The Surprising Meanings of 20 Famous Authors’ Last Names


As kids, we were always fascinated by the meaning of our names — what did they say about us? What ancient history were we somehow connected to? And while we’re not so interested for ourselves anymore (as you can see, this writer has a pretty boring last name), it’s still fun to find out what other people’s names mean. Especially if those other people are famous writers, some of whom are now known only by the words that surround and come from them. To this end, we did some snooping, and using a mixture of foreign language dictionaries and online genealogy databases, we came up with the list below. Some might surprise you — but some fit like a glove. After the jump, school yourself on the meaning of 20 famous authors’ last names, and if you know of any secrets we’ve missed, add to our list in the comments.

Boris Pasternak = Boris Parsnip Nikolai Gogol = Nikolai Mallard Franz Kafka = Franz Jackdaw (disputed, but embraced by the family) Italo Calvino = Italo Bald Orhan Pamuk = Orhan Cotton

Haruki Murakami = Haruki Upper Village Charles Baudelaire = Charles Short Sword Vladimir Nabokov = Vladimir On[to] the Side [via] Yukio Mishima = Yukio Three Islands W.G. Sebald = W.G. Courageous Victory

Mikhail Bulgakov = Mikhail Troublesome [via] Heinrich Böll = Heinrich Hill Günter Grass = Günter Angry [via] Isabel Allende = Isabel Beyond Leo Tolstoy = Leo Fat (!)

Irène Némirovsky = Irène Who Knows No Peace [via] Roberto Bolaño = Roberto Stone Ball Paulo Coelho = Paulo Rabbit Arundhati Roy = Arundhati King Kazuo Ishiguro = Kazuo Black Stone