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Category: Shakespeare names

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Today we’re celebrating the natal day of William Shakespeare, and in his honor  we thought that instead of reiterating the usual list of familiar major characters—Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedick et al—we’d pay our tribute to the Bard of Avon with the less obvious names of some of the more obscure, less Shakespearean-sounding characters.

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AudreyAs You Like It. Reflecting the retro radiance of Audrey Hepburn, her name is now in the Top 50—the highest it has ever been.

CharmianAntony and Cleopatra.  Charmian has been chosen occasionally by Shakespeare-loving parents and, after all, you can’t go wrong with a name that starts with charm!

FranciscaMeasure for Measure.  A vowel switch on Francesca that brings it closer to the male Francisco.  Could cause confusion, though.

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Yes, today is the Ides of March (which really just means the mid-point of the month),  yet unless you’re Julius Caesar, there’s no reason to beware.  But Julius Caesar does bring to mind William Shakespeare, so this seems like a good time to look at Shakespeare names beyond Juliet and Jessica, Richard and Romeo, to some of the more underappreciated names used by the Bard in his comedies and tragedies.

Some of Shakespeare’s most distinctive, most villainous names will probably always be verboten, such as Iago, which on the surface would seem to have the makings of a perfect I-beginning, o-ending name.  Other baddies, though, such as Cassius and Edmund and Regan, have escaped having their reputations permanently ruined.

So here are the Nameberry Picks for the 12 best underused Shakespeare names.

Balthasar/BalthazarBalthasar was the name assumed by Portia when disguised as a boy in The Merchant of Venice, as well as being one of the three Wise Men of the Orient who brought gifts to the infant JesusBalthazar has been associated in modern times with the acting member of the Getty family, who has a son with the equally Shakespearean name of Cassius.

Cassio Cassio is a young and handsome Florentine solider who serves under Othello, Cassio  actually being his last name—his first being Michael–an implausible choice for an Italian.  Cassio just might conceivable slipstream along in the wake of the related, growing-in-popularity Cassius.

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This week, Abby Sandel of  Appellation Mountain serves up some invented baby names that came about through accident or misunderstanding, but which are accepted as the real thing today.

Wednesday, May 25 is a big day for the small screen.  After twenty-five years as the reigning queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey will broadcast her last show.  She’s not headed from retirement – far from it.  Ms. Winfrey commands a media empire, from her own television network to magazines to Harpo Productions, responsible for everything from feature films to satellite radio shows.

The story about her given name is well known.  Born in rural Mississippi, her aunt chose the name Orpah from the Book of Ruth, and that’s the name recorded on her birth certificate.  But Orpah never really stuck, and family and friends morphed the Biblical obscurity into a whole new name, destined for greatness.

Oprah isn’t the only name formed by a happy accident.  Sometimes they’re actual errors made by the officials responsible for issuing birth certificates.  Basketball player Antawn Jamison was supposed to be named Antwan – the phonetic spelling of Antoine – but his parents decided they liked the mistake.

Invented baby names get a bad rap, but there are a surprising number of mistakes, flukes, and misinterpretations that have led to some well-established names.

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Annabel – She first appears in medieval ScotlandAmabel, Mabel, and other names based on Amabilis – an early saint’s name from the Latin for lovable – were common.  Annabel appears to be either an error in recording, or possibly a sign that creative baby namers have been at work for centuries.

Aveline – Parents are rediscovering her as something of an Ava-Adeline smoosh, but she was used in medieval England, either from the Germanic element avi – desired, or possibly from the Latin avis – bird.  She’s also the forerunner of Evelyn.

CoralineNeil Gaiman’s heroine was originally called Caroline.  The author explained that he mis-typed the name in an early draft and decided it suited his character.

ImogenWilliam Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is loosely based on a real-life king of the Britons.  King Cymbeline has a daughter called Imogen – except that Shakespeare almost certainly called her Innogen, from a Gaelic word for maiden.  Despite references to Innogen in the Bard’s notes, Imogen is used almost exclusively today.

Jade – She’s an ornamental stone and a popular choice for daughters in recent decades.  The Spanish name was originally piedra de ijada – stone of the flank.  It was thought that jade could cure ailments of the kidneys.  In French, piedra de ijada became l’ejade, and the English interpreted it as le jade.  Jade has been the English name for the stone since the 1600s.

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The plays of William Shakespeare are a mother lode of wonderful names, rich and diverse, drawing from the history and mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, tales of Renaissance Italy, the royal courts and noble estates of England and Scotland–not to mention those that sprung from the playwright’s imagination.

We were inspired by Kat’s recent name board comment on the “Underrated Baby Names” question of the week to revisit the subject of Shakespearean names, starting from her excellent list and then digging a little deeper into some of the major and more minor characters that may not be as strongly associated with the Bard, but still boast some Shakespearean cred and cachet.

Kat’s suggestions:

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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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