Musical Baby Names: Gilbert & Sullivan Goodies
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).
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on December 22nd, 2009 at 10:55 am
Nephele, I knew it!!!!
I know nothing about Gilbert and Sullivan, but guessed it was you straight away, and now I shall educate myself as to the names.
I have always had a soft spot for Italian names, so Fiametta (little flame) does it for me. Celia is cool too.
Am typing this in my lunchtime at the Library.
on December 22nd, 2009 at 11:23 am
I love Italian names, too, Ailsa — all those lovely vowels, and girls’ names ending in the letter “a” always seem so much more feminine, to me.
It’s odd that Gilbert chose to spell the name “Fiametta” in his libretto — with one “m”. Everywhere else I’ve seen it spelled with two m’s, which I believe is the correct Italian spelling of the name (derived from the Italian word fiamma, “flame”).
on December 23rd, 2009 at 1:56 am
It’s a blog from Nephelina!!!! Woo-hoo! I really enjoyed this, Nelphele, and Celia, Zara, and Jasper are my favorites from your list. 🙂
on December 23rd, 2009 at 10:22 am
Hooray for Gilbert and Sullivan! I’ve performed in several of their operettas (just finished up Pirates last month) and always enjoy their wit and wordiness, and of course the names!
Great blog Nephele!
on December 23rd, 2009 at 12:10 pm
Thanks, Jill – those are some of my favorite names, too!
Dove14, it’s great to see a G&S performer here at Nameberry! What role did you play in Pirates last month? Did your character have a name? I’ve always thought it so unfair that only a few of General Stanley’s daughters are named (Mabel, Edith, Kate, and Isabel). I think they all deserve names. Maybe you or somebody can start a thread in the “Talk About Names” forum asking for likely suggestions for the names of the rest of General Stanley’s daughters?
on December 23rd, 2009 at 5:09 pm
Nephele — I was Mabel. 🙂
Our director actually let all the girls pick out names for their characters (and the pirates and policemen too)! I thought it was a fun idea! The girls picked names ranging from Gertrude to Lilianna.
It would be interesting to figure out what the most likely names would be for 19th century sisters of Mabel, Edith, Kate and Isabel!
on December 23rd, 2009 at 8:36 pm
great list! thanks
on December 24th, 2009 at 7:13 am
@ Dove14 — That’s great that you got a starring role! I also like the idea of the girls getting to pick out their own names. You really ought to start a thread over on the “Talk About Names” forum about it — I’d love to see what names were used for General Stanley’s daughters.
@ Kathleen — thanks!
on December 24th, 2009 at 10:47 am
It was a very fun role to play. I used to be very active in theatre, particularly musical theatre, before I become a mommy. Somehow I forget that I am a classically trained soprano after all. Gets lost in the graham cracker goo and slobber. 🙂
I’ll be sure to go start a thread about the daughters! Should generate some good discussion!
victorian baby names | VICTORIAN Said
on January 9th, 2010 at 4:12 am
[…] GILBERT & SULLIVAN NAMES – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry […]
on June 26th, 2012 at 5:32 am
I love that this list has my middle name in it. <3
» Musical Baby Names: Gilbert & Sullivan Goodies Baby Name Suggestion Said
on August 16th, 2014 at 12:42 pm
[…] From Nephele, some delightful and unexpected names from the lesser known operettas of Gilbert & Sullivan–as in Fiametta, Lelia and Roderic. Nameberry – Baby Name Blog […]
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