The character names to be found in the comical, light operas of Gilbert & Sullivan, for the most part, represent names that Victorian society either found to be fancifully appealing (as in the fairy names from Iolanthe) or absurdly amusing (as in the faux Japanese names from The Mikado). By comparison, some G&S character names may seem a bit mundane to us.
But viewing a rousing performance of The Pirates of Penzance could do much to redeem such names, as one finds oneself charmed by the dutiful and beautiful Mabel, or one cheers the “piratical maid of all work,” Ruth, who is later transformed into a feminist swashbuckler in her own right. I present here a list of some interesting character names gleaned from Gilbert & Sullivan‘s less often produced operas:
ALINE– a maiden betrothed, from The Sorceror
CASILDA – the Duchess’ daughter, from The Gondoliers
FIAMETTA – an Italian peasant girl, from The Gondoliers
MELENE – a Utopian maiden, from Utopia Unlimited
ZARA– a princess, from Utopia Unlimited
ZORAH – a professional bridesmaid, from Ruddigore
CALYNX – the anglophile Vice-Chamberlain, from Utopia Unlimited
DESPARD – the wicked baronet, from Ruddigore
JASPER – a ghostly ancestor, from Ruddigore
RUTHVEN – (pronounced “ri-ven”), the shy and lovestruck hero, from Ruddigore
I asked Albert Bergeret, the founder and artistic director of the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, if there were any aspects of names and naming that he felt should be included here, and he said: “The most obvious naming topic is the names of all the sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore which refer to parts of a sailing ship.”
These sailors’ names took the form of: Ralph Rackstraw (rackstraw being the straw used to prevent damage to cargo), Bill Bobstay (the bob-stay being the ropes that hold the bow-sprit down), Bob Becket (the becket being an item used to confine loose ropes), and Dick Deadeye (a deadeye being an item used in setting up a ship’s rigging). These sailors could almost be cartoon characters, with such trademark duplicate initial names (RR, BB, DD).