New Harper Lee Book Has Parents Reconsidering the Wisdom of Naming a Kid 'Atticus'

The Times has scooped The Onion.


You named your son what?
Universal Pictures

When word emerged that the Atticus Finch of Go Set a Watchman, unlike the Atticus Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird, is a fiercely bigoted defender of segregation, The Guardian's Hadley Freeman expressed some sympathy for "any hipster parents out there who named their son Atticus." When I first read that line I thought it was just a joke, but The New York Times tells me otherwise:

Fans of "Mockingbird" have been crestfallen and disbelieving that their hero could be so changed, but perhaps no group more so than those who chose that name for their children.

"When we first heard about the book, my wife said, 'Oh no, I hope Atticus didn't turn bad or something,'" said Christopher Campbell, the father of 3-year-old Atticus Campbell, who was born shortly after his parents moved to the Atlanta area from New York City. "We actually had that discussion. It was almost a joke."

Over the past couple of years, Mr. Campbell said, he and his wife, Jennifer, have watched with some dismay as the name Atticus became increasingly common. Indeed, according to the Social Security Administration, which tracks baby names in the United States, the name was more popular last year than it had ever been.

In 2004, Atticus made its first appearance on an annual list of the 1,000 most common names, which stretches back to 1880. By 2014, it had flown up the list, ranking as the 370th most common boy's name in the country, sandwiched between Enzo and Kash.

My thoughts:

Atticus! Atticus! Atticus!
Warner Bros.

1. Wasn't Enzo and Kash a Kurt Russell movie? No? OK, never mind.

2. I haven't read Go Set a Watchman, but by most accounts it's more interesting as an artifact than as art—an uneven early story that later evolved into a beloved book. Once the dust has settled, I suspect it will be a boon for Harper Lee scholars and a novelty for everyone else. The chances it will have a strong effect on how most people react to the name "Atticus Finch" are only slightly higher than the chances that Peter Jackson will try to turn Tolkien's Unfinished Tales into a blockbuster fantasy film.

3. Here's the hipster parents' bigger problem: The Atticus Finch of Mockingbird is one of the most famous father figures in American literature. He is sober, wise, dignified, and about as wild as Margaret Dumont. Short of naming your kid after a porn star, I cannot think of a less appropriate thing to call a toddler. "Attica" I can see. Not "Atticus."

Bonus link #1: I predicted a Mockingbird sequel where Atticus turns racist way back in 1996. The piece also includes a bit about Jim Carrey wanting to be "taken seriously as an actor," and that joke came true too. Who knows what other prophecies are embedded in it?

Bonus link #2: Also in the Times, Randall Kennedy suggests that while Watchman "does not represent Harper Lee's best work, it does reveal more starkly the complexity of Atticus Finch, her most admired character. 'Go Set a Watchman' demands that its readers abandon the immature sentimentality ingrained by middle school lessons about the nobility of the white savior and the mesmerizing performance of Gregory Peck in the film adaptation of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.'"

Like I said, I haven't read Watchman. But I can't disagree with Kennedy's broader point. Has Hollywood ever produced a white-savior fantasy as grating as this scene?

Bonus link #3: Despite the title the YouTube uploader gave it, I don't think this sketch from The Richard Pryor Show was intended as a direct parody of To Kill a Mockingbird. The plot points are pretty different, and on the DVD it's just called "Southern Justice." But I'm gonna throw it in anyway: