Shakespeare baby names have charted in the US Top Ten – think of Jessica and Olivia. The good news: more gems await discovery!
William Shakespeare innovated with language, shaping the English we speak today. No surprise his work brims with amazing names.
All of the names feel wearable, though they range from the familiar, to the seldom-heard, to the way out-there. Besides given names, a sprinkling of place names made their way onto the list, too. But a word of warning: some of the Bard’s best names attach to villains.
For this list, I’ve skipped the classics, and the names that seem so closely linked to history that they don’t feel like Shakespeare baby names. And yet, I’m sure I’ve overlooked some that deserve a spot on this list.
If you’re seeking a literary choice, Shakespeare baby names make a great place to start!
Two minor characters answer to the name. There’s an Adriano, too. If you’re after a mainstream choice for a son that still feels literary and romantic, Adrian hits the mark.
Romantic, elaborate Adriana appears in The Comedy of Errors. While her character isn’t especially memorable – she’s a nagging wife – the name has flourished. Used in many European languages, though sometimes with a double ‘n’ and sometimes with a single, Adriana caught on in the US during the 1960s, and peaked in use around 2006. Today, Adriana has given way to Ariana, but it remains a name rich with Italian style.
Regal Alfonso dropped a letter to become Alonso – or Alonzo – in several romance languages. It’s the name Shakespeare gives to the King of Naples in The Tempest. For parents naming children today, Alonso’s o-ending is a bonus, and the ‘z’ spelling is even more appealing.
Antony appears on historical characters in the Bard’s works, too, but it is Antonio that Shakespeare uses five times. He’s The Merchant of Venice, as well as playing important roles in four other plays. Doubtless its popularity in the US right now is thanks to parents seeking a boys’ name that works in Spanish as well as English. But it’s a handsome, literary option for any family.
As You Like It took place in the Forest of Arden, a name borrowed from a real woodland in Warwickshire. It was the surname of Shakespeare’s mom, Mary, suggesting that she – or her family – originally came from the area. It works well for boys or girls, but entered the US girls’ Top 1000 in 2015, following other unisex, literary surname names like Harper up the charts. Arden makes a tailored, subtle nod to Shakespeare, a choice that feels effortlessly timeless and just the tiniest bit romantic.
The Bard borrowed this name from the Old Testament, where Ariel was another name for Jerusalem. It translates to “lion of God,” a fierce meaning. The playwright bestowed it upon an airy sprite in The Tempest, relying more on the sound than the meaning. It’s used for men in modern Hebrew, and thus you’ll hear it as masculine in the US today. But most American Ariels – and Arielles and Ariellas – are girls, thanks to the lasting popularity of Disney animated movie The Little Mermaid.
A country-dwelling shepherdess in As You Like It, Audrey came from an older medieval name, Etheldred. It’s hard to imagine that name catching on today! But Audrey conjures up all the Hollywood glam of screen legend Audrey Hepburn. That makes this name doubly stylish – and quite popular, too.
Balthasar served as one of the Bard’s go-to names, appearing in four different plays. It’s traditionally associated with the Magi, the kings who visited the newborn Jesus. Actor Balthazar Getty helped make it more familiar as a given name, but neither the ‘s’ or ‘z’ spelling has ever cracked the US Top 1000. Still, if Sebastian can make the Top 100, is Balthasar so unthinkable?
Some Shakespeare baby names attach to minor character. They’re literary, sure, but not especially memorable. But Beatrice? Beatrice belongs on the list of the very best female characters the Bard created. She’s capable, accomplished, and mature. Almost an anti-Juliet. And she still features in one of his most enduring romances, Much Ado About Nothing. She and Benedick even have a happily ever after. The name sounds like the character – strong and fearless. A bonus? It’s doubly literary, since Dante first made the name immortal in The Divine Comedy, and the meaning is great: happy or blessed.
The younger sister in The Taming of the Shrew, the lovely and popular Bianca can’t settle down ’til big sis Katharina finds true love. It’s yet another Italian name embraced by the Bard. In this case, Bianca is cousin to the French Blanche and Spanish Blanca. It means fair, as in beautiful – exactly what we’re told about the younger sister. All ends well, and both Katharina and Bianca marry the men they love. It’s a strong, distinctive name, one that fits with favorites like Arianna and Gianna, but still stands out.
At least half a dozen plays include a Caius, some historical, but others invented just for their plays. Doctor Caius, in The Merry Wives of Windsor, may have been inspired by a real-life physician named John Caius; but there’s also Caius Ligarius, a historical figure who conspired with Brutus against Caesar. This name could wear well today, in our age of Kai and so many ancient boy names ending with s.
Sure, this name belongs to a villain. In The Tempest, he’s the deformed, half-mad son of a witch. But if you can overlook all that, it sounds quite current. Bonus: it shortens to friendly nickname Cal. I’m not sure that’s enough to overcome the literary associations, but for bold namers, it might be worth the risk.
This is the name of Caesar’s wife, a character in the historical Julius Caesar. It also belongs to a minor character in To Kill a Mockingbird. That makes this name doubly literary, and yet it’s never really found favor as a girls’ given name in the US.
Camillus has been around for ages, an ancient name worn by an Italian saint. That explains Camillo, the spelling Shakespeare used for a Sicilian nobleman in A Winter’s Tale. While that spelling doesn’t chart in the current US Top 1000, the Spanish form – Camilo – does, along with the feminine Camila, currently a Top 25 favorite.
Faithful friend to Rosalind in As You Like It, Celia is the daughter of the Duke. It tends to get mixed up with the more popular Cecelia, but Celia has an origin all its own – the Latin caelum, heaven. It comes with potential nickname Cece, and has a nicely familiar, but seldom heard, style.
The Italian and Spanish form of old Roman name Claudius, Claudio belongs to Hero’s beloved in Much Ado About Nothing. He’s handsome, young, maybe a bit hot-headed, but ultimately ends well. There’s a second Claudio in Measure for Measure, too.
In Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Cleon is foster father to Marina. It’s a borrowing straight out of the ancient world; there’s a notable Athenian general from around 400 BC by the name, plus a sculptor and a few other notables. George RR Martin uses the name for a king in A Song of Ice and Fire, but the character is only mentioned in the television series. If you’ve met kids called Homer, maybe this one is for you.
Cordelia teeters on the edge of the current US Top 1000, in one year and out the next. In some ways, it feels lacy and Victorian. But Cordelia has the heart of a lion. First, she’s Lear’s loyal daughter in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Second, it’s similar to the Late Latin name Cordula – literally meaning heart. Shakespeare borrowed the name from Geoffrey of Monmouth, so it’s possible there’s another Celtic source for the name. Today it feels like so many elaborate favorites, as well as Top 100 Cora, but remains nicely under the radar.
A shepherd in As You Like It, Corin feels wearable in our age of Logan, Mason, and Colton. It comes from Quirinus, an ancient name given to a god of war, as well as a few early saints. CS Lewis also used it for a character in The Horse and His Boy. That’s a double literary pedigree, a stylish sound, and yet almost no one is using this name.
If not for the Toyota, Cressida might have been a major hit in the US. Chryseis appears in The Iliad, but her romance with Troilus comes from medieval writers. Boccaccio and Chaucer both told their story; so did several others. By the time Shakespeare penned his tragedy, her name had been whispered into its current form. It feels nicely British – think of Cressida Bonas, a socialite, model, and former love interest of Prince Harry. Now that it’s no longer in production as a car, perhaps it’s time to reconsider this Shakespearean gem.
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. It’s a cool Cris- name that is virtually unused in the US, though actor Crispin Glover makes it slightly more familiar.
Shakespeare wrote about the King of the Britons, opting for this smooth and sophisticated sounding name rather than the more authentic Cunobelinus. The character is male, but the name sounds more like traditional feminine choices, from Sybil to Clementine. Based on a historical figure, -belinus comes from a Celtic word meaning bright, and was once the name of an ancient sun god. It’s almost unknown as a given name in the US, but it might make a daring middle.
One of those ancient names with modern swagger, Demetrius was worn by saints and kings over the years. It makes this list thanks to a trio of characters from various plays.
If Juliet and Ophelia seem stylish, why not this tragic Shakespearean figure? She’s every bit as famous, the ill-fated wife of Othello. Maybe it’s that her name literally means doomed, or maybe the sound just isn’t quite current. But we love long names for girls, so never say never.
A Roman goddess, Wonder Woman’s alter-ego, and a royal family name, too – what’s not to love about Diana? The Bard borrowed it for a character in All’s Well That Ends Well, and the goddess herself appears in Pericles, Prince of Tyre.
Sure, you might hear a doughnut joke or two. There are the yo-yos to consider. But overall, Duncan makes a great Scottish heritage choice. It’s the name of two Scottish kings, as well as the late king in Macbeth, which is why you’ll find it on this list.
In King Lear, Edgar is the loyal son of the Duke of Gloucester. In the 900s, it belonged to a King of England, but the name has fallen out of use in royal circles. Instead, it brings to mind writers (Allan Poe, Rice Burroughs) as well as another literary figure from Sir Walter Scott’s writings. But Shakespeare’s Edgar is worthy, a figure who conducts himself honorably in the midst of so many treacherous plots. The names remains in use – in fact, it’s far more popular than I expected! – but feels more antique than classic today. Still, as with so many names in style limbo, they can make great choices – traditional, but seldom heard, and ready to feel fresh and interesting once more.
In many ways, Edmund is just as traditional as Edgar, and suffers from the same antique status that marks both names as out-of-favor. But it’s also true that Edmund has potential, a name so old-school that it’s almost turned the corner to feel cool once more. Edmund is another character in King Lear, but not an admirable one. (Though he eventually does the right thing.) In fact, his ambitions set many of the play’s tragic events in motion. Plenty of other historical Edmunds appear in various plays, too.
Like Arden, Elsinore appears only as a place name – the setting for Hamlet. That makes it literary and romantic, but also dark. Still, Elsinore leads logically to nicknames like Elsie and Ellie. It makes an intriguing middle name substitute for stand-bys like Elizabeth or Eleanor. Visit Denmark today, and you’ll go to Helsingør to see Kronborg Castle, but it’s widely accepted as the model for the enduring tragic play. There’s even an annual Shakespeare Festival held on the castle grounds.
The similar-sounding Amelia ranks higher, but Emilia has devoted fans, too – in fact, this name is racing up the Top 100. Three characters answer to the name in different plays. Perhaps the best known is Iago’s wife in Othello. Though Emilia Clarke of Game of Thrones fame probably gets credit for this name’s recent surge in popularity.
Ferdinand falls in love with Miranda in The Tempest, which is not an easy path. The name reads royal in several European countries, but in the US, it’s the Spanish Fernando that ranks far higher. Could it be because we all think first of Munro Leaf’s pacifist bull from the enduring children’s story?
I’d call Ford an Americana baby name, and a rising modern favorite. But I’m surprised to add it to this list. Still, Master and Mistress Ford are central characters in The Merry Wives of Windsor, so I think it fits.
Helena ought to be more popular, but maybe the multiple pronunciations gave parents pause. She’s the star of All’s Well That Ends Well, and there’s another Helena, too, as well as several Helens. Actor Helena Bonham Carter might be the best known bearer of the name, but we know more for her blockbuster performances, like Bellatrix LeStrange, which isn’t exactly Shakespearean.
Long before this name belonged to a powerful, world-saving Muggle-born witch in the Harry Potter tales, Hermione reigned as Queen of Sicily in The Winter’s Tale. She’s virtuous and beautiful, and while she suffers, Hermione wins out in the end. That’s more than enough to make this name feel richly literary, and even more reason to consider it for a daughter.
British singer Myleene Klaas chose the name for a daughter a few years ago, and American actor Terrence Howard gave it to a son in 2016. It feels like too much name at first, but in an age of Messiah and King, is there any such thing? Myth and literature further anchor this name. Legend gives us the doomed romance of Hero and Leander. Then Shakespeare gave us another tragic tale of Hero and Claudio, but saves it with a last-minute switcheroo and a happy ending. All of this makes it feel much more wearable for a daughter.
There’s British admiral Horatio Nelson, whose statue stands at the heart of London’s Trafalgar Square. And the twentieth century gave us daring Royal Navy officer Horatio Hornblower, in a series of tales set during the Napoleonic Wars. But our Horatio comes from Hamlet. He and the prince were classmates at university, and he serves as a trusted friend and confidante during all the tragic events. Hamlet addresses him often: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamed of in your philosophy.” Spoiler alert: He’s the only one to survive to the end of the play. With names like Arlo and Milo so in favor, bright and handsome Horatio might make an unexpected, but quite stylish, -o ending name for a son.
This names pops up in Henry VI, Part 3 thanks to a historical figure. But Shakespeare chose it three other times. I think of it as an overlooked classic.
Long embraced by the British and overlooked by Americans, Imogen makes for an unexpected, and very wearable choice. She’s a character in Cymbeline, based on a legendary figure named Innogen. The subtle spelling switch is often assumed to be a typo, possibly by early printers. But it’s possible that Shakespeare intended it that way, as he frequently tinkered with names. Speaking of tinkering, Americans did embrace Imogene in the 1920s, but today, it’s almost unknown.
Jessica is more mom-name than baby name today. That’s because it peaked at #1 in the 1980s, a spot it held into the 1990s. Along with Ashley, it’s one of those names that defines the decade. Still, it will almost certainly make a comeback in another eighty years or so. The Bard borrowed it from the Old Testament Iscah or Jescha. In The Merchant of Venice, she’s Shylock’s daughter.
Could this be the next Olivia or Jessica, a Shakespearean name destined for the Top Ten? Maybe. Though the two competing spellings do make it tough to gauge the name’s exact popularity. The name appears in two plays: Measure for Measure, and, of course, Romeo and Juliet. In the latter, arguably the most famous play of Shakespeare’s many works, Juliet is beautiful, well-born, so very young, and madly in love. Things end badly, but somehow, we manage to overlook all that. Because this name is just too gorgeous to ignore! A spin on the traditional Julia, Juliet is currently more popular than ever before – and Juliette ranks even higher.
The daughter in Titus Adronicus, Shakespeare’s Lavinia suffers a gruesome fate. The whole play is a gory story of revenge, and yet Lavinia has a pretty, Victorian feel to her. Pre-Shakespeare, Lavinia featured in Roman legend as the wife of Aeneas. More recently, Lavinia appeared on Downton Abbey as the name of Matthew’s ill-fated fiancee, Lavinia Swire. While it’s nearly unknown today, it was used with some regularity a century ago. With so many -ia ending names in favor, Lavinia might fit right in.
Like Ford, Lennox does’t immediately feel at home on this list. But Lennox appears as a thane in Macbeth. With that stylish ‘x’ ending, this surname name is a fast-rising favorite today.
Thanks to Hollywood leading man DiCaprio, this long name for boys has become quite the favorite. There’s just one character by the name, a servant, in The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare also used Leonato, Leontes, and Leonatus. But since this feels the most wearable, I’m putting Leonardo on the list.
We love Lucas, Luca, and Luke, but Lucius? So far this ancient name remains outside the US Top 1000. Maybe that’s because it’s a go-to name for the villainous – or at least the misunderstood. I’ve counted six in various plays.
We love Alexander, but Lysander? In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, he’s Hermia’s beloved, but parents have mostly skipped this name over the years.
Malcolm is the good guy in Macbeth, the rightful heir to the throne. That makes this traditional choice solidly Shakespearean. Plenty of other figures reinforce that imagine, from Firefly’s noble space cowboy Malcolm Reynolds of Firefly fame, to writer Malcolm Gladwell. I like the latter’s description of the name best: sturdy, forthright.
Mary and Anna feel rather spare, but Mariana is more than the sum of both. Shakespeare uses this name twice, in Measure for Measure and All’s Well That Ends Well. Despite that literary pedigree, this feels like one of the less obvious possibilities.
It’s possible that Shakespeare didn’t really write Pericles, Prince of Tyre. Or maybe he only penned half. Regardless, I’m including Marina here. Shakespeare innovated, but he also borrowed. It appears in this case he borrowed the character from an English poet named John Gower. But the name? Pure Bard. The character is born at sea, and he might have chosen Marina because it comes from the Latin phrase meaning the same.
Prospero’s pretty daughter in The Tempest, Miranda is yet another Shakespeare baby name that has enjoyed considerable popularity. It ranked in the US Top 100 in the 1990s. It also feels rather 90s thanks to another phenomenon – long-running HBO series Sex and the City, which debuted in 1998. Miranda Hobbes, one of the four friends at the center of the series, was the smart, hard-charging lawyer. The name comes from the Latin word mirandus means admirable or wonderful, a great meaning for a child’s name.
You know her as Mistress Quickly, the innkeeper’s wife from Henry IV, Part 1, Henry IV, Part 2, Henry V, and The Merry Wives of Windsor. But Nell is her first name. She’s not the type of character likely to inspire parents, exactly, it’s fun to add a literary layer to this traditional nickname for so many lovely choices. In our age of mini names, like Mia and Ava, it’s possible that Nell might work as an independent given name, too.
For every chart-topping Jessica, there’s a seldom-heard Nerissa. Shakespeare created this name for The Merchant of Venice. She’s Portia’s servant, and accompanies her to court. It’s theorized that the name comes from the Greek sea god, Nereus, and the Nereids, or sea nymphs, he fathered. The name isn’t unknown, but it’s never cracked the US Top 1000.
The fairy king from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oberon doesn’t seem so outlandish in an age of Anakin and Khaleesi. It’s a moon of Uranus, which puts it in the company of Orion and other celestial choices. And speaking of Orion, O name for boys, like Oliver and Owen, are white hot. Despite these factors, the name remains rare. Though it was given to a new high of 19 boys in 2017.
I’m sure more than one Jessica has named her daughter Olivia, maybe even without realizing that they were keeping Shakespearean names in the family. Long and lovely, Olivia was introduced in Twelfth Night, possibly based on the word for Olive, or maybe Oliver – which doesn’t have anything to do with the tasty little fruit. While it’s been used for years, Olivia is enjoyed a peak of twenty-first century popularity.
With Olivia ranking so sky-high, no surprise another borrowing from the Bard is rising: Ophelia. On the downside, it’s a name deadly-wedded to the phrase “mad scene.” But it’s a lovely sound, and an appealing meaning – help. Another factor? Into the 1950s, it was routinely used as a girls’ given name, meaning there are plenty of non-tragic Ophelias out there. One of them is the heroine of 2006 dark fantasy film, Pan’s Labyrinth – though it’s spelled Ofelia in the Spanish-language movie.
Sure it’s a place in Florida, known best for theme parks. But many years before Walt Disney ever picked up a pencil, Orlando developed as the Italian form of Roland, a character made famous from medieval legend. Shakespeare chose the name for his admirable romantic hero in As You Like It. Modern parents probably think of actor Orlando Bloom, but he’s not the only one. With o-ending names for boys so stylish, this might wear well.
Another Twelfth Night name, Shakespeare’s Orsino is the Duke of Illyria. The story is a romantic comedy, with lots of bumbling and mistaken identity. He speaks the famous line, “If music be the food of love, play on.” The name comes from the Latin word ursus, meaning bear. Lots of names are related, like Ursula. But there’s something subtle about Orsino.
She’s a lost princess in The Winter’s Tale, and also the mama dog in Disney’s 101 Dalmations. In both case, the name seems appropriate. Perditus means lost in Latin. In the case of the puppies, they get lost; in Shakespeare’s play, it’s Perdita herself who goes missing. The name has never been common.
Shakespeare set many a tale in the ancient world. Pericles, Prince of Tyre was probably written by others. About half of the work is credited to the Bard of Avon. And yet, that’s enough to earn it a place on this list. If we love Atticus, maybe the equally ancient Pericles works every bit as well? Bonus: cute nickname Perry.
Bright and shining Phoebe fits right in with all of the Zoe, Chloe, and Penelope names parents love today. It belonged to a moon goddess in ancient myth, and later was associated with Artemis. The name appears in the New Testament, too. But it makes this list thanks to another rustic maiden from As You Like It. The shepherdess isn’t exactly a household name; in fact, parents might first think of Charmed’s Halliwell sisters or Friends’ quirky Phoebe Buffay. Regardless, it’s more popular today than ever before.
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. Maybe that’s because it sounds an awful lot like the sports car, the Porsche. Or maybe parents object to the meaning – it comes from the Latin word for pig. But I think this is one to reconsider, the name of a smart and accomplished literary heroine, immediately familiar and yet seldom heard.
I’m not sure you should name your son Puck. It’s a legendary character from English folklore, a mischief-making sprite. The character Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream is shaped from that tradition. A handful of figures have answered to it as a nickname: reality star David Rainey, of MTV’s The Real World fame. (Hint: he’s a notorious villain.) And Glee gave the nickname to a football player-turned-singer, real name Noah Puckerman. But it’s really not quite enough a name.
Before you shout that Regan was stolen from the boys, consider this: in King Lear, Regan belongs to a princess, a scheming daughter of the ill-fated king. It likely has Celtic roots, though today, we’ve mixed it up with Irish surname Reagan, as in the 40th US president and the tortured girl in The Exorcist. Because it’s so similar to Megan, it feels appropriate on a daughter. But it shares enough in common with popular boy names that I think this one feels unisex, even if it remains more popular for girls.
Puck appears earlier in the list; he’s also known as Robin Goodfellow, both in English folklore and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My guess is that few think of this name as expressly Shakespearean. After all, it was a traditional nickname for Robert, and an 80s favorite for girls. There’s Batman’s sidekick, too. But it still has at least a shimmer of literary credibility.
Once an extreme name, today the Beckhams and the Baldwins have embraced the tragic romantic figure. Before Romeo was one-half of literature’s most famous pair of doomed lovers, the name was a nod to the eternal city of Rome. With a bold sound, and that vibrant ‘o’ ending, it’s easy to imagine why parents might find the name appealing. Nickelodeon gave the name to a sitcom; rapper Lil’ Romeo scored hits early in the 2000s. It’s gone from grand, dramatic choice to relatively mainstream – and all sorts of stylish.
Another princess with problems, the witty, pretty Rosalind is the central figure in As You Like It. There’s also Rosaline, briefly mentioned, but never seen, in Romeo and Juliet, and a character in Love’s Labor Lost. We’re wild for Rose names today, but Rosalind is one of several remaining outside of the current US Top 1000. It has the same tailored, feminine appeal of more familiar classics, like Eleanor and Margaret, making it a great candidate for families seeking traditional, but still uncommon, choices.
There’s the patron saint of athletes, and Disney’s singing crab. Add to that list Viola’s twin brother in The Twelfth Night, initially believed drowned at sea. It’s become quite popular in the US, ranking in the current Top 25. It’s big internationally, too. That doesn’t take away from the name’s literary pedigree, but it might suggest that not everyone choosing Sebastian for a son has read the play.
While the ‘y’ spelling is far more popular, it’s Silvia that mothered twins Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome, and Silvia that Shakespeare imported to England. In The Two Gentlemen of Verona, Silvia is daughter to the Duke. While it’s not one of his best-known and or most highly regarded plays, it’s still generally considered the reason we hear the name in English. Though there was a sixth century Saint Sylvia, mother of Pope Gregory the Great, which made the name popular elsewhere in Europe.
In Pericles, Prince of Tyre, Thaisa is the title character’s wife, believed to have died in childbirth while at sea. Instead, she survives. It’s a form of the Greek name Thais, and it’s become popular in Brazil in recent years – though it’s completely unknown in the US. Most seem to pronounce it ty-zah, which has some appeal.
She’s the fairy queen in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, her name almost certainly taken from Ovid. The ancient writer used it to refer to the daughters of the Titans, the gods who preceded Zeus and company. It brings to mind the Russian Tatiana, both names that sparkle with a pretty, shimmering quality. If you love your girl names rare and on the long side, Titania might appeal. Thanks to the literary figure, many other fictional figures, especially fairies, also answer to the name.
My guess is that parents choose Titus because of the New Testament character. Or maybe a few like the fact that it’s another ancient Roman name, worn by a handful of emperors. And while the meaning isn’t certain, it’s often associated with “title of honor,” an appealing concept. But there is, indeed, a Titus in the Bard’s works. Titus Andronicus is a tragedy about a Roman general. It’s gory and the story isn’t a happy one. But the literary association remains.
Ursula is a minor character in Much Ado About Nothing, maid to Beatrice. But it’s one more reason to revive this name, freeing it from the clutches of Disney’s villainous sea-witch. A traditional choice popular in medieval England, Ursula caught on thanks to a favorite story about a fourth century martyr. Like Orsino, it comes from the Latin ursus, for bear. While it appeared in the US Top 1000 most years into the 1980s, the Little Mermaid villain pushed it out of favor for a generation or more.
This name makes us think of hearts and flowers, thanks to the February holiday named for Saint Valentine. It comes from the Latin valens – healthy. But it makes this list because of The Two Gentlemen of Verona’s Valentine, one of the young lovers caught up in the events of the play.
Twin sister to Sebastian, their misadventures detailed in Twelfth Night, Viola strikes the right note between rare and familiar. While it doesn’t appear in the current Top 1000, Violet and plenty of other V names do – that makes me think Viola would fit right in. It’s a musical name, of course, though the instrument is pronounced slightly differently. In Latin, it means violet, so that makes it a botanical choice, too. Given all of these positives, it’s surprising that the name hasn’t made the US Top 1000 since the early 1970s.
And a footnote: what about Shakespeare as a given name? Literary heroes like Tennyson, Keats, and Hemingway wear well. How ’bout this one? His daughter Judith actually did name one of her sons Shakespeare, but he didn’t survive to adulthood. Today it feels a little bit too much, sort of like naming your kiddo Einstein. But maybe it has potential as a literary middle?
What do you think of the names on the list? Which ones have I forgotten? Which ones would you use?
Originally published on September 28, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on October 15, 2018. Additional updates took place on November 10, 2020; October 3, 2022; and July 18, 2023.