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Category: Shakespeare

old-fashioned-mother-and-daughter-reading

Within the pages of books from all periods of literary history—from classical, metaphysical and Elizabethan poetry and plays to the Romantics and the Realists, right up to modern novels—can be found gems of names that have been lost to time, either because they’ve been identified with a singular character or simply because they’ve gone out of style.  Here are twenty such girls’ names, with the boys group to follow next week.

ALIAAlia Atreides is a key figure in the Dune sci-fi series created by Frank Herbert, appearing in four of the novels.  A variant of the Hebrew Aliyah, it means “ascending.”

BRIONY is the young girl who sets the plot in motion in Ian McEwan’s Atonement.  It’s a variant spelling of Bryony, the name of a perennial vine, coming from the Greek meaning ‘to grow luxuriantly’.

CALIXTACalixta is an alluring woman in Kate Chopin’s At the ‘Cadian Ball, a novel set in the Creole south at the turn of the century.  In Greek, it means “most beautiful.”

CATRIONA is the eponymous heroine of a novel by Robert Louis Stevenson. This Gaelic form of Katherine is pronounced ka-TREE-na.

CLEA—An artistic character in the volume of the Lawrence Durrell Alexandria Quartet that bears her name—and also the sorceress lover of Dr. Strange in the Marvel Comics universe.

CORINNA –After appearing as the main female character in Ovid’s Amores, Corinna became a favorite in 17th century poetry, including Robert Herrick’s Corinna’s Going A-Maying. It’s a Latinized form of a Greek name meaning maiden.

FANTINE—The name of the beautiful, naïve, self-sacrificing character in Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables.

GINEVRA—The name of a young English girl in Charlotte Brontë’s Villette, this is the Italian form of Guinevere (meaning “fair, white, smooth” ) and also is the Italian version of Geneva.

IANTHE—One of the most poetic of names, found in the romantic verse of Lord Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley (who chose it for his daughter) and Walter Savage Landor.  In Greek, it means “violet flower”

KAMALA—A beautiful courtesan in Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha.  Also another name for the Hindu goddesses Lakshmi and Durga.

LILIA—A high-spirited character in E. M. Forster’s Where Angels Fear to Tread, and one of the prettiest of the Lil names.

MALTA—In Dickens’ Bleak House, one of the three happy children—along with Quebec and Woolwich—of the Bagnet family, which would make an unusual place name.

MERIDIAN.  The spirited title character of Alice Walker’s 1976 novel, a word name with several possible nicknames

PERSIS—the wife of the protagonist of William Dean Howell’s The Rise and Fall of Silas Lapham. It’s a Greek New Testament name meaning ‘Persian woman.’

PRAIRIE –a modern Valley Girl (she works at the Bodhi Dharma Pizza Temple) in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland.

TAMORA—A Gothic queen in Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, this is a variation of the Hebrew Tamar, meaning “date palm.

TEMPLETemple Drake is a complex character who appears in two William Faulkner novels, Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun.

THISBE—A mythical character in the play-within-the-play in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, retelling the tragic Greek tale of Pyramus and Thisbe.

TITANIA—The powerful queen of the fairies in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s DreamA Latinate name, probably meaning ‘of the Titans.’

TRILBY—In George du Maurier’s eponymous novel, Trilby is described as “out of the common clever, simple, humorous, honest, brave, and kind,” who unfortunately falls under the spell of Svengali.

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U5

While A, E, I and O-starting names abound, increasing  in popularity all the time, poor little step-sibling vowel U tends to get neglected. Of course there are many fewer names starting with that letter, and even fewer that would appeal to the modern baby namer, but there are definitely a few that are at least worth a look, most of them with a touch of the exotic.

GIRLS

ULLA, ULA –  Seen in several cultures, this stong name (it actually means strong-willed in Norse), is sometimes used as a pet form of Ursula or ULRICA/ULRIKA.  Most recently associated with the leggy Swedish secretary character in The Producers.

UMA –  Thanks to Ms. Thurman almost a one-person name, this throaty, exotic appellation is a name of the Hindu goddess Parvati–which surely inspired her father, a renowned expert on Eastern religion, to bestow it on her.

UMBER –  A highly unusual color name, dark and mysterious, which could be used for either gender.

UMBRIA  –  Richly evocative, shadowy Italian place name–a neighbor of Tuscany known for its wines, olive oil and truffles.  Could be a possible replacement for the rapidly becoming overused Siena/Sienna.

UNA –  An ancient Irish name, also Anglicized as Oonagh or Oona, used by Edmund Spenser for the heroine of his classic The Faerie Queene; she’s the daughter of a legendary king and the quintessence of truth and beauty (it was for her that St. George slayed the dragon).

UNDINE  –  A German mythological water sprite, better known in its Ondine form.

UNIQUE  –  Not any more.

UNITY — One of the newly appealing, lesser used Puritan virtue names, with an admirable meaning.

URANIA –  One of the nine Greek Muses, whose special area was astronomy.  This one is not recommended, for obvious reasons.

URBANA — An unusual  possibility for a city girl.

URSULA –  Kids today will probably associate this martyred saint’s name with the campy, corpulent octopus sea witch in The Little Mermaid,  while others might tie it to  a character in Shakespeare‘s Much Ado Ursula Brangwen  in D. H. Lawrence‘s The Rainbow, novelist Le Guin,  60′s Bond Girl sex goddess Andress, or the character on Friends.  Novelist/style icon Plum Sykes chose it for her daughter, which puts it on trend alert.

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