harper lee go set a watchmanWe’ve covered the Harper Lee story here before on Teleread. Now that her new book is out though, its unexpected discovery is having an impact on an unexpected group: the parents of children who were named after characters from the original story.

As this Slate article explains, the issue is that Atticus Finch, who was a heroic trail-blazer in Lee’s first book, is now a “racist who once attended a Klan meeting.” Oops! That is not so much of a naming inspiration now!

The parents interviewed in the story seemed sanguine about the new revelations. They seemed to take the view that their child is just as much of an individual as the fictional Atticus was, and that will govern the name’s legacy too. As one father said:

“He explained that once his son (now 8 years old) was born, he became the most important Atticus—whatever happens to Atticus Finch, Atticus Kenney will still be Atticus Kenney. “Once you have the real child in front of you, that governs your perception…”

As for me, I have no plans to read the new book. I think there was a reason Ms. Lee never published it, and I think that its discovery now is a form of exploitation. Maybe not outright elder abuse, as some news sources claim. But I think something fishy is going on, and I don’t want to pollute my views of the earlier book with this one.

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  1. This is one of the silliest articles I’ve ever read. Was the hypothesis prior to writing really that people would be out there saying, “oh darn, guess I need to get my kid’s name changed because a book character’s story line changed”? Sounds like a good Onion article, but that’s about it.

  2. Many years ago I knew a foolish young couple who thought it would be cute to name their son Damien after the character in the movie “The Omen.” The boy was out of control by the time he entered grade school and stole a car at the age of 13. Social Services judged his parents incompetent to raise a child and he went to live with his aunt, where he spread more mayhem until he reached the age of 18, when he mercifully vanished.

  3. There is nice sysadmin in my office named Damien. In the late 80s I knew a Humbert. I can’t verify if either parents named them after the characters.

    What I find humorous is that some people are getting bent out shape over the draft of an unpublished novel because it doesn’t conform the idealism of the published one. Even though the flawed Atticus sounds more interesting to me, I would have left the trunk novel unpublished.

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