“What’s in a name?” William Shakespeare famously wrote in his play Romeo and Juliet. A whole lot, it turns out — at least if you’re looking at the names Shakespeare used in his plays. Widely considered to be the greatest playwright in history, Shakespeare’s works are wildly celebrated even today, more than four centuries since his death. His works are studied and performed all over the world, making him one of the most recognized figures in literature.
While, like a rose, your baby would “smell as sweet” no matter what you call them, picking a baby name is still a pretty big deal. Fortunately, the Bard has left us with plenty of inspiration in his plays. Giving your baby a name taken from one of Shakespeare’s plays isn’t just a fitting homage to an iconic writer, but it will hopefully also give your little one an appreciation for literature that will help them ace their English classes once they are a little older. Without further ado, here are some Shakespearean baby names are sure to melt your heart.
This name, brought to you by Shakespeare’s whimsical play The Tempest, rolls right off the tongue. Alonso is a Spanish variation of the name Alfonso. The name’s meaning is unclear, but it probably comes from a Germanic name meaning “noble and ready.” Unlike the name’s (likely) meaning, the character in the play is less than noble. In The Tempest, Alonso is the king of Naples who helps a character named Antonio usurp his brother, Prospero, as the Duke of MIlan.
After Prospero uses magic to conjure up a storm to shipwreck Alonso and strand him on an island where Prospero is, Alonso has a change of heart and attempts to right his wrongs. He and Prospero eventually reconcile, and Prospero’s dukedom is restored. His son and Prospero’s daughter, who have fallen in love, get married. Despite the themes of betrayal and revenge, this is not one of Shakespeare’s tragic plays, and everyone lives happily ever after.
Coriolanus is not one of Shakespeare’s better-known plays, but it’s worth some attention in this context considering how pretty the names of some of its characters are. Take, for example, the name Valeria. A variation the name Valerie, Valeria is derived from the Latin word “valere” which means “to be strong.” Valeria has become increasingly popular in recent years, taking its cue from Spain, Italy, and Mexico where it is ranked in the top 100 names for baby girls.
Valeria is a minor character in Coriolanus, one of Shakespeare’s tragic works, based on the life of a Roman general. In the play, she is renowned for being chaste and noble. Because of these virtues, Valeria is sent to act as a voice of reason when Coriolanus, banished from Rome, plans to invade the city and destroy it. While Coriolanus decides not to attack Rome and works out a peace treaty, he is ultimately executed for his crimes.
Shakespeare must have really, really liked the name Demetrius because it appears all over his work. Based on the Greek name Demetrios, Demetrius is also derived from a feminine name, Demeter. In Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of agriculture and the daughter of Zeus, the ruler of the gods.
Shakespeare gave this name to a few characters, but not every Demetrius is created equal. In Antony and Cleopatra, Demetrius is a minor character. In Titus Andronicus, Demetrius is a chauvinistic, violent character who abuses his power and is ultimately baked in a pie. While the Demetrius portrayed in A Midsummer Night’s Dream starts off as an antagonist who uses women and treats them as possessions, by the end of the play, he has turned into a nicer person (albeit as the result of a magical spell).
On second thought, maybe Shakespeare didn’t like the name of Demetrius but instead wrote one of his enemies into his plays. This would certainly explain why Shakespearean characters named Demetrius tend to be bad guys. Don’t let that ruin the name for you, though. In spite of being used for some unsavory characters, Demetrius is still a great name, loaded with lots of history.
We have Shakespeare to thank for the name Cordelia, or at least for this particular version of it. Shakespeare based the tragedy of King Lear on the story of the legendary King Leir who had three daughters, Gonorill, Ragan, and Cordella. When retelling the story of King Leir and his daughters in his play, Shakespeare decided to change the name to Cordelia, a name that doesn’t seem to have existed before. Th fact that the name still exists today, more than 400 years after he coined it, is proof of Shakespeare’s powers as a wordsmith.
In King Lear, Cordelia is the youngest daughter of the king. Disinherited by her father, Cordelia is married off to the King of France. In spite of Cordelia’s sisters’ claims of love for their father, they allow their husbands to banish their father from their homes after taking over his kingdom. In the end, Cordelia is the only one who remains loyal to her father and leads a rescue attempt. She is reconciled with her father, but the reunion is short lived. Both Cordelia and King Lear end up captured and executed by the enemy.
You have to read between the lines to find the name Robin in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While Robin Goodfellow is the name of a character, he typically goes by the name Puck. In the play, Puck/Robin is a fairy who delights on playing tricks on people, especially unsuspecting humans. He serves Oberon, the king of the fairies, and acts as a sort of court jester. While the human protagonists of the play don’t know of his existence, the mischievous sprite’s shenanigans create much of the conflict throughout the show, but also lead to a happy ending.
The name Robin dates back to medieval times, when it was originally used as a nickname for the name Robert. The most famous Robin is probably the legendary Robin Hood, an outlaw who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. While it started as a masculine name, these days Robin is used for both boys and girls.
While Shakespeare himself was English, many of his plays were set in Italy — such as one of his most famous plays, The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare used Lorenzo (the Spanish and Italian variation of the name Laurence) for one of the play’s characters. While this name was pretty common back in Shakespeare’s time, it’s also still trending today. It’s on the rise in the United States, and is in the top 100 names for babies in France, Italy, Portugal, and Switzerland.
In the play, Lorenzo is in love with Jessica, the daughter of the play’s antagonist. Their romance is forbidden as Jessica is Jewish, while Lorenzo is a Christian. The odds are stacked against them, but they run off together anyway, causing Jessica to be disinherited by her father. Unlike many of Shakespeare’s tales that end in tragedy, these two lovebirds get the happy ending that they deserve.
The lovely name Lavinia is taken from one of Shakespeare’s less famous plays, Titus Andronicus. In the play, Lavinia is a beautiful young woman who meets a tragic fate, but rather than letting it destroy her, she plots her revenge. While she seems to be a passive character for much of the play, by the end of it her resilience and strength become evident. This name a rare gem in that it’s both feminine and empowering.
While it’s uncertain what the name of Lavinia actually means, it’s thought to be of possible Etruscan origin. The name goes back even further than Shakespeare’s time and is present in early Roman stories. According to Roman legend, Lavinia and her husband Aeneas, a Trojan hero, became the ancestors of the Roman people. The name fell out of common use in the United States in the early 20th century, but Lavinia is still quite popular in Romania and Italy.
The name Ferdinand comes from Ferdinando and is derived from the German elements “fardi,” meaning “journey,” and “nand,” meaning “daring or brave.” The name has been used for centuries. While it has seen a decline in popularity over the past few decades, that just means this fantastic name is due for a comeback. If Shakespeare lived today, he would likely agree. He was a fan of the name, judging by the fact that he named a character in The Tempest as well as a character in Love’s Labour Lost Ferdinand.
In The Tempest, Ferdinand is a man who will do anything for love. He falls for Miranda at first sight, and is so desperate to marry her that he agrees to become the servant of her father, Prospero, the protagonist of the play. The hardworking Ferdinand in The Tempest is a sharp contrast from the Ferdinand portrayed in Love’s Labour Lost, who is a neglectful ruler — although he becomes more responsible by the end of the play.
Bianca is another name that was seemingly beloved by Shakespeare, as he used it more than once in his works. The name comes from the French name Blanche, meaning “white” or “fair”. Both names ultimately come from the Germanic word “blanc.” Shakespeare’s excellent taste in names endures in modern times, considering that the name Bianca is trending in Italy, Portugal, Romania, and Sweden.
Bianca doesn’t play too prominent of a role in Othello. In that play, Bianca is a courtesan who falls in love with one of her clients, though he does not return her affection. Her character doesn’t get much of a chance to shine in Othello, but in The Taming of the Shrew, the role of Bianca is a major one. She has many suitors, but falls in love with a man who disguises himself as her teacher. The lovebirds run off together, proving that Bianca is not the docile daughter she appears to be at first glance.
Ariel is a Hebrew name meaning “lion of God.” While it was used as a masculine name for centuries (including in Shakespearean times), it grew in popularity as a gender neutral name in the 1980s. These days, at least in the United States, the name is actually more popular for girls than it is for boys.
In The Tempest, Shakespeare gave the name Ariel to a spirit bound to a tree by a witch. When Prospero, the protagonist of the show, arrives on the island where Ariel is trapped, he frees Ariel from the tree, but then binds the spirit to himself in servitude. Ariel has considerable powers, among them the ability to shapeshift. He is also a musician as well as a gifted singer. Prospero takes advantage of Ariel’s magical powers, although the spirit is eventually freed after he uses his powers to send Prospero and his entourage back to Naples on a ship.
Orlando isn’t just a city in Florida or the name of a famous actor. It’s also the name of a character in Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. The name Orlando is the Italian version of the name Roland, a legendary French hero whose name is derived from the Germanic terms “hrod” and “land”, which mean “fame” and “land.” The name was common in Renaissance Italy, although it’s nowhere near as popular in modern times.
In As You Like It, Orlando is an educated and intelligent young man. Everyone loves him, except for his older brother, Oliver. Orlando is forced to run away from home after uncovering his brother’s plots to murder him and keep their father’s inheritance for himself. While the show takes a few dark turns, this play is a lighthearted one. Orlando’s strength of character sustains him, and eventually wins over his brother as well as the heart of the woman he loves.
The feminine form of Adrian, Adriana is ultimately derived from the Roman name Hadrianus, which means “from Hadria” in Latin. In use for centuries, the name Adriana is still beloved around the world in countries as diverse as Mexico, Romania, Spain, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. Perhaps part of the reason this name has endured for so long is that Shakespeare immortalized it in his play The Comedy of Errors.
As the name suggests, this play is full of laughs, although some of the humor is outdated in modern times. The character of Adriana believes that it is unfair that women do not have the same freedoms as men, and she is portrayed as being highly emotional and irrational. Women in Shakespeare’s time were considered to be inferior to men, so Adriana’s staunch feminism would have been a particularly funny element when it was first performed — at least to the men in the audience.
Shakespeare was clearly not afraid to recycle a good name. Francisco appears in both The Tempest and Hamlet – though it would take a true Shakespearean expert to notice that it was repeated, because neither of these Franciscos has a very large role. In Hamlet, Francisco is a guard who hates working in the cold and gripes about it — can you blame him? In The Tempest, Francisco is a lord — again, only a minor character.
The name Francisco is still popular in modern times, especially in Portugal and in Spanish-speaking countries. The name is the Spanish and Portuguese form of the Latin name Franciscus, which translates to “Frenchman.” Given the meaning of the name, you’d expect that it would be more popular in France, but even the French variations of the name, Francis and Françoise have fallen off the charts there. If you’re one of those American Francophiles, this name could be a perfect fit for your future bébé.
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