A story of a one-of-a-kind literary name
In the children’s novel Stuart Little, a mouse is born to a human family. The family’s household later grows when they take in a canary named Margalo. In the film version of the story, the bird becomes a love interest for the mouse.
Does anything about that scenario strike you as…unusual? Here at Namerology, only one item can fill the bill. What’s with the name Margalo?
Margalo is not a traditional name in any language. It has never appeared in U.S. baby name statistics. Unlike the mouse surname Little, it’s not a “charactonym” that points to traits of the character. Margalo points instead to the life of the book’s author, E.B. White.
A Writer of Many Faces
Elwyn Brooks White was the author of three children’s books: Stuart Little, Charlotte’s Web, and The Trumpet of the Swan. All three books are much-loved and have been adapted into films, and Charlotte’s Web topped a Scholastic Publishing list of the all-time greatest children’s books.
Three classic and enduring novels total an immortal career for any writer. But E.B. White may also be familiar to you as one half of “Strunk and White,” the authors of the writing guidebook The Elements of Style. Elements started life as a booklet that Cornell University English professor William Strunk Jr. published for his students in 1918. White was one of those students, and decades later he revised and expanded Strunk’s original text. “Strunk and White” sold over 10 million copies and shaped the world’s standards for clear, concise writing. Immortality X 2 for E.B. White.
Form an image in your mind of a man who wrote beloved children’s books and championed clear and simple prose. Now expand that image to include the 1929 title Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do. Co-authored with humorist James Thurber, the book was a satirical, pseudo-Freudian sex manual that interspersed real psychological terminology with terms like “benign stupor” and “Schmalhausen trouble.” (The latter involved confined spaces. Get it?) Is Sex Necessary? became a best-seller and established the writers’ reputations.
Setting the Scene
White and Thurber both wrote for The New Yorker magazine, then hub of the legendary Algonquin Round Table. That lively group of writers, actors and wits met for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel and promoted one another’s work and bon mots. White had a quiet, retiring disposition and didn’t often join the Round Table, but he was in its social orbit.
One frequent member of the Algonquin set was a London-born actress named Margaret Gillmore. That’s Margaret Lorraine Gillmore, aka Margalo. She was young, clever, lovely—and the perfect inspiration for a literary canary.
Margalo Gillmore had a long stage career, but few people today recognize her name. Many more will recognize her namesake Margalo the canary from the many incarnations of Stuart Little. It’s one more sliver of immortality courtesy of E.B. White, a writer who quietly influenced how generations read, write, learn and dream.