"the life and conversation of one Hester Prynne"
William Prynne in the pillory
Public DomainWilliam Prynne in the pillory - Credit: from Cassell's Illustrated History of England, vol. 3 (1865)

Hawthorne may well have chosen to name his heroine after one of the victims of his great-great-great grandfather's crusade against moral turpitude. Hester Craford, given away by her pregnancy, was found guilty of “fornication” with a Samuel Wedg in 1668. As a punishment, she was severly whipped under the oversight of William Hathorne.

 

Hester's surname, meanwhile, is taken from William Prynne (1600-69), an English Puritan whose angry attacks on the Anglican Church, contemporary fashion and the theater earned him a life sentence in the Tower of London. Like Hester, he was forced to stand in the pillory and was physically branded for his transgressions, having both of his ears lopped off, his nose slit and the initials SL (standing for “seditious libeler”) branded on both cheeks. He was later publically redeemed when the civil war broke out in 1642 and his support for the Parliamentarian cause won him the favor of the victorious Roundheads.