Bend/Bless It Like Beckhams

To Kill A MockingbirdAbout eight years ago, some friends of mine named their newborn baby girl Harper after Harper Lee, the talented author of the groundbreaking, heart-warming book To Kill A Mockingbird. I was both surprised and impressed at the name selection. Surprised because I hadn’t ever met anyone with that name (and, not knowing much about the author, I’d always assumed Harper Lee was a pen name. Come to think of it, I may even have thought Harper Lee was a guy). Impressed because the thought behind the name was incredibly noble and bookish.

I’ve always promised myself that if I ever had children—and that’s an almost entirely unfathomable scenario—I’d name them unusual, book-related names. That in part stems from my utter distaste for my own bland, run-of-the-mill name and from my love for authors and characters who have blown my mind with their finely crafted words and real or imagined worlds. Of course, as the chances of me having kids are almost zilch, so those names will be stored away and used for much-loved pets instead.

Either way, I was determined that any child/pet of mine (and I mean no disrespect by including them in the same breath, so please save the outraged you’re-likening-a-child-to-a-pet hate emails) would have a carefully considered name that had a good story behind it. Like Harper derived from Harper Lee.

In recent years I’ve noticed that the name Harper has taken off. It’s been Britney-fied, for want of a better term (read: become too popular and lost some of its shine). The tipping point for me was a dodgy chick I encountered who was pregnant, smoking, and screaming at her child who was wreaking havoc at the park. Turned out the kid’s name was Harper. I know that both because the mother was yelling it with a well-practised, projected roar, and because she had it tattooed on the inside of her forearm in massive, impossible-to-miss, just-in-case-you-forget-your-kid’s-name letters.

I still like the name, and my friends’ Harper is, for the record, a beautiful girl. But I did chuckle when the Beckhams announced that they’d named their child Harper. Yep, with their blessing the name’s truly gone mainstream.

The thing is, the Beckhams liking something equates to a spike in sales said liked thing. In this case it’s a literary-related name, which has seen a 123% increase in sales in To Kill A Mockingbird on bohemoth-bookseller and cultural-gauge Amazon. This has in turn rocketed the book back onto the bestseller list.

I’m acutely aware of the irony that the couple who perhaps aren’t known for their intelligence, grasp of the English language, or wide and voracious reading appetites are the ones who are single-handedly increasing book sales.

I’m also going to go out on a limb and say that’s not a bad thing. Sure, the name Harper is now off the cards as every Tom, Dick, and Britney will be copying it, but if in the process they read the great book by the author from whom the name is derived I think it’s a win.

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Fiona Crawford

Fiona Crawford is a freelance writer, editor, blogger, proofreader, and voracious reader. She regularly appears as a book reviewer in Australian BOOKSELLER+PUBLISHER magazine. Fiona is also (unfairly) known as the Book Burglar due to her penchant for buying family members—then permanently borrowing—books she wants to read herself.