” but it’s not there; Danielle is just a cold, hard bite of Steel.

 

24. Lord Byron

Definitely on the short list of “writers I would have loved to go drinking with.” Wrote the poem tattooed on Pam’s back in Archer. Fun fact: Lord Byron coined the word “millionaire.”

 

23. Madeline L’Engle

Inherently beautiful name. I love how it turns in on itself, like a winged horse taking flight.

 

22. W. Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh [tie]

I admire the use of the initial, as if there are 25 other Somerset Maughams running around; more, I love that Evelyn is a dude. Bonus for use of the name in “One Night in Bangkok”: Some are set up / in the Somerset Maugham suite.

 

21. J.K. Rowling

I thought it rhymed with “howling,” until I heard Daniel Radcliffe say it on SNL, with the long O. I like to think the initials stand for “Just Kidding.”

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20. William Makepeace Thackeray

The great Civil War general, the wonderfully-appellated William Tecumseh Sherman, was named Tecumseh by his parents—Cump, for short—and only acquired the duller-than-dull “William” when the Church mandated it later on, when he started school. I like to think the same of Makepeace Thackeray.

 

19. Barbara Kingsolver

Wonderfully sonorous first name, combined with arguably the coolest last name of all time. She does not just defeat monarchs; she solves them!

 

18. Voltaire

French for “smart, witty, clever, learned, and a million times cooler than you’ll ever be.” Did you know he was a pen pal to Catherine the Great?

 

17. Djuna Barnes

Maybe the sister of Jake from The Sun Also Rises? Could also be in charge of dance night at some hot Lesbian nightclub. DJ Una in da house!

 

16. Orson Scott Card

However odious his views have become, Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead remain sublime, and what better way to dress up the monosyllabic “Scott” and “Card” than with the name of Mork’s handler back on Ork.

 

15. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë [tie]

It’s the accent on the “e” that makes it all work. Their mother was blessed with tremendous foresight, because all of these names are still enormously popular.

 

14. Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Not many writers can pull off the comma. Or the Lord.

 

13. Francine Prose

When I interviewed her, one of my favorite contemporary novelists, a few years back, I asked her about her singularly apt last name. What do you say when people ask about it, I wanted to know. She told me that the best response came from her brother, who liked to quip, “Well, it could be Verse.”

 

12. Milan Kundera

The unbearable coolness of Czechoslovakia. Milan is a sublime and sexy first name, and Kundera? Kundera’s too sexy for Milan.

 

11. Ursula K. LeGuin

The entire Harry Potter series is a dumbed-down rip-off of A Wizard of Earthsea, a dispossession I appear to be the only person on earth bothered by. The Left Hand of Darkness may well be the finest “science fiction” novel of all time, and its author’s name sounds like a distant galaxy, far better than this one.

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10. Edgar Allan Poe

Poet without the “t.” Inventor of at least two genres of fiction, lover of Lenore, obvious influence on numerous episodes of The Simpsons, kicked character in “I am the Walrus,” enthusiast of the word purloined, and the most famous resident of Baltimore other than McNulty and Stringer Bell.

 

9. Miranda July

With its Shakespearean allusiveness, Miranda is one of my very favorite women’s names, used to great effect in Emily St. John Mandel’s sublime 2014 novel Station Eleven, which you should read at once. Paired with the seventh month of the year, the name is uncannily well suited to the offbeat writer who was the subject of my first essay on these pages.

 

8. Ayn Rand

Legend has it she lifted the surname from her typewriter, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense that she’d choose to name herself after a corporation. I wonder how future generations will regard Ms. Rand, if assholism objectivism will continue to have truck with the Millennials and beyond, if a century hence readers will give a shit who John Galt is.

 

7. Dashiell Hammett

Inferior to Raymond Chandler in every way except for his name and maybe his political sensibilities.

 

6. Anais Nin

Exotic and erotic, redolent with licorice, and set to the music of Trent Reznor.

 

5. Ambrose Bierce

The banquet implied by the first name yields to the piercing ferocity of the last. A lexicographer in league with the Devil, who defined November as “the eleventh twelfth of a weariness.”

 

4. Sylvia Plath

“Sylvia” means “forest,” but because of Transylvania, we think of this particular forest as dark and frightening. “Plath” is a path, a tortuous path through our darkling wood, perverted by the “L.” A better name for a suicidal poetess you will not find.

 

3. Oscar Wilde

As flashy and fun an appellation as the charming wit it belonged to, the genius who quipped, “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”

 

2. Dr. Seuss

I would like it with a house, and I would like it with a mouse.

 

1. Harriet Beecher Stowe

Wrote a runaway best seller that was of high literary quality, a novel that was a huge influence on the mindset of many, many Americans on the topic of slavery, which unquestionably turned the tide of public opinion against that odious institution. She 1) made a ton of money, 2) wrote good books, and 3) had a major political and social impact on her society. That’s the novelist’s hat trick, and it’s pretty much untoppable. Her name was awesome, too.

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Greg Olear

About Greg Olear

Greg Olear (@gregolear) is a founding editor of The Weeklings and the author of the novels Totally Killer and Fathermucker, an L.A. Times bestseller.
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20 Responses to The 50 Greatest Writer Names of All Time

  1. Patrick says:

    Should have been the top 20 :-)

  2. Sean Beaudoin Sean Beaudoin says:

    This list sucks! Where’s Studs Terkel? Where’s China Mieville? Haven’t you ever heard of Z.Z. Packer? You know nothing about author names!

  3. Paul Zolbrod Paul Zolbrod says:

    This is a great list, largely because it is so idiosyncratically subjective. Lists should be like that; who, after all, can presume to make such a judgmental sweep in behalf of us all. For my money it tilts a little too heavily toward the twentieth-century an away from what I consider the classics, reflecting my age and fossilized academic training. I would have found room for the likes of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Pope, Wordsworth, etc., along with Virgil and Dante and and Goethe and Victor Hugo; and needless to say Melville and Hawthorne, and Whitman, and Emily Dickinson, and of course Mark Twain–all pretty standard dead white male (mostly) and canonized by tradition. But that’s okay, I still love reading that stuff. My idiosyncratic choices would have included the old Wakefield Master (an anonymous medieval British Playwright), Jonathan Swift, among the Brits; William Blake, Anne Bradstreet, Jonathan Edwards, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, William Dean Howells among the pre-twentieth century Americans. My quirky twentieth century picks would have included Thomas Wolfe, and most certainly Davis Grubb, whose masterpiece, “Night of the Hunter,” will hopefully some day get the recognition it deserves. Sean Beaudoin, with all due respect, you add nothing to a real conversation with your alacrity in simply snorting that Greg’s list “sucks.” Such a declaration precludes real thought. At least say something about what else your full list might include. There’s great fun in doing that–thought-provoking fun I might add.

    • Sean Beaudoin Sean Beaudoin says:

      Paul, it’s unfair that I assumed people would know I’m one of the other editors at The Weeklings…my comment was just a joke, since every time I write one of these lists myself, I usually get 10 responses that say “You suck! You know nothing!”…..Greg is well-aware of this phenomenon….especially since “not knowing anything about author names” is such a ludicrous concept to begin with….

      • Paul Zolbrod Paul Zolbrod says:

        My apologies, Sean. I should have recognized the possible irony, given how unseemly someone interested in great writers would make such a declaration. It’s just that I now find myself ready to recoil when anyone enters the arena of argument or dispute with such an unreasoning declaration.

    • The Editors says:

      Thanks, Paul, for getting my back with Sean, although, as he said, he was just kidding.

      Despite my list being criticized on the social media for being “too white,” I don’t actually care for most of the DWEM names. Like, William Shakespeare is a terrible name for a writer. He shakes the spear? Ugh. But I’ll allow Herman Melville, mostly because I love me some Herman Melville.

  4. Megan Breen says:

    rad list! can’t wait to check out that miranda july article. and OH MAN the “one night in bangkok” reference! Tim Rice is such a smart lyricist. I’d include Federico Garcia Lorca in this list. A name as lyrical and darkly beautiful, intimately epic as his poems!

  5. Edra Ziesk says:

    Ford Maddox Ford! Edna St. Vincent Millay (who middle-named herself after the hospital in the Village.) Marianne Moore (mellifluous)

    • The Editors says:

      Her mother named her after the hospital, and she was called Vincent growing up, which is way cool. I eliminated her for sharing a first name with Bart Simpson’s teacher.

      And Ford Maddox Ford, yeah, that one I missed.

  6. Paul Zolbrod Paul Zolbrod says:

    Here’s what it all amounts to. A mere fifty names isn’t enough, except to prompt folks to give some sweeping thought to the reading they’ve done. Highly wholesome overall, to be sure. In that spirit, thanks for yesterday’s post, Greg.

  7. Sir_O says:

    51. Zephyr Teachout
    52. Urban Shocker, if not for his early demise

  8. Spike says:

    What about Umberto Eco? Elmore Leonard? The first names alone rock…

  9. Andres Castillo says:

    Edna St. Vincent Millay should be #1 and I like William Carlos Williams

  10. Monty Mathias says:

    I submit Kurt Vonnegut. The first name implies discourteousness (if that’s a word) and the surname reminds me of a troubled lower gi system.It’s a name with cradling.

  11. Alistair McCracken says:

    I just came across this list (which is great fun, by the way) and was reminded of an anecdote someone told on the radio, who had been to see a play by the fabulously named American playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker. As the audience was leaving after the show, they overheard a woman saying to her friend “I was at school with a Timberlake Wertenbaker. I wonder if it’s the same one.”

  12. Boris says:

    Kinky friedman

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