When their only daughter was born four years ago, Victoria and David Beckham named her Harper—a tribute, the girl’s mother would later explain, to her favorite author, Harper Lee. This would prove be one of the few ways that the couple known for their unusual child-naming choices are extremely non-unique. The world is full of little Harpers. And older ones, too. And Scouts. The name Atticus—its popularity spurred along, most recently, with the help of William Atticus Parker, son of Mary-Louise and Billy Crudup, and Atticus Affleck, son of Summer Phoenix and Casey—broke into the Social Security Administration’s list of the 1,000 top names for boys in 2004. In 2014, it occupied spot 370.
All that, of course, is almost entirely because of Nelle Harper Lee, who died on Friday at the age of 89. The characters the author imagined and the stories she told of them—the stuff not just of literature, but of film and television and comics and music—are more than page-bound characters and stories. The elements of To Kill a Mockingbird—“our national novel,” Oprah Winfrey called it—have been varnished by time. And polished, by the equal forces of memory and forgetfulness, into symbols of some of the things the current culture holds most dear, or tries to: justice, wisdom, decency, bravery, empathy. You never really understand a person until you climb into his skin and walk around in it. The names Scout and Atticus—and, perhaps above all, the name Harper—reflect a respect not just for the arc of history, but for the hope that it does indeed bend toward justice.