Shakespeare Names: Embrace the Ides of March!


Yes, today is the Ides of March (which really just means the mid-point of the month),  yet unless you’re Julius Caesar, there’s no reason to beware.  But Julius Caesar does bring to mind William Shakespeare, so this seems like a good time to look at Shakespeare names beyond Juliet and Jessica, Richard and Romeo, to some of the more underappreciated names used by the Bard in his comedies and tragedies.

Some of Shakespeare’s most distinctive, most villainous names will probably always be verboten, such as Iago, which on the surface would seem to have the makings of a perfect I-beginning, o-ending name.  Other baddies, though, such as Cassius and Edmund and Regan, have escaped having their reputations permanently ruined.

So here are the Nameberry Picks for the 12 best underused Shakespeare names (aka Ides of March Baby Names).

Balthasar/BalthazarBalthasar was the name assumed by Portia when disguised as a boy in The Merchant of Venice, as well as being one of the three Wise Men of the Orient who brought gifts to the infant JesusBalthazar has been associated in modern times with the acting member of the Getty family, who has a son with the equally Shakespearean name of Cassius.

Cassio Cassio is a young and handsome Florentine solider who serves under Othello, Cassio  actually being his last name—his first being Michael–an implausible choice for an Italian.  Cassio just might conceivable slipstream along in the wake of the related, growing-in-popularity Cassius.

CorinCorin, an unusual name used by Shakespeare in As You Like It, might make a more distinctive alternative to Colin or Corey.  Soft and gentle, it has been used in the theatrical Redgrave family, and would fit right in with all the in and en-ending boys’ names currently in style, as well as with sister-name Cora .

Charmian Charmian, which derives from the Greek word for joy, was used by Shakespeare for the faithful and kind servant of the Egyptian queen in Antony and Cleopatra.  It’s been chosen occasionally by Shakespeare-loving parents and, after all, what could be wrong with a name that starts with charm—though the correct pronunciation is with a k-sound, as in charisma.

Cressida  is an eponymous protagonist of  Troilus and Cressida, which was based on a poem by Chaucer.  Rarely heard in the United States, Cressida—which evolved from Briseida to Chryseida to Criseyde to Cressida—sounds rhythmic, fresh, crisp and creative.

DionYou might not want to call your son Dionysus, but short-form Dion (usually pronounced DEE-on) makes an appealing stand-alone option. In A Winter’s Tale, Dion is a Sicilian Lord, in rock history there is Dion and the Belmonts, and in sports there is the alternately spelled Deion Sanders.

Hero Just as the word actor doesn’t have to necessarily denote a male anymore (except maybe at the Oscars, where there are still actress categories), neither does the name Hero—though it might not be the easiest name for a girl to carry off. In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero is the virtuous love interest of Claudio, who describes her as a jewel; in Greek myth she is the lover of Leander.

Humphrey Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, is the brother of Prince Hal in Henry IV, Part I and also appears as a minor character in Henry V.  In the U.S. and elsewhere, this name has long been associated with Bogey (who was given the maiden name of his illustrator mother Maude Humphrey Bogart), but now may be the moment for this deeply resonant name to attract wider use.

Jupiter makes a surprise entrance on an eagle near the end of Cymbeline and could make  a surprise entrance on birth certificates as well, in step with mythic wife’s name Juno, sound-alike Juniper, and other celestial names like OrionJupiter is also one of the most memorable characters in our own Pamela Redmond’s novel The Possibility of You, where he is usually known as Jupe.

LucettaWhile Lucinda and Loretta, Lucy and Lucille have all caught on in this country at one time or another, Lucetta, the name of Julia’s lady-in-waiting in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (And a more major character in Thomas Hardy’s The Mayor of Casterbridge), has not, perhaps because of its ultra frilliness.  The streamlined French version Lucette might appeal more.

Octavia –Now that she’s become an Oscar-winning name, Octavia can no longer be considered obscure, and we’re sure she’s about to move up to more widespread popularity.  In Antony and Cleopatra, Octavia is the sister of Octavius Caesar, who marries Mark Antony.  The most usable of the Latin numeric names, Octavia, with its combination of classical and musical overtones, is a real winner.

RosalindRosalind is the name of one of Shakespeare’s most charming heroines, in As You Like It.  Off the Social Security list since 1978—it peaked at Number 292 in 1942—Rosalind is one of the Rose-extension names, along with Rosemary, Rosanna and Rosalie, that are ripe for revival.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz