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.
Balthasar/Balthazar—Balthasar 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 Jesus. Balthazar 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.
Corin—Corin, 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.
Dion—You 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 Orion. Jupiter 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.
Lucetta—While 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.
Rosalind—Rosalind 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.
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on March 15th, 2012 at 1:10 am
Just as a note:
Hero in Much Ado About Nothing is (as described) a gem, but the name is NOT pronounced “HERE-oh” as the word.
It is “HAIR-oh” like the ‘Her’ in the name of the Greek Goddess Hera.
Given that Juno is so popular, Hero is truly beautiful and actually quite usable despite the fact that few people will pronounce it right (i mean, it was never mentioned in this post), and many will make this mistake.
There are variants, such as Heiro, and Herro, but I believe similar problems are at hand.
By the way, I love Octavia and its modern nick name tavie!
on March 15th, 2012 at 2:07 am
We were going to name our baby Octavia if he was a girl! Shh, don’t tell too many people about this name, I don’t want it becoming popular! I might get to use it one day 🙂
on March 15th, 2012 at 2:52 am
Sorry, Alexandra.Iseult, but you are wrong. The name Hero is pronounced exactly like the word (HERE-oh) in Shakespearean English.
Here are some examples:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlqMHQN0oAk (3:04 and 7:58)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1S2AKSHf1I (0:20 and 1:27)
on March 15th, 2012 at 5:47 am
I’ve always adored Cassio since the very first time I read Othello.
Sadly though, all my friends said to me, “Are you going to name a child after a Japanese electronic company?” Which took Cassio off the list straight away.
I also LOVE Rosalind. Such a delicate name.
on March 15th, 2012 at 9:13 am
We named our daughter Ariel for the sprite in the Tempest and because of the tie to my Jewish roots. We pronounce it R-E-L. We love it, she loves it, and the nickname Ari is great too!
on March 15th, 2012 at 9:40 am
I’ve gotta admit, Cassius is a long time love of mine. Cassio makes me think of the electronics co. too, but I could see it as an occasional nickname! 🙂
Octavia’s pretty but too severe for me. I like Rosalind much, much more (but adore the un-Shakesperian Rosamund most of all).
Love Cymbeline quite a bit too, so melodic! I’ve got it in the middle: Beatrix Cymbeline. It’s a bit OTT, but I adore it there. 😀
on March 15th, 2012 at 1:02 pm
I’ve already posted a couple of times how much I adore Humphrey . . . Unfortunately, I just don’t know how it’s usable anymore. 🙁
on March 15th, 2012 at 2:25 pm
Katja, the reason I mentioned this pronunciaiton is that my Classics professor always insisted that it is pronounced ‘HAIR-oh’, because it shares a derivative with the goddesses’ name Hera (warrior), and therefore is pronounced that way.
However, like many Greek names there is controversy over how they are actually pronounced (just think Athena, and how no one can positively confirm a pronunciation for even this name), and I’m sure that in Shakespeare’s time Hero was pronounced as you say.
I’m just here to say that it wouldn’t be ‘wrong’ to use the more directly derived pronunciation (as my prof always said). In many ways it makes the name more appealing. You do present an interesting point, 🙂 thanks.
on March 15th, 2012 at 6:22 pm
Corin…never heard of it before, but I quite like it.
on March 15th, 2012 at 7:10 pm
My favorite Shakespearean play is Much Ado About Nothing, and seeing as how my hubby LOVES the name Leo, I’ve thought about using Leonato (Hero’s father). I’m not sure how usable it is though.
on March 15th, 2012 at 7:11 pm
I like Corin, Cressida, and Rosalind the best. I also like Claudio, but I will never be able to hear it without thinking of the creepy Fred Figglehorn character *shudders*.
on March 15th, 2012 at 7:36 pm
I do love Corin…and in the original Italian, Cassio was Michele….I also prefer Rosamund to Rosalind…but I love Miranda, Edmund, Edgar, Tom, Cordelia, Humphrey, and Kate.
I just can’t see Ariel as a female name. I’ve been in The Tempest, my son has been Prospero, and I’ve read it many times, and I just can’t see the justification for making Ariel female. I much prefer to leave Ariel to Ariel Sharon and go with Ariella for the female.
I also disagree with your suggesting that Cassius was a villain. I have taught Julius Caesar many times, and yes, Cassius may have manipulated Brutus into the original conspiracy, but once Brutus made the decision to join, he took over, and it was his flaws that led to the downfall of both men. Cassius was a deeply flawed character, but he was not Octavius.
Lastly, Octavia is a very common name here in the Deep South among my African American students. I have taught at least one Octavia every year.
on March 15th, 2012 at 8:30 pm
All fine names but my favorite Shakespearean name has always been Aliena from As You Like It and used by Ken Follett in the great Pillars of the Earth. My nephew was planning on using it for his second daughter until she turned out to be a he.
on March 15th, 2012 at 9:42 pm
Corin is also a Narnia name (the twin brothers Cor and Corin from “The Horse and His Boy”), but I don’t know whether C.S. Lewis got it from Shakespeare or not! I like it, too.
on March 21st, 2012 at 4:33 pm
Cassio makes me think of Casio, like, keyboards. Charmian is nice, but I think it would get confused with Charm-a-i-n. Lucette is nice, but sounds a little too much like Lucite for my liking. I like Corin and Rosalind though.
on May 12th, 2012 at 6:02 am
I have 3 children all named for Shakespearean literature – Beatrice (Much Ado About Nothing), Toby (Twelfth Night) and Benedict (Much Ado..)
We have only ever met 1 other Benedict, a few elderly Beatrices, and a dog called Toby.
I love the fact that they are the only children with those names in their school (700 pupils) in amongst all the Callums, Emilys, Georgias, and Jakes 🙂
on June 23rd, 2012 at 1:26 pm
Pretty sure the character from R&J was Rosaline, not Rosalind…
on January 27th, 2013 at 6:17 am
Benson5- that’s intriguing. I teach in the Uk and have 3 Boys called Toby in a year group of 45 children!
on March 10th, 2013 at 11:59 am
Balthazar is my all time favorite boys name, and I love Rosalind pronounced Rose-a-lind, not Rahz-a-lind.
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