16 Famous Literary Characters Almost Named Something Else

"They almost called Scarlett what?!"
"They almost called Scarlett what?!" / Hulton Archive/Getty Images

“Bladorthin the Grey” just doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Gandalf the Grey,” does it? Good thing J.R.R. Tolkien decided to do some name swapping. Turns out, he’s in good company: Here’s the story of Gandalf and other famous characters who experienced an identity change before publication.

1. Three Out of the Four Pevensie Children // The Chronicles of Narnia

The only Pevensie child who escaped from the first drafts of The Chronicles of Narnia series with his name intact was Peter. In an early version of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter is the youngest child—not the oldest—and his siblings are Ann, Martin, and Rose.

2. Charlotte // Charlotte’s Web

It’s a small change, but a significant one, especially to arachnologists. In Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White originally named his beloved eight-legged character “Charlotte Epeira” after the Grey Cross spider, or Epeira sclopetaria. He later discovered that he had mistaken the identity of the spider that served as his muse: She was actually a barn spider, not a Grey Cross. Accordingly, White matched the character's name with her species, Araneus cavaticus, making his wise webspinner's name “Charlotte A. Cavatica.”

3. Gandalf // The Hobbit

Bladorthin the Grey? Yeah, not so much. But that seems to have been J.R.R. Tolkien’s original thinking. In penciled notes on early drafts of The Hobbit, Tolkien noted that Gandalf was the name of the chief dwarf and Bladorthin was, of course, the great wizard. After the author decided to switch the names around, Bladorthin became the name of a dead king who is mentioned just once in all of Tolkien’s prolific writings.

4. Philip Marlowe // The Big Sleep

Philip Marlowe is one of the toughest private eyes ever created, so you might agree that naming him “Mallory” may not have done justice to his ruggedness. It’s believed that Raymond Chandler wanted to pay homage to English author Sir Thomas Malory, and early stories do feature a detective named Mallory. Eventually, he chose Marlowe as his detective’s last name, perhaps as a nod to Marlowe House, which he had belonged to while attending Dulwich College.

5. Hermione Granger // Harry Potter

Puckle, Hermione Granger’s original surname, “did not suit her at all,” J.K. Rowling once commented. Deciding that her heroine needed a name that was more appropriate for her serious nature, Rowling eventually came up with something that doesn’t make you think of that taste you get in your mouth when you eat Sour Patch Kids.

6. Marvin the Paranoid Android // The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Would Marshall the Paranoid Android have been as popular as Marvin? That's what Douglas Adams called his depressed robot in early drafts of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, after friend and comedian Andrew Marshall. Adams described Marshall thusly:

“You’d be with a bunch of people in the pub and Andrew would come up and you’d say, ‘Andrew, meet John, meet Susan ...’ Everybody would make introductions, and Andrew would stand there. And once everybody else had come to a finish in whatever they were saying, Andrew would then say something so astoundingly rude that it would completely take everybody’s breath away. … I would go over to him and say, 'Andrew, what on Earth was the point in saying that?' And he would say, ‘What would be the point of not saying it? What’s the point of anything?’”

7. John Falstaff // Henry IV, Part 1

John Falstaff, the chubby knight who makes appearances in three of Shakespeare’s plays, was called John Oldcastle in Henry IV, Part 1 before descendants of the real Sir John Oldcastle complained.

8. Lucy Snowe // Villette

Charlotte Brontë’s Villette protagonist had her chilly surname swapped for another one. “At first—I called her ‘Lucy Snowe (spelt with an ‘e’) which ‘Snowe’ I afterwards changed to ‘Frost,’” she wrote. “Subsequently—I rather regretted the name change and wished it ‘Snowe’ again. A cold name she must have.”

9. Artemis Fowl // The Fowl Adventures

Author Eoin Colfer once thought the title character of his Artemis Fowl books would go by the name Archimedes. As he told Newsweek:

“Artemis was originally Archimedes, because I wanted a classic Greek name that would have an air of intelligence and genius about it. But I thought people would think it's a book about Archimedes. Artemis was the goddess of hunting. But the name was sometimes, very seldom, given to boys as kind of an honorific if their fathers were great hunters. Fowl was because there's an Irish name Fowler, and fowl sounds like foul. Because he's nasty, or he was in the beginning. It's the nasty hunter basically.”

10. Scarlett O’Hara // Gone With the Wind

Scarlett O’Hara was almost named Pansy. In fact, the iconic character didn’t receive her iconic name until just before the story went to print.

11. Holly Golightly // Breakfast at Tiffany’s

In early drafts of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly was named Connie Gustafson. Author Truman Capote made the change by crossing out Connie on the final typescript pages of the novel and writing “Holly” instead.

12. Dracula // Dracula

According to Bram Stoker's Notes for Dracula, Stoker had been calling his vampire “‘Count,’ ‘Count’ followed by a blank space, a line or ‘Wampyr’ before he found the name ‘Dracula.’” When he did find the name, he wrote “Count Dracula” in the upper left corner of his notes and underlined it, with “Dracula” scribbled again on each side. The authors of Notes for Dracula posit that he may have been “savoring the sound of this word as a possible name for his anti-hero.” He likely discovered the name in a public library while vacationing in Whitby with his wife and son in 1890.

13. And 14. Sherlock Holmes and John Watson // A Study in Scarlet

Arthur Conan Doyle wrote an entire page of names for his famous detective, including Mr. Sharps, Mr. Ferrets, and Sherringford Holmes, before ultimately choosing Sherlock. Conan Doyle was familiar with Oliver Wendell Holmes; Sherlock, meanwhile, came from either bowler Frank Shacklock or Conan Doyle’s school pal, Patrick Sherlock.

Holmes wasn’t the only character to initially go by another name: Watson, Holmes’s assistant, was originally named Ormond Sacker. But Conan Doyle apparently decided he wanted a name that wasn’t quite so strange, and went with John H. Watson—potentially a nod to his neighbor in Southsea, Dr. James Watson—instead.

15. Nancy Drew // Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

It was Edward Stratemeyer, creator of the Hardy Boys, who came up with the idea of a book series about a teenaged girl detective in 1929. He sent a memo to Grosset & Dunlap, describing his “Stella Strong Stories,” describing his main character as “An up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful and full of energy.” The heroine went by a number of names, including Diana Dare, Nell Cody, Nan Nelson, and Helen Hale, among others, before Nancy Drew finally won out.

16. Tiny Tim // A Christmas Carol

Before he decided on Tiny Tim as the name for the small, sickly boy in his classic novel A Christmas Carol, author Charles Dickens called the character Little Fred. A look at a manuscript notated by Dickens revealed he may have also at one point called the character Tiny Mick or Tiny Dick (the person who discovered the change couldn't read Dickens's handwriting).

A version of this story ran in 2012; it has been updated for 2021.