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Several major characters in Calvin and Hobbes are named after fictional or historical characters.

  • Calvin is named after theologian John Calvin
  • Hobbes is named after Thomas Hobbes
  • Miss Wormwood is named after Wormwood in The Screwtape Letters, a low-level demonic tempter. Appropriately, it's also the name of a bitter substance.

My question, then: why did the author choose those specific names? Were they mostly for the deliberate irony (naming Calvin after a serious theologian, Wormwood being named after both a tempter and a bitter substance, etc.), or are there more "layers" to this that I'm missing?

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With regards to Calvin and Hobbes:

Later, when Watterson was creating names for the characters in his comic strip, he decided upon Calvin (after the Protestant reformer John Calvin) and Hobbes (after the social philosopher Thomas Hobbes), allegedly as a "tip of the hat" to the political science department at Kenyon. In The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, Watterson stated that Calvin is named for "a 16th-century theologian who believed in predestination," and Hobbes for "a 17th-century philosopher with a dim view of human nature."

(From the Wikipedia article; unfortunately this particular section is only cited by a dead link to a personal autobiography.)

Looking at the Amazon preview/Google book preview of Looking for Calvin and Hobbes: The Unconventional Story of Bill Watterson, it says

He later told an interviewer in 1987 that the names Calvin and Hobbes were "a tip of the hat to the political science department at Kenyon College...I thought it was funny." Calvin was named after the sixteenth-century Protestant theologian who believed in predestination, Hobbes after the philosopher a century later who once observed that "life is nasty, brutish, and short". Or that's what Watterson would have you believe. "That's not true," Rich West told me. "The linking of the two names wasn't natural. The strip did not come from the idea that both characters would be named after philosophical thinkers. However, Hobbes was definitely a tip of the hat - and perhaps a bit of a smirk at - his political science degree from Kenyon. Calvin was just a coincidence."

This makes the origin of Calvin and Hobbes' names fairly clear; now for Miss Wormwood's. In the same book just quoted, it says

"I have a lot of sympathy for Miss Wormwood," Watterson admitted in his interview with The Comics Journal. "We see hints that she's waiting to retire, that she smokes too much, and that she takes a lot of medication. I think she seriously believes in the value of education, so needless to say, she's an unhappy person."
Wormwood's name is borrowed from the apprentice devil in C.S. Lewis' novel The Screwtape Letters. This devil's job is to keep his human charge on a course that will ultimately lead him away from God and into the awaiting arms of the devil. The other authority figures at the school are portrayed with equal disdain [...] These characters represent censorship, they embody the idea of institutional control and loss of self. They seek to dampen Calvin's imaginative life by trying to force him, an unusually shaped peg, into a square hole. Their goal is to lead him away from who he truly is [...]

Which I think summarizes the meaning of Miss Wormwood's name quite nicely.

  • If you want an even better source, check out The Calvin and Hobbes Tenth Anniversary Book by Bill Watterson himself. The inspiration behind Hobbes's name is confirmed on page 22, and that behind Miss Wormwood's on page 25. – Rand al'Thor Aug 27 '17 at 15:26
  • As per an anonymous user in a suggested edit: "You know, the book of Revelation in The Bible names the killer asteroid that destroys earth: Wormwood. 'the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.'" – heather Mar 8 '18 at 23:11

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