Friday, May 15, 2009

I'm Henry the VIII, I Am

Based on flimsy research I've concluded that Henry is the most popular name in all of children's literature. It is a name popular for protagonists both human and anthropomorphic as well as secondary characters and even antagonists. It's a name that transcends generations as it remains popular today and yet can be found in examples of classical literature. Here is some data to back up what I realize may be a bold statement.
Let's start with a few obvious examples.
For series books there's of course Henry and Mudge and Beverly Cleary's Henry Huggins series. Interestingly both of those series feature boys named Henry who have dogs, but Henry-and-the-pet-dog connection is a subject for another day. Henry is the name of the oldest sibling in the Boxcar Children mystery series. His age fluctuates between 14 and 18 depending on whether or not they need him to drive a car in order to solve the case. Incidentally, Henry is also the middle name of the children's grandfather - Mr. Alden.For animal characters named Henry there's a series about an adventurous cat named Henry who stars in titles such as "Henry the Sailor Cat," and "Blue Ribbon Henry."
Henry the bear is the main character in a series of picture books with titles like "Henry Builds A House," and "Henry Takes A Walk." In these stories our hero Henry is based on Henry David Thoreau, who, if I were going to rewrite as an animal I wouldn't turn into a bear. If I were to cast the characters of American Bloomsbury as anthropomorphic animals I think I see Emerson as more of a bear, with Mrs. Emerson being a fox. Father Abcott would be a mule and bookish Louisa an owl. Henry David, having spent so much time down at Walden Pond, I would make some kind of fowl. Maybe a swan or at least an ugly ducking.
"Henry Goes Visiting," is about a barnyard porcine who travels one farm over to visit his sister, Henrietta pig. The cautionary tale of "Henry's Awful Mistake," features a duck named Henry who encounters disastrous results when he tries to deal with his ant problem using a hammer.
Back to human Henrys there's Henry Green a boy who, according to the back flap of "Chocolate Fever," "probably loved chocolate more than any body in the history of the world."
Henry as an antagonist? Look no further than "Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel." Who can forget Henry B. Swoop smiling "in a rather mean way," and announcing that Mike Mulligan wouldn't get paid for digging the cellar of the new town hall in "just one day" because Maryanne wasn't out of the cellar and therefore, "the job isn't finished."
For secondary characters, those who you might not notice were named Henry unless you happened to suddenly find yourself obsessed with the name, we turn first to one of the great classics, Charlotte's Web. Although none of the barnyard animals sported the name, surely you remember Henry Fussy, the violin player and Fern's love interest. Yes, Fern had a love interest, look it up yourself.
Even the French version of Henry has it day with "Herni Mouse" a disturbing little picture book in which Henri, the artist mouse, moves to Paris and makes everything he paints disappear.
There are Henrys that barely register, again unless you're looking. In the book "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," which makes me hungry just thinking about it, Henry is the name of the little brother who gets a pancake flipped on his head at breakfast thus inspiring Grandpa to tell the bedtime story that makes up the bulk of the book's plot. Interestingly, the narrator is Henry's sister who is nameless as is Grandpa - he's just Grandpa. Only Henry has a proper name.
Henry's show up in surprising places. In the book "Goose's Story," a true story about a goose with only one foot, the narrator's dog is named Henry. In "I Drive a Dump Truck," the dump truck driver is named Henry.
According to the site Henry means "ruler of the house" which I guess is why all those kings sport the name. In the 1900s Henry was a top ten boy's name and according to it was 118th most popular between the years 2000 and 2003.
"Charlotte's Web" is filled with colorful names. Remember Lurvy, Templeton, and Avery? I don't know why Charlotte falls for someone with such a plain name but maybe that's the lure of Henry - it's a simple, accessible name, not too flashy. A name that gets the job done without calling a lot of attention to itself. It's a bit of a no nonsense name. I would consider it to be a good stoical New England name. Henrys don't go around expressing their feelings and hugging everyone they meet. I can see why none of the characters in "Because of Winn-Dixie" were named Henry.

song: I'm Henry the VIII, I Am • artist: Herman's Hermits

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