Opera Baby Names: Handles from Handel
By Zeffy, Baby Names from Yesteryear
George Frideric Handel, born in 1685, is considered to be one of the most accomplished opera composers in history. Handel was German born but it was in England where he made his fortune and fame. He tapped into the English aristocracy’s obsession with all things Italian by creating beautiful, intricate Italian operas, and it’s his operas that show his talent for naming characters. I don’t know how many of the names below are actually usable, but they’re fun and so name-nerdy yummy.
Alceste – From the 1727 opera Admeto, this is the Italian form of the Greek mythological name Alcestis. Its possible meaning is ‘valiant, courageous’. Alceste is also the title of a mini-opera by Handel.
Almirena – In Rinaldo, Almirena is the love interest of the main character Rinaldo. This was the first opera to be written in Italian for a London stage. The name seems to have been one of Handel’s creations, but it may have a connection with Almira, also used by Handel in another opera, meaning ‘noble’ and ‘famous’.
Asteria – Meaning ‘starry one’ or ‘of the stars’, Asteria was given to a number of Greek mythological characters, including one of the alkyonides who threw herself into the sea and turned into a kingfisher. This is also the name of a character in Handel’s Tamerlane, written for the Royal Academy of Music in 1719.
Atalanta – She might easily be confused with Atlanta, making it challenging to use, but she’s interesting nonetheless. She too finds her origins in Greek mythology: Atalanta refused to marry anyone who didn’t beat her in a race. She’s the title character in Atalanta, created in 1736 for the celebration of the marriage of Prince Frederick, the oldest son of George II.
Bellante – From Handel’s first opera Almira, created in 1705, Bellante is a surname connected to the Italian town of that name in the Abruzzo region of Italy. She’s a more daring choice to get to the nickname Bella but still not too out there, along the same lines as Bellamy or Bellaby, two surnames with great potential for use as first names.
Carilda – From the opera Arianna in Creta, she appears similar to Cerilde, perhaps a as variant. There is no known meaning – unless she is related to Cerilde, which would put her meaning at ‘armour’ and ‘battle’. But the name Carilda has been used– Carilda Oliver Labra is one of the most influential female Cuban poets.
Clizia – She appears as a character in the 1713 opera Teseo, but before that, Clizia was the title of a 1525 comedy by Machiavelli. She could very well be related to Greek Clytia, meaning ‘famous’ and ‘noble’.
Edilia – Appearing as the name of a princess in Almira, Edilia has a lovely frilly and feminine sound – a nice fit with the likes of Arabella and Lorelei. Once again of Old Greek origin, but this time she’s also a variant of the Germanic Hedy meaning ‘battle, combat’.
Erenice – She’s one letter short of Berenice but has a totally different vibe. I think she looks and sounds more modern and airy, and certainly less buttoned up. From Sosarme, she has no known meaning.
Erissena – There’s not much information about this rarity from the opera Poro. I did, however, manage to find an Erissena going back to 1828, so she has at least been used.
Ermione – This name is truly operatic, not only making an appearance in Handel’s Oreste but also being the title of a latter early 19th century opera by Rossini. Ermione is an Italian variant of Hermione, which is of course a derivative of the Greek Hermes meaning ‘pile of stones’.
Esilena – Elena has always been a name that I’ve found very pleasant (when pronounced Eh-LAY-Nah), but I know to some she has a rather dated feel. Not to worry, because Esilena is on the case! From Rodrigo, she’s one to keep in the back of your mind, with her combination of uniqueness and wearability. I did find an Esilena “Essie” born in 1894, and isn’t that just so lovely? Essie is another choice to consider along with Victorian-inspired Hattie, Bessie and Effie.
Fidalma -Taking the leading role in Muzio Scevola, Fidalma, with her lovely meaning of ‘faithful soul’, goes a step further than Alma, though for some that might be one step too far. If you don’t like the meaning but do like the sound, there’s always Fidelma, the name of an early Christian saint. Fidelma’s origins are Irish and her possible meanings, are fab – ‘ever good’ or ‘beauty’.
Lisaura – Probably a combination of Elizabeth and Laura, this name has a hint of old- fashioned Italian charm. She appears in the opera Alessandro, and although Lisaura is a pleasing name, I can’t help but think of the better known Isaura, whose simplicity seems to work a touch better. A Late Latin name, Lisaura means ‘from Isauria’, a region in Asia Minor.
Nerea – Unlike the other names on this list, Nerea is currently being used, particularly in Spain. At one point she was a Top 10 name in the Basque region, from which she originates. Nerea, a variant of Nere, means ‘mine’ in the Basque language. Handel’s Nerea appears in his last opera, Deidamia.
Oriana – Yes, Arianna might be more feminine sounding, but there’s something a bit more special about Oriana – Don‘t you think she has more meat on her bones? She’s from the Latin for gold so there’s that precious element as well. Additionally, I think Oriana is a fresh and unexpected way to honour an Anna. This Oriana appeared in the very successful Amadigi di Gaula. If the Italian Oriana isn’t floating your boat, there’s the French Oriane.
Rosmira – Appearing in Partenope, the character of Rosmira is also known in the opera as Eurimene, but Rosmira is more familiar in appearance and is currently being used in Hispanic countries. There are two possible meanings: In Latin, she is down as ‘marvellous rose’, but if she is of Germanic origins her meaning becomes that of ‘famous horse warrior’.
Rossane – This could be a variant of Rosanne, which obviously is a combination of the traditional Rose and Anne. However, she could more likely be a variant of Roxana, a name of Persian origins meaning ‘bright’ or ‘dawn’. From the opera Alessandro, I don’t think Rossane will capture many hearts – she seems neither distinctively masculine nor feminine, which eliminates her from many lists. On top of that, her similarity to Rosanne means that, if she did have her moment, it would have been back in the 50s.
Teodata – The name of an obscure Italian saint, Teodata is a fantastic rare find. She has religious links to an eight or ninth century Italian monastery named Santa Maria Teodata, and her meaning continues this theme, being ‘given from God’. Teodata is connected to the Late Roman masculine name Deodatus. I like her as an unusual, offbeat alternative to Theodora – you can get the nickname Teddy with both.