Prompted by a post on Elsie, Emily of Word Cake suggested this literary place name.
Our Baby Name of the Day is Elsinore.
Before you declare this one way too over the top to ever consider, here’s a surprise: US Census records indicate that women have been named Elsinore over the decades. How many? Not enough to chart in the Top 1000, and no more than five in 2009, but more than a handful.
William Shakespeare gets credit for fixing Elsinore in our collective memory as the setting for his tragic masterwork Hamlet. Head to modern day Denmark, and you’ll be visiting Helsingør. It is, in every respect, as Shakespeare wrote about it, and a castle fit for a troubled prince stands there, near the water.
The castle is called Kronborg, and it merits a place on UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites roster. The designation is not just because Kronborg is the setting of Shakespeare’s tale, but also for its status as an important Renaissance castle.
Time your visit right, and you may actually be able to see Hamlet performed at Kronborg. It doesn’t happen often, but occassional performances have been staged in recent years, most recently in 2009, when Jude Law took up the role of the Prince of Denmark.
Shakespeare was a great borrower, of course, and Hamlet’s roots begin with a medieval Danish story, exported in a more modern form in the 1500s, and eventually interpreted by the Bard around 1600. At the time, Helsingør was a big deal in international shipping. Shakespeare could have visited the area – even the castle – and we know that plenty of actors in his troupes made the trip. Even if he never set foot in Denmark, he certainly would’ve heard about the city and its impressive fortress.
Elsinore is referenced in plenty of other places, from 1983 cult comedy classic Strange Brew to the work of Danish writer Isak Dinesen.
None of this makes Elsinore a likely option for a girl’s name. The meaning is straightforward – hals means narrow. You can visit Helsingborg in Sweden, just a stone’s throw across the strategic straight of Øresund. Elsinore was likely in use as the city’s English name before Shakespeare cemented it in our memories.
Parents have borrowed plenty of names from the pages of Shakespeare’s plays: Gertrude and Ophelia from Hamlet, as well as Jessica, Juliet, Portia, and more. But it is Elsinore’s sound that places her in their company. She’s quite close to Eleanor, and not too far away from Elisabeth.
It makes for one of those compromise names that appeal to many parents. Elsinore is literary, truly unusual as a given name, and yet familiar at the same time. Nickname options range from Ellie and Elsie to Nora, all of which would fit right in circa 2011. She’d also fit in with a cluster of girls’ names that are sensible, feminine, and yet quite tailored. Think of Evelyn and Caroline, or the British Imogen. They are lady-like names, with a certain backbone. Elsinore may be truly unusual, but she fits right in.