Catholic literary names

Deciding to be an English major in college was a no brainer for this lifelong bookworm and writer — I love good writing and I love a good story, regardless of genre.

That said, more recently (in the past few years) I’ve been really interested in figuring out what makes good Catholic fiction. I’ve read some in the past that was more “Catholic” than “good” — I really don’t like stories that hit you over the head with rosaries and Mass while the story and characters feel too good to be true and/or not well written. (Full disclosure: my own attempts at fiction writing have tended toward this, so one of my reasons for trying to figure all this out is so that I can be a better writer myself.) I’d love to hear what you all know about this topic! Also, book recommendations! (The authors don’t have to be Catholic, nor the stories explicitly so, as long as the themes and/or any presentations of the faith reveal a real understanding and accurate representation of the the things we know to be true, as well as good vs. evil. Do you think that’s a fair definition?)

Anyway, I’m listing here a bunch of the books I’ve read in my quest to define “good Catholic fiction,” along with names associated with the books and authors that might be perfect for literary-minded parents who’d like a nod to the faith as well (this is by no means a comprehensive list, neither the titles nor the authors nor the characters’ names — please leave your additions in the comments! I’m really just listing the names I remember and/or the ones that stuck out at me).

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

  • Charles Ryder, Sebastian Flyte, Julia Flyte, Cordelia Flyte, as well’s as Waugh’s own first name — what do you think of Evelyn for a boy? Would you do it? Also, I’ve always found it hilarious that his first wife’s name was Evelyn as well!

The End of the Affair by Graham Greene

  • Henry Miles and Sarah Miles (both first and last names), Maurice Bendrix, Graham

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien (the entire thing in one volume is FREE on Kindle today! Follow that link!) (I also have to admit — I had a hard time getting through the books and vastly preferred the movies … 😔)

  • So! Many! Names! Frodo, Meriadoc/Merry, Peregrin/Pippin, Sam(wise), Rosie, Elanor, Arwen, Aragorn, Strider, the Riders of Rohan, Eowyn, Galadriel (I saw a birth announcement for a Galadriel years ago and thought it was SO cool!), and John Ronald Reuel Tolkien — any of those

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (I know, he wasn’t Catholic and the books aren’t Catholic but then again, they are, aren’t they?)

  • Peter, Susan, Edmund, Lucy, Caspian, Digory Kirke, Eustace (do any of you find this usable?), Jill, Gael, Rilian, I even think Nikabrik could be a super cute nickname for a little Nicholas. ☺ Also Clive and Lewis, for the author himself

The Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz (I think this is technically horror, which has *never* been my cup of tea, but I LOVED these books — I felt like their representation of “reality,” as we know it, with the thin veil that separates, was spot on)

  • Odd Thomas, Stormy Llewellyn (Bronwen), Ozzie, Annamaria … I can’t remember others

Some stuff by G.K. Chesterton (I can’t remember exactly what … maybe The Man Who Was Thursday? And some Father Brown)

  • I really really want to like Chesterton, I know he’s amazing. Maybe his fiction just isn’t my thing? (Though I’ve enjoyed the BBC Father Brown recently.) I like Gilbert, Keith, and Chesterton as names, and I’ve seen parents just use his initials (a friend planned on Gemma Katharine if she’d had a girl — G.K. initials — and our reader JoAnna’s son is Gabriel Keith — for other reasons — but she and her hubs like the nod to Chesterton with his initials as well)

 The Fairy Tale Novels by Regina Doman (6 books)

  • A lot of great names, like Rose and Blanche Brier, Arthur/Bear, Benedict/Fish, Kateri, Alex, the twelve daughters of The Midnight Dancers (I can’t remember them all! There’s Rachel, Priscilla/Prisca, Deborah/Debbie, Miriam I think?, Tammy, Linette, Cheryl … [two families with six daughters each combine through the parents’ second marriage, hence the difference in name style])

Catholic Philosopher Chick Series by Rebecca Bratten Weiss and Regina Doman  (2 books)

  • Catelynn/Cate Frank, Portia, Danielle/Dani, Felicity, Sean, Hector/Che, Nathaniel/Nat, Bartholomew/Bart, Justin, Sr. Jane Frances

I Am Margaret by Corinna Turner (I just finished this today and am excited to read the three other books in the series — I was blown away by how good this was)

  • Margaret/Margo, Blake/Bane, Jonathan/Jon, Jane, Kyle, Peter, Mark

I have not yet read anything by Flannery O’Connor, which I intend to remedy soon. Also Oscar Wilde? Right? Who else? Do you know of any more current books, like the last three I listed here? Are there any names you chose for your baby/ies specifically because of their Catholic lit connection?


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66 thoughts on “Catholic literary names

    • YES Willa Cather’s books. Death Comes^ and also Shadows on the Rock (Cécile, Jacques, Pierre) very much lie in the Catholic circle. I really loved her novel Lucy Gayheart too, though now I can’t remember if anything Catholic is even mentioned in that one. Lucy Gayheart and Brideshead together really brought Sebastian onto my potential-baby-name radar; it’s currently my front runner if I ever have another boy!

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      • My Antonia is a powerful book; I read it when I was in 8th grade but it is the kind of book you can read every year on different levels and I definitely read at a different level in college and grad school. The names are wonderful but also, the book content seems Catholic; I didn’t know Cather wasn’t Catholic. Also, O Pioneers is good too.

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  1. Eclipse of the Son by Michael O’Brien is really good. It’s part of a series that I accidentally started out of order. He’s definitely an apocalyptic writer, which I didn’t expect to like, but the books that I’ve read are very very good.

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  2. I completely agree with your definition of Catholic books and would also extend the definition to movies and maybe even music! I cannot stand explicitly Christian/Catholic books and movies–they are pretty much always terrible. I was reading a blog post once by a writer (a non-Catholic Christian fiction writer) who was trying to revitalize the genre a bit by being a little more realistic with her characters and plots, but ran up against a brick wall when she couldn’t advertise or sell her books at a Christian convention because her books didn’t meet their extremely strict criteria. For instance, one of their rules was that at no point could any character appear in the book in anything less than full dress. The author said, “But what if my character’s house catches fire in the middle of the night and she has to flee in her pajamas?” They said “No, she can’t be in her pajamas.” What.

    Some Catholic books I thought of:
    In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden: SO MANY! This is a book about an order of nuns!
    Philippa, Veronica, Agnes, Maura, Catherine, Cecily, Penelope, and even Rumer or Godden, after the author.

    Kristin Lavransdatter, by Sigrid Undset: Okay, I may not have actually finished this. But I gave it a noble try.
    Aside from Kristin, you would have to be pretty devoted to the Scandinavian naming aesthetic to go for Lavrans, Ragnfrid, Erlend, Ulvhild, Ramborg , or Arne. You could also do Sigrid, after the author.

    Gunnar’s Daughter, by Sigrid Undset: A short, intense novella, excellent, but hard-hitting. Once again, you’ve got names like Vigdis (kind of awesome, in its way), Ljot, and Ulvar.

    A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr: A deeply weird but very interesting fantasy/post-apocalyptic novel which envisions the Catholic Church as the only remaining organized institution after the rest of civilization has been destroyed by nuclear war.
    Francis, Gerard, Isaac, Joshua.

    Gilead, by Marianne Robinson:
    John, Lila, Glory, Jack, Louisa

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  3. This post is totally up my alley! I was an English major in college too ✌🏻 (: My senior year I took a class called Catholic Thinkers that was cross listed in English, Philosophy, and Religion departments. All we did was read and talk about novels about Catholics or written by people “with a Catholic worldview” a la Willa Cather as mentioned above—Shadows on the Rock would probably be my first recommendation of hers to you…her novels and Brideshead were my favorite of the reading list.

    Some I didn’t enjoy as much—because they were a bit darker, with more direct confrontations with sin, about missionaries (Jesuits I think)—but might interest you for this research were Silence by Shusaku Endō and Black Robe by Brian Moore.

    Flannery O’Connor was (of course!) also on the list. I had trouble with her novels because they were so….I don’t want to say “out there” but I just had a hard time getting my mind into her literary world. And many of her stories aren’t about Catholics—but she was definitely Catholic and writing from a Catholic perspective. I developed a much better appreciation for O’Conner a couple years later after reading up more about her life and her thinking, and reading some of her letters. Then when I read a couple of her short stories they kind of “made more sense” for me. But I know some people LOVE her writing so I’m sure it’s partly just my taste in lit.

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    • Silence is a great suggestions — I’d forgotten about that! And I’ve heard that about Flannery — I’ll have to see what I think. That college course sounds awesome, totally up my alley!

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  4. oh you need to read Flannery! Get her complete short stories!

    Have you read any Alice McDermott? She’s a modern Catholic writer and she’s amazing! Not great names, typical mid-century Irish Catholic names, but her writing is super duper amazing and has so much Catholic Imagination.

    Last year at Fordham (my school) we had a conference called The American Catholic Literary Imagination (I think that was the full title?). We had TONS of great authors there! Ron Hansen, Mary Gordon, Kathleen Donohoe, Paul Elie, Sr. Anne Higgins, Kathleen Hill, Eddie Joyce! There are SO many amazing Catholic writers who definitely don’t get enough attention!

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  5. One more thought. The Man Who was Thursday is the only thing I have read by Chesterton and I think my reaction to him is similar to yours… Like I felt obligated because of his reputation to like the book more than I actually did. The plot was interesting but then the ending was so dissatisfying, to me.

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      • I have read all the Father Brown Mysteries and have enjoyed them (most of this happened during new baby nursing session the last time around). Our family also likes the dramatized for radio versions by The Colonial Radio Players. Not sure which BBC series you are watching- I tried to watch a few of the Father Brown episodes that start Mark Williams- while the shows are pretty well done they depart drastically from the original stories.

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      • I read so much when I’m nursing too! Yes, it’s the Mark Williams version we’ve been watching — I don’t remember enough of the original stories to know that it’s different, but I’ve mostly liked their portrayal of him as a good priest.

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  6. It seems like all good literature tells the truth about human nature and grace. Also, because the author is telling the truth, it is organic to the story and naturally a part of it.

    On the other hand, Christian/Catholic literature which is meant to evangelize, often falls into the trap of lying. There is an implicit promise that if you check these boxes (sinner’s prayer and Bible study/ rosary and Mass, etc.), you will experience heaven on earth. All your problems will disappear and life will be golden.

    However, I think that most people intuitively recognize truth, even when it is “just literature” and story telling based on a faulty foundation of a Christian Utopia will only succeed with an audience that wants to be deceived.

    Hopefully that all makes sense.

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    • I think the literature that feels like it’s evangelizing is the kind that turns people off — it’s exactly what I *don’t* want to read. As for “heaven on earth,” I recently read I Am Margaret in which the main character is Catholic and relies on her faith for strength, but there’s no “heaven on earth” because of it — in fact, her fate and those of other Catholic and non-Catholic characters of faith is pretty gruesome. No Christian utopia on earth, for sure. And there are other characters who aren’t Catholic and yet are good. Which I think is really “Catholic” — we don’t shy away from the messy, martyrs are a big deal for us, etc. I thought that book was a great example of good Catholic fiction.

      Odd Thomas is another great example — it’s kind of a horrifying story, lots of darkness, and very little happiness here on earth for those fighting for goodness.

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    • Yes! So well explained! This is why I tend away from pretty much all “Christian” books, music, movies (I call them “Jesus movies,” because they try to shove Him down your throat), as well. They tend to be so very un-real.

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  7. My most favorite book/book series ever (which I read altogether in a combined 3 volume book) is The Heaven Tree Trilogy by Ellis Peters (real name is Edith Pargeter). Amazing storyline, such well developed and unforgettable characters and as always in her seemingly effortless and impeccable writing- she is the author I aspire to be. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edith_Pargeter
    Some names from The Heaven Tree Trilogy: Harry, Adam, Ralf, Benedetta, Gilleis.
    She is also the author of the absolutely fantastic (and dripping with great British, French, Welsh names) 21 book mystery series The Cadfael Chronicles whose main character is a Benedictine monk with a penchant for solving mysteries – set in 12th century on border of Wales and England. Cadfael is Welsh for “battle-prince.”
    Next most favorite book is Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion by Amy Rachel Peterson – only effort by this author and really hope she will write more- this is an incredibly written historical fiction book about the life St. Perpetua – extremely profound in truths of the faith and a so very gripping witness of a very probable account of her life. As a wife and mother it really affected me deeply. At one point I had to point it down for awhile- it was just so real and so moving.

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  8. Sorry have to post some more- love this post Kate!
    I also highly recommend the The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis – as you know, that man can really write. He was gifted with a way of explaining his late-found Christian faith like no other- the master of metaphor we say in our house. Fervently and penetratingly written, the main character goes by Ransom (Dr. Elwin Ransom).
    Another book I heartily suggest is C.S. Lewis’ Til We Have Faces: A Myth Retold – took me two readings of this book to fully appreciate it – one in high school and one much later when I was married and with children – gave me a different perspective at each of those times.

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  9. Robert Hugh Benson, author of Lord of the World and Come Rack, Come Rope! (And other titles) I think both Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis have recommended Catholics read Lord of the World.

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  10. I have an addition for Brideshead: I knew a girl who went Bridey, a traditional Irish nickname for Brigid! My husband and I have always loved it as a nod to Brideshead.

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  11. I’ve always read your blog, Kate, but this is my first time commenting. And in the end it was books not baby names that got me to chime in! I just have to mention the collections of short stories put out by Tuscany Press in the last few years. Most of the stories strike the wonderful balance of being Catholic in worldview but not necessarily full of Catholic vocab words. The last collection of theirs I read was: “What World is This? and other stories”.
    I also loved that I’ve read and enjoyed almost all the books you’ve mentioned, although I also have never been able to get into Chesterton. I did write my undergraduate thesis on “The End of the Affair” though. Thanks for being a Catholic voice on names!

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    • Such a great shout-out for Tuscany Press Gabrielle, thanks for that! I’ve eyed their contests every year but haven’t yet taken the plunge … maybe one of these years! I never thought to look at their books — thanks for these recommendations! Is it weird for me to say I’d love to read your thesis? I wish I’d had a sense of all this as an undergrad so I could really dig deep. I’m so glad you enjoy the blog!

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  12. I love this post! I might print this out, cross out the books I’ve read already and check off as I discover the new ones mentioned.

    They might be a cliche for Catholic writing but Victor Hugo’s novels are required reading for me. And the names!! Starting with both Victor and Hugo, then Cosette and Esmeralda.

    Oh and reading while nursing…that’s what I’m doing now! Something about the momentary quiet of sitting and holding the baby in an otherwise busy and loud world makes the perfect time for reading.

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  13. No new suggestions for me, just writing to say that I’ve loved this post and will definitely be going through the recommendations. I started with the Fairy Tale novels, bought book 1 on Friday, book 2 on Saturday night and am almost ready for the third, lol.

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  14. Coming late to this conversation, but wanted to add that Rumer Godden has the most delightful children’s books as well. Kitchen Madonna is (Eastern) Catholic so fits this post.

    The Kitchen Madonna – Marta, Gregory, Janet

    The Story of Holly and Ivy – Holly, Ivy, Peter
    Many of the characters from other children’s novels are more unique like Lovejoy, Tip and Sparkey, Kizzy,

    And wanted to add William Shakespeare as Catholic literature option. There is a substantial academic contingent that believe Shakespeare was a practicing Catholic. One of those is Joseph Pearce. We just had the pleasure of having him as a guest at our book club. We did Romeo and Juliet which he finds seeped with Catholic symbolism and understanding. Juliet, Romeo, Rosaline, Paris, Lawrence, Peter, Abraham. Other names are more “out there” for usability. But there is Balthasar, which I know you mentioned recently in another post.

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  15. I took a Catholic literature course in college, and the primary book that stuck with me is Viper’s Tangle, by Francois Mauriac. As you can probably tell by the author’s name, there are some great French names: Louis, Marinette, Isa, Luc, Genevieve. We also read Shusaku Endo’s Deep River, which I remember being impressed by. But, as someone else mentioned, it was pretty dark reading.

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