SES: I wanted to mention my article in a special issue of the online journal Miranda, "Lolita, I Presume: On a Character Entitled 'Lolita,'" in which I concur with Jansy that this name, in the novel at least, seems to be Humbert's own name for Dolores--and one, in fact, that he uses almost entirely in his narration and not in his actual interactions with her.
And yet, until very recently, reviewers and critics always referred to her by Humbert’s pet name, as if there were no difference between the actual child and her role in his fantasies—or, indeed, her afterlife in his memoir. “Lolita” comes to represent not only Humbert’s imaginary construction of a nymphet but also his desperate attempts to make that construction permanent within his text. The fact that most readers still refer to the novel’s heroine as “Lolita” suggests that Humbert’s efforts have generally succeeded.
Jansy Mello: An excellent indication that arrived at a perfect moment.
Excerpts: “the name of its heroine seems both overdetermined and oddly indeterminate.As the novel proceeds, she is designated by a growing number of nicknames, diminutives, sobriquets, misnomers, and possible allusions to various female characters in other works of fiction with similar names even as her actual identity, her personality, her consciousness, and her perception of the novel’s events remain elusive. [ ] As a result, that rapturously repeated name comes to represent not the novel’s primary female character, but instead her construction as a nymphet within his imagination [ ] Calling her “Lolita”, in other words, is another way of denying her a separate, autonomous existence [ ]…. techniques may also persuade readers to identify with Humbert’s point of view, only to discover eventually…that they know little about the title character apart from his construction of her.[ ] Pondering the question of what to call the heroine of Lolita reveals the extent to which the text obscures her identity, even while drawing attention to it. Ironically, characters’ names seem to be more important in Lolita than in any other Nabokov novel [ ] Although Humbert identifies the little girl by various names when he speaks to her or to other characters about her, in his thoughts, perceptions, fantasies, and memories he generally designates her as “Lolita” (or, more specifically, as “my Lolita”).
Before V. Nabokov settled on “Lolita,” he considered another name that, curiously enough, was presented in Spanish, namely, “Juanita” (the French martyr Jeanne D’Arc). When Humbert tries to picture his wife Charlotte as a young girl of twelve he also plays with nicknames and, now, his choice falls on the German “Lotte”. Nevertheless, its habitual derivation, Lötchen, is permutated by the Spanish ending whereas Lolita’s is rather artificially Germanized. We then read: “I had my wife unearth …a thirty-year-old album, so that I might see how Lotte had looked as a child; and even though the light was wrong and the dresses graceless, I was able to make out a dim first version of Lolita's outline, legs, cheekbones, bobbed nose. Lottelita, Lolitchen.”
After examining more closely “Lolita’s” different designations I got the impression that Humbert had effectuated a split: there was “this Lolita, my Lolita” and “that Lolita, my Lolita.” Only the first one would correspond to his created nymphet. The other one was his “distanced” reference to her as an actual flesh and blood non-nymphic child he might have learned to love in the end (and I agree with SES: we still don’t learn more about “that” Lolita, nor do we get the feeling that Lolita might have been her real nickname in the novel):
“I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita… The word "forever" referred only to my own passion, to the eternal Lolita as reflected in my blood. The Lolita whose iliac crests had not yet flared, the Lolita that today I could touch and smell and hear and see, the Lolita of the strident voice and rich brown hair… — that Lolita, my Lolita, poor Catullus would lose forever.”