Musical Baby Names: Gilbert & Sullivan Goodies

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

CELIA – a fairy, from Iolanthe

FIAMETTA  – an Italian peasant girl, from The Gondoliers

FLETA – a fairy, from Iolanthe

IOLANTHE–  the eponymous fairy from Iolanthe__

LELIA – a fairy, from Iolanthe

MELENE – a Utopian maiden, from Utopia Unlimited

PHYLLA – a Utopian maiden, from Utopia Unlimited SAPHIR – a “rapturous maiden,” from Patience

ZARA– a princess, from Utopia Unlimited

ZORAH – a professional bridesmaid, from Ruddigore


ALEXIS – a Grenadier Guard, betrothed to Aline, from The Sorceror

CALYNX – the anglophile Vice-Chamberlain, from Utopia Unlimited

DESPARD  – the wicked baronet, from Ruddigore

JASPER – a ghostly ancestor, from Ruddigore

RODERIC – the ghostly late uncle of Ruthven, from Ruddigore

RUTHVEN – (pronounced “ri-ven”), the shy and lovestruck hero, from Ruddigore

STREPHON  – the half-mortal son of the fairy Iolanthe, from Iolanthe

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).

Even if one hasn’t inherited a nautical name from one’s parents, perhaps it’s still best to avoid such duplicate initial names, lest one bestow upon baby (to quote Dick Deadeye) “a beast of a name”?

About the Author



Nephele is the alias of an obsessive anagrammatist who for more than a decade has provided unique name makeovers for people on numerous Internet forums. Despite the popularity of Nephele’s anagrams, she is not prepared to give up her day job in an undisclosed public library in New York.