Literary Baby Names: Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare

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.

GIRLS

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.

HermioneThe Winter’s Tale. Before there was J. K. Rowling’s Hermione Granger, there was William Shakespeare’s Queen of Sicily—both combine to make the name more accessible than it once was.

LaviniaTitus Andronicus.  A pretty Victorian-sounding choice that actually harkens back to classical mythology, with literary references from Shakespeare to The Hunger Games.  Downton Abbey gave it further boost. Perhaps the next Matilda?

LucianaThe Comedy of Errors. A lovely Lucy elaboration that is well used in Italia but sorely neglected here.  It was used for her daughter by Carnie Wilson. .

MargeryThe Merchant of Venice. The nursery-rhyme favorite Margery, which has been MIA since 1958, was a Top 20 name in the 1920’s, while the Scottish Marjorie version has fared somewhat better.   Margery may have been gone long enough to be ready for reappraisal.

PatienceHenry VIII.  One of the less frequently used virtue names, possibly because of its passive connotation, but patience and calm can be highly commendable qualities.  Common in the seventeenth century, Patience was the eponymous heroine of a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

PaulinaThe Winter’s Tale.  A romantic Spanish name,  probably the most stylish of the Paul feminizations, Paulina has been on the US list since 1994.  Charlotte Brontë used it in her novel Villette, with the nickname Polly.

RosalineLove’s Labour’s Lost.  Of all the myriad offshoots of Rose, this is one of the most unusual.  When spelled Rosaleen, it’s an Anglicization of the Irish Róisín.

TamoraTitus Andronicus.  A more distinctive cousin of Tamara, associated with popular teen fantasy fiction writer Tamora Pierce, also a character in Wreck-It Ralph.

UrsulaMuch Ado About Nothing. A name with a particularly rich literary heritage, not only via Shakespeare but also Ben Johnson, Sir Walter Scott, Longfellow and D. H. Lawrence; Ursula is a saint’s name that’s starting to be reconsidered.

BOYS

CaiusTitus Andronicus.  One of several intriguing ancient Latin names in this period play, including Lucius, Quintus, Martius, Demetrius, and Titus itself.

Cassio Othello. Cassio is actually the character’s last name—his first being Michael.  But we could see it possibly slipstreaming along in the wake of the related, growing-in-popularity Cassius.

CleonPericlesA strong ancient Greek hero name which fortunately lacks the fustiness of many others.

FabianTwelfth NightOne of the original 1960’s teen idol names, Fabian has left that image behind in pop culture history and is seen now as a strong and attractive name with a papal connection.

OwenHenry IV, Part I .  A staunch Nameberry fave, this strong and appealing Irish version of John (aka Eoin), jumped into the Top 50 in 2010 and is on track to move even higher.

IsidoreTimon of Athens. Isadora is starting to be considered as an alternative to Isabella but her twin-name is nowhere in sight. With surprising origins in ancient Greek Isidore is the name of the patron saint of Madrid.

LysanderA Midsummer Night’s Dream. Attached to a character more major than some of the others on this list, Lysander is a distinctive Greek name that could be thought of as a more creative cousin of Alexander.

PhiloAntony and Cleopatra. A handsome Greek name that we’ve always thought had a lot of potentialas a possible successor to Milo, with its historic Greek roots, its sweet meaning of ‘loved’ and its energetic o-ending.  Clint Eastwood played Philos in two early films.

TarquinRape of LucretiaTarquin appears in this narrative poem of Shakespeare’s and is also referred to in two of the plays.  A handsome name with dramatic flair that was chosen by Laurence Olivier for his first child.

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21 Responses to “Literary Baby Names: Happy Birthday, Mr. Shakespeare”

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MissusAytch Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 11:33 pm

Tamora is one of my favorite Shakespearean characters. So vicious! Pronounced tuh-MOR-uh, it’s also refreshingly unusual. I’m afraid it will be mispronounced as a homonym of Tamara often tho, or mistaken for same.

Rosaline is interesting, especially pronounced with a long I.

Patience is lovely. I’m a fan of Prudence too. I often say there is something slightly Salem-esque and witchy about the Puritan virtue names. An interesting combination of virtue and wickedness. Tabitha has a similar feel.

As for the boys – Cassio makes me think of a Casio keyboard. I knew a boy in high school, a very dashing poetic guy, called Cassiano. I always thought that was an awesome name.

Philo makes me think of dough.

Tarquin is amazing!

JH Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 12:29 am

I love Luciana and Cordelia (from ‘King Lear’). I also liked Hero in ‘Much Ado About Nothing’, but would never actually name a child that.

ruolan Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 4:10 am

Shakespeare! Great post!

I like Hermione, Paulina pr. pow-Lee-na, and Ursula from the girls’ list. Fabian, Lysander and Isidore from the boys’ list. Isidro is similar and uncommon.

Bellababy Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 5:53 am

I love Adriana from The Comedy of Errors

alzora Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 6:52 am

@MrsH, thanks for clearing up the pronunciation of Tamora in the very first comment…that was what I was going to ask! I MUCH prefer the stress on the second syllable, so it’s perfect. Tamora is now going on The List. Just wish Tammy wasn’t an obvious nickname.

adzant Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 6:55 am

I can definitely see Margery as a future option. I see it helped along with a backhanded reference to the current “it series” Game of Thrones: one of its characters is called Margaery Tyrell – one of the more accessible names in that tv show.

tori101 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 7:02 am

Ah loving the Shakespeare inspired post!! I love the romantic connotations behind Shakespeare, the theories behind Shakespeare and the general air of mystery surrounding him. I love his work, my favourite playing being Romeo & Juliet. Stereotypical answer I know!

Out of these names I love…
Audrey
Hermione
Paulina
Rosaline

Caius
Cassio
Fabian
Owen
Isidore

GrecianErn Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 8:41 am

I love Shakespeare names! not sure if my hubby feels the same though. 😉

I love Luciana – it’s on my list with Lucie and Lux as nn options.

Rosaline – it’s cute, but I much prefer Rosalind from “As You Like It.” We both have aunt Lindas so I thought this would be a fun way to honor them,

That’s about it from this list.

My other faves:
Bianca – Taming of the Shrew (name not the character who was a spoiled twit.)
Cordelia and Portia – King Lear
Sebastian – 12th Night (my #1 boys name)

sweets12 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 9:37 am

You forgot Rosalind! Romeo’s first girlfriend before he met Juliet.

sweets12 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 9:41 am

You forgot Rosalind! Romeo’s girlfriend before he met Juliet.

maggiemary Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 10:43 am

Today is also St George’s Day, the patron saint day of England, so ‘George’ names make great middle names (or indeed first names) for any baby with English heritage born today. Going back in my family tree, one of my English ancestors was given the middle name Georgiana, because she was born on April 23.

EmilyVA Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 10:56 am

Oh! My Beloved Hermione! One of my top favorite names that I would definitely use~ mostly to honor Mrs. Weasley nn Granger, but the Shakespeare thing is nice.
I also love Charmian (although pronounciation is tough). Charmian Carr mentions in her autobiography that people have trouble pronouncing her name. I also love Patience and Francisca and Lavinia.
From the boys I love Owen and Lysander.

@sweets12 They were going for the less obvious sounding Shakespeare names. Rosalind is the heroine and one of the main characters in As You Like It. She is considered to be one of the great heroines up there with Beatrice and Juliet. Like other names he used it more than once; but it’s still not an obscure Shakespeare name.

obsession Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 1:15 pm

My niece’s name is Isadora and I’d never heard it before. I’m glad it’s starting to come back. It’s a beautiful name.
My nephew is Jakob, so they both have interesting names 🙂

MeleriHaf Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Cleon is a great name, but it’s also the name of the ultraconservative writer (Cleon Skousen) who inspired a lot of Glenn Beck’s philosophy. Just be aware that if you name your child that, you might be taken for a staunch conservative.

Also, I hate the name Lavinia. She was the ultra mean girl in A Little Princess, and I have never been able to get over that.

bernadette Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I love Marjorie! The name reminds me of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling. It would be nice to meet a little Marjorie one day. (Margery is still pretty cool!)

akky3210 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Shakespeare’s birthday was yesterday and nobody told me!? I should have thrown a birthday party with a cake that said “tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…” (the irony being that dear ol’ Willy is dead). Because, you know, I’m a self-confessed Shakespeare fangirl. It’s not like I have two monologues memorized and am in the process of memorizing two others. No. Not at all.

When it comes to names (’cause I just couldn’t resist weighing in on this one), I’ve always had a soft spot for Rosalind. And Beatrice. Beatrice as a character and as a name rocks. It’s more common, but it also has such a sweet sound to it.

Hmm… I’d love to name a girl Desdemona, since it’s so pretty, but I don’t think I could saddle THAT on a kid. Same goes for Ophelia. Cassio’s real nice. Iago is at, you know, the disadvantage of being Iago.

I think some of the Macbeth names are cool, though I don’t know if I could name a kid Banquo or Fleance.

I want to pull some totally obscure Shakespearian name out of nowhere, but I’ve got nothing.

Ooh! Roderigo! But again, the whole stabbed-to-death thing…

Mcdonak1 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 8:42 pm

I have a friend with a Cordelia, Miranda, and Rosalind. They would love this list!

Poppy528 Says:

April 23rd, 2013 at 9:27 pm

I have always loved the name Mercutio and Petruchio. I love how they sound and how they roll off the tongue. Prospero is seriously cool in my book, too. I love the names Perdita and Viola, but only when Viola is pronounced VIO-la (more similar to Violet).

Nouvelle Says:

April 24th, 2013 at 7:26 am

I just cannot get past hearing “Charmian” as “Charmin.” As in the fluffy toilet paper. I do love Viola, Mercutio, Balthasar, and Edmund, along with some plain old favorites like Alice, Francis, and Henry.

shantiknight Says:

April 25th, 2013 at 10:46 am

In high school, I named a kitten “lysander” after “a midsummer night’s dream.” he still lives at my parents’ house 🙂

abrahamlincoln Says:

April 26th, 2013 at 8:26 am

How about PUCK! mmm maybe not
Or Rozencrantz or Gildenstern… or Shylock!!

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