Shakespeare for Babies: Names from the Bard

by appellationmountain on September 28, 2012

List of titles of works based on Shakespearean... Photo credit: Wikipedia

William Shakespeare was a great innovator when it came to language, so it is no surprise that his work is chock full of amazing names.

He and his wife Anne had three children: Susanna, Hamnet, and Judith.  The youngest two were twins, and apparently named after close family friends.  That’s consistent with much of human experience – names where chosen to honor someone important, not to reflect the latest fashions.

Speaking of fashion, choosing a baby name from Shakespeare can’t be called trendy or fleeting.  There’s something weighty about these names, simply because they are associated with the Bard.  If you’re after a rarefied, literary vibe, the names on the list might do the trick.

I tried to stick with the wearables, the real candidates for a child’s name.  So there’s no Banquo, and I skipped Iago, too.  By no means is this an exhaustive list, and there are a few places names mixed in, too.  Also note that it is worth a quick glance at the play before you bestow one of these appellations on a child.  There are villains aplenty in Shakespeare’s works, and a few of them have extraordinarily attractive appellations.

Unisex Names

Arden – As You Like It was set in the Forest of Arden, a name borrowed from a real woodland in Warwickshire.  Shakespeare’s mom was born Mary Arden, presumably indicating that her family was from the area.

Ariel - An airy sprite in The Tempest, the Bard filched it from the Old Testament, where Ariel was another name for Jerusalem.  It’s a modern male name in Hebrew, but thanks to a certain animated mermaid, American Ariels are likely to be girls.

Cymbeline – He’s King of the Britons, based on the historical figure more commonly referred to as Cunobelinus.  It’s an attractive name, but one that doesn’t sound very masculine – so I’m tucking him here, on the gender neutral list, as a possible alternative to Coraline and Clementine.

Regan - This name starts out feminine, as King Lear’s scheming daughter, eventually done in by her own sister.  Then came the tortured little girl in The Exorcist, followed by Ronald Reagan in the White House.  While the name’s similarity to Megan likely explains much of her rise for girls, Regan seems like a legitimate candidate for a son, too.

Names for Girls

Audrey – She’s a county dwelling young lady in As You Like It, though this name is likely to conjure up Hollywood glamor rather than the Forest of Arden.

Beatrice – The witty heroine of Much Ado About Nothing, she’s capable and accomplished – the anti-Juliet.  Plus she falls in love with Benedick and they end the play set to live happily ever after.

Bianca – She’s the little sister in The Taming of the Shrew, a real looker who can’t settle down ’til big sis Katharina finds true love.

Calpurnia – Caesar’s wife, she appears in the historical Julius Caesar - but might be better known as a minor character from To Kill a Mockingbird.

Celia – The Duke’s daughter, and Rosalind’s faithful friend in As You Like It.

Charmaine – Strictly speaking, Cleopatra’s servant was called Charmian in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra- so Charmaine isn’t exactly a Bard-certified baby name.  But the faithful servant, often depicted in stories of the Egyptian ruler’s life, was probably the source of the name.

Cordelia – Lear’s loyal daughter, and a gorgeous, vintage choice.

Cressida – If not for the Toyota, this name could’ve been a hit.  Based on the name of a minor figure in The Iliad, medieval writers reshaped her into Cressida.

Elsinore – It’s a place name, the setting for Hamlet, but also an alternative to Eleanor.

Hermione – Before the powerful Muggle-born witch, Hermione was Queen of Sicily in The Winter’s Tale

Hero – It’s an extravagant name, chosen by British singer Myleene Klaas for her daughter.  Hero is also the virtuous maiden in Much Ado About Nothing, who ends the play happily married to her beloved.

Juliet – She’s a tragic figure, and at #252 in the US last year, among the more popular possibilities on this list.  Shakespeare also used the name in Measure for Measure.

Lavinia – The daughter in Titus Adronicus, she suffers a gruesome fate.  The whole play is a gory story of revenge, and yet Lavinia has a pretty, Victoriana feel to her.  Pre-Shakespeare, Lavinia featured in Roman legend.

Mariana – She appears in Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well.

Marina – The clever and virtuous daughter of Pericles in a play that may have only been partly authored by Shakespeare.

Miranda – In The Tempest, she’s Prospero’s pretty daughter.

Phoebe - Another pastoral appellation from As You Like It, borrowed from a shepherdess named Phebe.

Portia – The heroine of The Merchant of Venice has it all – she’s wealthy, wise, and loyal.  She also manages to disguise herself as a lawyer and saved her beloved’s best friend.  Despite widespread admiration for the character, the name isn’t often used.

Perdita – A lost princess in The Winter’s Tale, and also the mama dog in Disney’s 101 Dalmations.

Rosalind - She’s another princess with problems.  The witty, pretty Rosalind is the central figure in As You Like It.

Viola - She’s twin sister to Sebastian, their misadventures detailed in Twelfth Night.

Names for Boys

Balthasar - One of the Bard’s go-to names, appearing in at least five different plays.

Caliban - Yes, he’s a villain.  The deformed, crazed son of a witch.  But with names like Calvin and Callahan attracting attention, all sharing the great nickname Calsomehow I want us to consider Caliban.

Cleon – Marina’s foster-father in Pericles, Prince of Tyre.  A little bit out there, but if your neighbors are calling their kids Homer, Cleon might work for you.

Corin – A shepherd in As You Like It, and a name that feels wearable in our Aiden-Logan-Carson age.

Crispin – In Henry V, the king is readying his troops to face the French at the Battle of Agincourt.  His famous speech is known as the St. Crispin’s Day speech, taken from the feast day.  The most famous line is “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers,” a phrase you’ll almost certainly recognize.  So while this name doesn’t tie to a character, it has a great connection to the play.

Duncan – Yes, there are doughnuts.  And yo-yos.  But Duncan remains a great Scottish heritage choice, and the late king in MacBeth.

Edgar – He’s the good son in King Lear, the loyal son of the Duke of Gloucester.

Edmund – Edmund is Edgar’s resentful younger brother in King Lear, and his ambitions set many of the play’s tragic events in motion.

Horatio - Better known as the hero of a series of novels about a Royal Navy captain, there’s also a Horatio in Hamlet, a steadfast friend to the Danish prince.

Lysander – From A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lysander is Hermia‘s beloved.

Orlando - Orlando, Florida.  Orlando Bloom.  And the admirable romantic hero from As You Like It.

Richard – Shakespeare borrowed this name from history, worn by no fewer than five Richards to appear in his various plays.

Romeo - Once an extreme name, today the Beckhams and a handful of fictional characters have made Romeo seem more approachable.  Before he was half of literature’s most famous pair of doomed lovers, he was a nod to the eternal city of Rome.

Titus - Another name often used in Shakespeare’s play, a mix of literary and historical appellation.

And a footnote: what about Shakespeare as a given name?  Literary heroes like Tennyson, Keats, and Hemingway have graced the modern birth announcement.  How ’bout this one?  Daughter Judith actually did name one of her sons Shakespeare, but he didn’t survive to adulthood.   Census records report that a handful of men have been given the name in the US in the late 1800s and early 1900s.  Still, today it feels too much – almost like naming a child Einstein.

What do you think of the names on the list?  Which ones have I forgotten?  Which ones would you use?

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