This bizarre name is probably based on Peer Gynt, the eponymous hero of an 1867 play by Henrik Ibsen. Loosely derived from a fairytale, the fantastical plot features the mad proprietor of an insane asylum who believes Peer to be the fount of supreme wisdom, and a button-moulder who wants to melt down his soul along with other faulty goods. Though the devil, appearing late on, declares that Peer cannot be damned to hell, his behaviour is far from exemplary and he spends much time engaged in drunken debauches, as well as dabbling in the slave trade.
Critics have speculated that Henry James drew his portrait of Peter Quint from George Bernard Shaw, a professional rival of James who was at that time preparing a production of Peer Gynt for the stage. The critic and playwright was an enthusiastic champion of the play, forecasting that "Peer Gynt will finally smash anti-Ibsenism in Europe, because Peer is everybody's hero. He has the same effect on the imagination that Hamlet, Faust, and Mozart's Don Juan have had" (Dramatic Opinions and Essays, vol. 2, p. 96). With his curly red hair and piercing stare, Shaw could easily have been the physical model for Peter Quint.