Category: Shakespeare names
True story: I have never once wanted to get revenge on someone. I don’t have any enemies and I strive to be kind to everyone; I remind myself there’s always another side to the story and try my best to keep that in mind when something doesn’t go my way. Because of this, or perhaps in spite of it, I’ve always been fascinated with stories about revenge and why someone would choose to go down that slippery slope.
Several months ago, when I answered a call for short stories to be part of a new charity anthology of Shakespeare retellings, the only play I even considered working with was Othello—the ultimate tale of revenge. A perpetual favorite of mine, I turned Othello into The Scarf, which brings the familiar characters to a modern high school during a student government election. Golden boy Omar is poised to win the presidency, the ultimate power position in the school, but just hours before the results are to be announced, he confronts his girlfriend Darcy about the mounting evidence that she’s cheating on him with his running mate. With a missing scarf as the seemingly final nail in the coffin of their relationship, stage manager Emerson begins to put together their pieces of the story that isn’t as it appears on the surface.
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.
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.
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.
Wednesday, May 25 is a big day for the small screen. After twenty-five years as the reigning queen of daytime television, Oprah Winfrey will broadcast her last show. She’s not headed from retirement – far from it. Ms. Winfrey commands a media empire, from her own television network to magazines to Harpo Productions, responsible for everything from feature films to satellite radio shows.
The story about her given name is well known. Born in rural Mississippi, her aunt chose the name Orpah from the Book of Ruth, and that’s the name recorded on her birth certificate. But Orpah never really stuck, and family and friends morphed the Biblical obscurity into a whole new name, destined for greatness.
Oprah isn’t the only name formed by a happy accident. Sometimes they’re actual errors made by the officials responsible for issuing birth certificates. Basketball player Antawn Jamison was supposed to be named Antwan – the phonetic spelling of Antoine – but his parents decided they liked the mistake.
Invented baby names get a bad rap, but there are a surprising number of mistakes, flukes, and misinterpretations that have led to some well-established names.
Annabel – She first appears in medieval Scotland. Amabel, Mabel, and other names based on Amabilis – an early saint’s name from the Latin for lovable – were common. Annabel appears to be either an error in recording, or possibly a sign that creative baby namers have been at work for centuries.
Aveline – Parents are rediscovering her as something of an Ava–Adeline smoosh, but she was used in medieval England, either from the Germanic element avi – desired, or possibly from the Latin avis – bird. She’s also the forerunner of Evelyn.
Imogen – William Shakespeare’s Cymbeline is loosely based on a real-life king of the Britons. King Cymbeline has a daughter called Imogen – except that Shakespeare almost certainly called her Innogen, from a Gaelic word for maiden. Despite references to Innogen in the Bard’s notes, Imogen is used almost exclusively today.
Jade – She’s an ornamental stone and a popular choice for daughters in recent decades. The Spanish name was originally piedra de ijada – stone of the flank. It was thought that jade could cure ailments of the kidneys. In French, piedra de ijada became l’ejade, and the English interpreted it as le jade. Jade has been the English name for the stone since the 1600s.
The plays of William Shakespeare are a mother lode of wonderful names, rich and diverse, drawing from the history and mythology of ancient Greece and Rome, tales of Renaissance Italy, the royal courts and noble estates of England and Scotland–not to mention those that sprung from the playwright’s imagination.
We were inspired by Kat’s recent name board comment on the “Underrated Baby Names” question of the week to revisit the subject of Shakespearean names, starting from her excellent list and then digging a little deeper into some of the major and more minor characters that may not be as strongly associated with the Bard, but still boast some Shakespearean cred and cachet.