Saturday’s Book: Puzzling over the name “Milo” in “The Phantom Tollbooth”

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster was one of the first books I posted about on this blog, one of this family’s all time favorites.

Today my eldest son and I had an interesting discussion about the impact of names of characters in many books. The names in the  Harry Potter series of books is an obvious example, one which we used to discuss when the boys were younger and crazy about the books. I don’t remember all the meanings we had found back then (except that Dumbledore is Old English for Bumblebee) but the sounds of the names convey so much! Slytherin sounds evil from the first encounter.

Then there are Martha and George from “Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf”. When I studied this in college my teacher not only claimed the names were supposed to make us think of President George Washington and his wife, but that choosing the right names for the characters is the cause of her own writing block.

My son is watching a new Australian TV series (new here, at least) about an Australian lawyer named CLEAVER! I had never imagined it could be a name. But the name certainly suits the character.

Naturally the conversation turned to Milo in the Phantom Tollbooth.  Milo is not, in my opinion, a common, run of the mill, American name. We had no idea why Juster chose this name for the character. So I googled the meaning of the name Milo, and now we are even more puzzled.

The Germans, the English and the Americans apparently claim the meaning of the name is “merciful”. The Greek meaning refers to “destroyer”.

None of the meanings seem right. Milo is most certainly not a destroyer, but the word merciful doesn’t seem relevant either. Milo is a sleepwalking child who discovers the amazing world around him.


Perhaps the answer is just that the author liked the name!

2 thoughts on “Saturday’s Book: Puzzling over the name “Milo” in “The Phantom Tollbooth””

  1. Milo is becoming more popular these days.
    Also, there was a very popular TV series in the late 50s, early 60s called Leave it to Beaver. The family’s name was Cleaver.

    1. Paula!
      Cleaver from Leave it to Beaver?! That was such a wholesome show. Cleaver doesn’t sound wholesome at all and the character in the Austraulian show isn’t wholesome either.

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