12 Great Shakespeare Names: Ophelia, Orlando, Oberon
April showers us with poetry. It’s National Poetry Month, for one thing, and on April 23 we observe the birthday of the most celebrated poet and playwright of the English language: William Shakespeare. While the Bard would have been 453 years old this April, many of the names of his characters are still strutting on the stage. So, if you’re looking for some inspired names, these twelve characters may be just the muse you’re looking for:
Bianca is the sweet, dutiful, and much-courted younger sister to Katherina, the titular shrew of The Taming of the Shrew. Bianca is the Italian form of Blanche, which means “white,” “pure,” or “fair.” It’s a ‘fairly’ popular name, too, ranking at 270 on Nameberry, 379 nationally.
In King Lear, Cordelia so genuinely loves her father that she refuses, tragically, to give lip service to it, unlike her two older sisters. The exact meaning of the name Cordelia is unclear, but it might be from a Celtic root or the Latin word for “heart”—fitting both for her character and a theatrical masterpiece drawn from ancient British legend. It’s a worthy name, climbing all the way up to Nameberry’s 106, though it hasn’t ranked on the Social Security Administration list since 1950.
Desdemona, the innocent wife of Othello in Shakespeare’s play of the same name, is another heroine whose love meets with a dark end. Perhaps her fate was destined by etymology: Her name literally means “ill-starred” in Greek. In spite of the character’s unfortunate demise, Desdemona’s alluring name lives on, nearly cracking the top 1000 on Nameberry in 2017, if not the Social Security list.
Like Desdemona, Hermione is a queen tyrannized by her husband in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale—_but she, preserved by a faithful friend, comes magically back to life. In Greek myth, Hermione was the daughter of the infamous Helen of Troy, and her name appears to be a feminine form of Hermes, the messenger of the Greek gods. But it seems it was Harry Potter_’s Hermione Granger that boosted the name to spot 159 on Nameberry. It has never been on the US popularity list, however.
For all his angst and doubt, Shakespeare’s Hamlet leans on his bosom buddy Horatio—one of the most famous friends of all literature—until the very end. Horatio is a form of Horace and might come from the Latin hora, meaning and source of the word “hour.” Name-wise, it’s not quite Horatio’s hour yet. It ranks 642 on Nameberry and hasn’t been seen on the Social Security list since 1899!
Shakespeare’s star-crossed Juliet is one of his most enduring characters and delivered some of his most memorable lines. But Juliet isn’t just high up on the balcony. She’s also high up on name charts, currently reaching 90 on Nameberry, 240 in the US. Ultimately a feminine form of Julius, Juliet might come from the Greek for “downy-bearded,” hence “youthful,” and has been associated with Roman gods and emperors.
In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon is the magical—and mischief-making—king of the fairies. A variant of Auberon, some think the name Oberon could derive from the German name Alberich, meaning, quite appropriately, “elf power.” The name comes in at 960 for boys on Nameberry, but has never ranked nationally.
Joining Cordelia, Desdemona, and Hermione is Ophelia, the beautiful young noblewoman driven fatally mad by her love, Hamlet. Shakespeare, clearly, had a thing for the tortured woman, but many parents, apparently, also have a thing for the name Ophelia: The name has skyrocketed to 31 on Nameberry, way ahead of national popularity. Ophelia is based on a Greek word meaning “help,” which the name’s popularity currently needs none of.
Orlando is the male lead of _As You Like It—_a virtuous, smart, and caring man despite his brother’s cruel treatment of him in this comedy. The name is an Italian variant of Roland, a Germanic name meaning “famous land,” apt for the Florida city that put it on the cultural map. Ranked at 614 in the US, it doesn’t show up at all in Shakespeare’s English homeland.
The Shakespearean Juliet is popular for girls, so why not Romeo—her passionate and strong-willed counterpart—for boys? It’s a daring choice, but not beyond celebrity supercouple David and Victoria Beckham, who named their middle son Romeo. For all its romantic associations, the name Romeo begins as a religious name, meaning “pilgrim to Rome.” The name has certainly been traveling up on the charts, arriving at Nameberry’s 377.
In Twelfth Night, Sebastian is an identical twin who gets hilariously confused for his sister, Viola. There’s no mistaking the popularity of the name Sebastian, though. It’s a top-100 boy name in many countries—hitting 35 in the US and UK in 2015, and now boasting the 15th spot on Nameberry. The name’s origin lives up to its admiration: It ultimately comes from a Greek word meaning “venerable” or “exalted.”
Titania is Oberon’s queenly complement in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She knows how to put her fairy foot down, even if Oberon tries to cast his spells otherwise. Shakespeare drew the name Titania from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, where Titania referred to the daughters of the Titans, who were primordial giant gods in Greek mythology. The name Titania is far from titanically popular (1580 on Nameberry and not making an appearance on the US charts), but it is enchantingly original.