Celebrity Names Blog

'The Fault in Our Stars' Hazel And Gus: Names Give Us A Clue To Their Appeal

'The Fault in Our Stars' Hazel And Gus: Names Give Us A Clue To Their Appeal
Photo Credit: Twentieth Century Fox

It's safe to say more than just teenage girls have been looking forward to the Fault in Our Stars movie since, well, the book's release in 2012. Fandango says it has already broken the record set by The Vow for presales for a romantic movie. And there's much to which we can attribute the intergenerational appeal of this love story about teens with cancer, but you know we're here to talk about their names, which, it turns out, have intergenerational appeal as well.

We discussed Shailene Woodley's and Ansel Elgort's unusual names back when they starred in that other big book adaptation, Divergent, in the spring. Now we'll turn to their TFIOS characters, Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, the creations of bestselling author John Green, a man who really likes to make people cry, apparently.

Green has told fans and reporters that he named his protagonist Hazel because the color is "in between" green and brown, the way the 16-year-old is stuck between health and illness, and adulthood and adolescence. As analysts of names, we find it a significant choice because it's one of those old-fashioned names that trended high in the 19th century (peaking at #23 in the 1890s), and then all but disappeared until recently (reaching a modern high of #157 in 2013). Babies born 16 years ago were pretty unlikely to be called Hazel --- it was out of the top 1000 baby names in the '80s and '90s. Incidentally, Hazel is not just in reference to the color, it's more traditionally thought of as the hazelnut tree or a variation on the Hebrew word haza-el or "God sees."

Augustus was also much bigger in our great-great grandparents' day. Latin for "great and venerable," it peaked in 1880 at #211 (when August was #83). It fell off the radar in the '70s and '80s, and was still a rare choice in the late '90s, when Green's tall, one-legged hero was fictionally born. Gus' gentlemanly nature is so pleasantly unexpected, it does almost feel like he's from another century.

Also like Hazel, the name is coming back, ranking 688 last year (August is up to #319). By the way, both names were rising steadily before TFIOS came out, so we can't credit Green for this particular trend. On the other hand, we wonder, did Charlie and the Chocolate Factory's Augustus Gloop keep the good name down for a while?

Over the weekend, FiveThirtyEight.com ran an article that combined the Social Security Administration's baby name data with its actuary data (as in, death rates) to create infographics that showed what age you're likely to be if you hold a certain name. Their results look deceptively simple: Oh, yes, we understand that most Brittanys are between the ages of 19 and 25, while most Gertrudes are dearly departed. These are fun stats to behold. But when we went to try to do the same ourselves with Gus and Hazel and saw this, our brains short-circuited. It's pretty easy to look at Baby Name Wizard's handy NameVoyager graphs and come to the same (if slightly less mathematically accurate) conclusions based on a bit of conjecture. Also, it feels a little ironic to look at tables about life expectancy while thinking about kids with terminal cancer.

How do you feel about book character names that buck the trend? Do you love or hate the names Hazel and Augustus? 

-S.R.W.

Comments

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June 11, 2014 6:32 AM
By Cleveland Kent Evans (not verified)

I think the way Hazel's 19th century popularity was phrased (old-fashioned name that trended high then) may be a bit misleading, because Hazel was not "old-fashioned" in the 19th century. It really was the Nevaeh of its day -- something that had almost never been used as a given name for girls before that suddenly became very popular. I can't find a sure example of an American girl/woman called Hazel in the US census before 1865, and it was very rare until the play "Hazel Kirke" made it famous.
http://www.omaha.com/living/cleveland-evans-hazel-s-revival-not-so-nutty/article_20883668-675c-5a2f-b276-84a6664303c1.html

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