Most of us have been there, in the midst of high school English, struggling to understand one of English Literature’s most notable play-writes: William Shakespeare. We attempt to read the ‘iambic pentameter’, while possibly getting huge question marks flashing in our heads. But as we put the words together, piece by piece, we (maybe) begin to appreciate the poetry in it all. Sound familiar?
Potential confusion aside, it turns out Shakespeare uses some absolutely gorgeous names for his characters. And with over 38 plays and even more sonnets, there are plenty of names to choose from. Vetted and chosen, these are some of the most beautiful, most unique (and just plain cute)baby names that he has incorporated in his literary work. Some names were already in existence and some he actually invented himself as first names. Others were already used in another form and he tweaked them for his preference, so they would fit nicely in a particular play. Regardless of how they came to be, here are 20 of Shakespeare’s best (and totally steal-worthy) baby names from his famous plays.
This beautiful name is from the Shakespeare play The Comedy of Errors and will steal your heart. Adriana is the feminine form of Adrien, which is from the Latin Adriānus (from the city of Adria). In French, it is spelled Adrienne and means dark one.
In Shakespeare, Adriana is most notable for her observations about a woman’s role in marriage, her lamentations over her lost love, and her obdurate loyalty in the face of what she believes to be adultery. She is a character that is very true to herself and her own beliefs, almost to a point of being stubborn about it. She fights for what she sees as good and right, a trait any girl would be lucky to have. Variations of Adriana include Adrian, Adrianna, Adrianne. Some great abbreviations would be Addi, Adri, or Anna.
This steadfast name is from several of Shakespeare’s plays that focus on the British Monarchy in Elizabethan times. The name Henry is a German baby name that has been highly adapted by the English speaking world as well as the French form (Henri). In German, the meaning of the name Henry is ‘ruler of his household’. With a meaning like that, it is no wonder there are a lot of famous kings in history with the name.
If you like the name, your little one will be following in the footsteps of royalty: Prince Harry, the second son of Charles Prince of Wales is actually named Henry (Harry being an abbreviation). At one time, Harry was so popular for English men that the phrase "Tom, Dick and Harry" was used to refer to everyone. Other well-known Henrys include: Henry Huggins (character in children's books by Beverly Cleary) and actor Henry Winkler ("The Fonz").
Toby is from Shakespeare’s comedy Twelfth Night and what a character to give this name to! Toby Belch is the female protagonist’s free-loading uncle and the ring leader of a little crew of party animals. He parties 24/7, drinking, eating, singing, and dancing his way through this play. His love of being festive and his rebellious attitude embody the spirit of Twelfth Night festivities, which were all about indulgence and the inversion of social order.
Although this name sparks a bit of literary controversy with his rebellious attitude, it is cute for a baby boy. Toby is a shortened form of Tobias, from Tobiyah, meaning "God is good" (from the Greek towb, meaning "good" and yahweh, the Hebrew name of "God"). Out of the English speaking world, this name is the most popular in the United States, and has weaved in and out of the top 50 most popular boys' names in the past decade.
Diana is from Shakespeare’s All's Well That Ends Well and is also the name of the Roman goddess of hunting and the moon (possibly derived from the Greek name Dionysius, which comes from the name of the Greek god of wine, Dionysos). The goddess Diana has a great gift for loyalty, and is skilled at resolving conflict.
In the play, Diana is the young, virginal daughter of a widow. A man tries to seduce her, but she ends up tricking him into sleeping with another female character. Diana's character gives voice to the sixteenth and seventeenth-century idea that a young woman's virginity is a kind of "treasure" or "jewel" to be guarded and protected at all costs. She is a big fan of being loyal to your husband, and although this obedience is not very exciting for readers, it is a great moral trait to possess. This is also another royal name, held by the late Diana, Princess of Wales (William and Harry’s mother).
This beautiful name is derived from the Greek word Khyryseis meaning "gold". People with the name Cressida are known to be mature and sensible. They enjoy creature comforts, and may have an artistic flair but dedicate themselves to the common good.
In the play Troilus and Cressida, Cressida is depicted as quite the promiscuous character. We can't deny that Cressida uses her beauty and sexuality to try to get the upper hand with the male characters – and we don’t really blame her because Cressida is basically being sold off to an enemy army as though she has no will of her own! It’s no wonder she uses her body to break free from the confines of her social prison. At a time when women were treated like objects being traded for things – Cressida helps highlight the ridiculousness of this notion with her character’s behavior.
This cute name was originally a pet form of Robert but has been standing on its own as a first name for centuries. It is a Norman name, originally from the Germanic hrod, meaning "fame" and berhtl, meaning "famous" or "bright".
This name comes up in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream, one of my favorite plays. Let me break the plot down for you: Girl meets boy. Girl falls in love with boy. Girl loses boy when mischievous fairy (our Robin character) sprinkles love "juice" on boy's eyelids, making him fall for another girl. Girl wins boy back (with the help of a little fairy magic again). Robin’s character in the play is derived from Elizabethan folklore, Puck (a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow) is a household sprite who, depending on his mood, plays tricks on people or helps them out with their chores. So, Robin, loving a practical joke, messes with the main characters’ love lives but then fixes them again at the end. Well done!
Other notable Robins include Robert the Bruce, a King of Scotland and British singer Robbie Williams. Although Robin was known to be a boy’s name in Shakespeare’s day, it has developed into a unisex name and used by both boys and girls today.
From the Latin olive, meaning “olive tree”, Oliver has been one of the most popular baby boy names of the last decade, appearing in the top 10 and on several occasions, and one year it has actually held the top spot. Oliver is from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, a play about cross-dressing women, a professional jokester and weddings galore (no, this isn’t another episode of Maury). Oliver is a pretty jealous character in the play, representing the “bad witch” figure from fairy tales.
Although his Shakespearean character isn’t the greatest, I love this name because I have a certain soft spot for the underdog, especially the “witch” variety (you’ve seen Wicked, right?) Other Olivers include the title character of the Charles Dickens novel Oliver Twist and Oliver Hardy, one half of the much-loved comedy duo Laurel and Hardy. Cute nick names could include Olly and Olive.
This beautiful name is from the Latin rosa, meaning "rose" and is a great variation of the name Rose in itself. In Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, Rosaline is one of the play's protagonists – she’s kind of a truth-teller, is also smart, funny, and has a dark side. In fact, many people believe Rosaline to be a reflection of the "dark lady" addressed by the speaker of Shakespeare's sonnets (and this "dark lady" is thought to have been Shakespeare's mistress – oh the scandal!)
Rosaline has the rare linguistic ability in the area of witty banter and is one of Shakespeare’s most notable female protagonists in all of his plays. Rosalines in literature are known for their enthusiastic and happy spirit that makes them great fun to be around. Cheerful and open-minded, they also often have a great sense of humor.
Marina is a feminine form of the Latin name Marinus, meaning “one of the sea” and has always been a personal favorite of mine. It is from the play Pericles and Marina is the Daughter to Pericles and Thaisa. The interesting thing about this character is that she’s had it pretty bad (she's born during a storm, in the middle of the ocean – hence the name "Marina”, lost her parents and ends up in a brothel).
When Marina finds herself living with a bunch of creepy guys who try to force themselves on her for money, she fights back and refuses to be taken advantage of. Marina is known for her ability to take a stand and instead of being passive; she proceeds to ruin the brothel’s business by preaching how wrong it all is. ‘Atta Girl’! Any girl would be lucky to be named after such a strong female character.
Dennis is another name that comes from the Greek name Dionysius, the Greek god of wine, Dionysos (from the Greek dios, meaning "of Zeus" and nysa, the name of a legendary mountain). Dennis is a minor character in As You Like It and he is a servant in the household of Oliver de Boys (the aforementioned character). Dennis is a wonderful name for a baby boy.
In numerology, people with this name have a deep inner desire for travel and adventure, and want to set their own pace in life without being governed by tradition. Sounds pretty fun to me! This name is also pretty unique right now: in the United-States, Dennis held the 511th spot in 2016 in terms of name popularity, and it reached its highest ranking ever in 1949 when it held the 16th spot. A notable Dennis is the title character of the popular comic book “Dennis the Menace”.
Curtis is a name from Sheakespeare’s Taming of The Shrew, a play made popular a decade or so ago by the movie 10 Things I Hate About You, staring Heath Ledger. This play features an overprotective father trying to shelter his daughters from the “bad boys” out there. Although Curtis is only a servant in the play, he often furthers the plot by discussing the shrewish relationship that Kate (one of the daughters) and her love interest have as they bicker and fight with one another. It’s all in sort-of good fun though because (spoiler alert!) the pair ends up together.
Curtis is a cute boy’s name and is originally an English surname, from the French courtois, meaning "courteous". You likely know the name well as it is held by American actor Tony Curtis, who acted in over 100 films. The name Curtis is another good option for parents wanting to avoid popular given names, ranking only 563rd in the United States in 2016.
Desdemona is a character from the play Othello. She is a beautiful, young, white, Venetian debutante. And she's a total Daddy's girl... until she falls head over heels in love with Othello, an older man of color and an outsider in society. She refuses to marry any of the rich, handsome Venetian men that everyone expects her to marry. Instead, she elopes (gasp!) with Othello, to the shock of her father. This is a pretty gutsy move—Desdemona not only defies her father's expectations (that she marry a white man of his choosing) but she also stands up to a society that largely disapproves of interracial marriages.
Although the character of Desdemona is pretty epic, the name Desdemona in Greek means “misery” or “unlucky”. Despite the rather dark meaning, I love the name for its place in Shakespearean literature and it has a beautiful sound to it. Not to mention, there are tons of cute abbreviations: Dez, Dessie, Desdie, and Mona, just to name a few.
The name Elizabeth is a Greek baby name, from the Hebrew Elisheba, meaning either “oath of God”, or “God is satisfaction”. In the Old Testament, Elizabeth was mother of John the Baptist. One of the earliest known bearers of this name was Queen Elizabeth, who is not only the character in the play Henry VIII, but she was the reigning monarch when Shakespeare began writing plays. In the play, the character Elizabeth is a mere infant (but as previously mentioned, she grows up to be none other than Queen Elizabeth I).
Elizabeth is also the name held but the current Queen of England, Elizabeth II, who has a whole Netflix show about her with The Crown. And speaking of Netflix, Elizabeth is also the full name of “Betty” on the hit series Riverdale. In fact, my favorite thing about this gorgeous girl’s name is that it has so many variations and abbreviations. I particularly love Eliza, Lizzie, Elyssa and Bethany, to name a few.
The name Brandon is an English baby name that also comes from Shakespeare’s Henry VIII. In English, the name Brandon is originally derived from a surname and place name based on the Old English for 'hill covered with broom’ (broom being a type of weed or plant). The name Brandon in Henry VIII was after Charles Brandon, a real person in history who Shakespeare incorporated into his play. Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk and 1st Viscount Lisle, was the son of Sir William Brandon and Elizabeth Bruyn. Through his third wife Mary Tudor, he was brother-in-law to Henry VIII, King of England.
The name Brandon has a bit of a Celtic ring to it but is truly more Anglo-Saxon than Celtic in origin. This is a sturdy boy’s name, especially for the sports fans: hockey player Brandon Prust and Basketball player Brandon Jennings both share this name. You may also recognize the name in Hollywood, held by Brandon Routh from Superman Returns.
The name Lennox is a Gaelic baby meaning ‘lives near the place abounding in elm trees’. This name is from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, also known as “The Scottish play”. Lennox doesn’t have a massive role but he accompanies Macbeth’s enemy and then switches sides and joins Macbeth’s court – but is soon aware that Macbeth did some pretty bad stuff. He still stays with Macbeth at first, and brings him the news about the enemy, and then eventually deserts Macbeth and sides with another enemy who invades Macbeth’s court (some pretty heavy stuff).
Despite this play having a lot of gory moments, I absolutely love the name Lennox because it is very unique – it was only the 444th most popular name in the United-States last year. This name could also have some cute abbreviations like Len, Lenny or Nox. The name is also made famous by Annie Lennox, sporting it as a surname.
The name Audrey is an English baby name that is derived from the Old English name Aethelthryth, meaning noble and strength. Audrey is from Shakespeare’s As You Like it. Audrey is a country bumpkin-ette looking for love. When she's not busy herding goats, she's getting cozy with her love interest. Sparks definitely fly and there is definitely some PG-13 action that goes on.
I adore this name because it’s feminine but still has a strong sound to it. It also has a very famous barer: Audrey Hepburn who is known for her work in several films including Breakfast At Tiffany’s. There are also a couple of interesting variations on the name, if you’re looking to keep its root but add a bit of a flare to it as with Audra, Audrie, Audrina.
This is a beautiful name with a less than beautiful meaning. Portia comes from the Latin Porcia, a feminine form of Porcius, an old Roman family name probably derived from porcus (a pig, a hog). I know, not the best sounding, right? But I did find that another meaning for this name is “an offering” (much nicer), which could be because livestock was commonly used as currency for trade back in ‘the days of ye olde’.
In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia is rich and hot, which makes her the most eligible bachelorette in her town of Belmont. As the play develops and we see Portia in action, it becomes pretty clear that our girl is both smart and cunning – winning points as a namesake on the literary side.
A notable celebrity with this name is also Portia deRossi, Spouse of Ellen DeGeneres, who was most recently in the series Scandal but is known for her work on Ally McBeal, where she won a Screen Actor’s guild award – a pretty awesome accomplishment.
I absolutely love this name but a note on the spelling: if you want to name your child Regan, and pronounce it "Ray-gan", then it is more common to spell the name ‘Reagan’ (and maybe a little bit easier to recognize). The name Regan is both a baby boy and baby girl name and comes from the Celtic origin. The meaning of the name Regan is “Regal”. We don’t know exactly where the name came from but it could have been originally from the Irish surname O’Regan.
Regan is from Shakespeare’s King Lear and is the younger (and potentially less wicked) of Lear's two evil daughters. She is slightly more passive and more likely to get men to do her dirty work for her, than to do it herself like her older, meaner sister – cue evil laugh. Other notable Regans include former US President Ronald Reagan. The name was never very popular in the past but is rising through the ranks and was the 97th most popular baby name in the United States in 2016.
The name William is another Royal name sported by none other than William, Prince of Wales (who is coincidentally going to be a dad, again). The name means "strong-willed warrior” and is of Old-German origin but became popular in English after the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
William comes from Shakespeare’s play As You Like It and his character is the country bumpkin who is in love with none other than Audrey (who we saw before). When William comes to visit Audrey, who was already well on her way to shacking-up with her lover Touchstone, Touchstone makes fun of him for being simple and tells him to get lost – or else. William's not a bad guy and he certainly doesn't want any trouble, so he left an admitted defeat in the girl department.
I love this name for its cute abbreviation or possible alternative name: Liam. Other well-known Williams include several kings of England and U.S. presidents, William Shakespeare (the star of our article), Bill Gates, and actor Will Smith.
Ariel is a biblical name meaning a ‘light or lion of God’. It is also an Archangel name: the Archangel of Healing and New Beginnings. Ariel is the magical spirit in Shakespeare's The Tempest, who is usually portrayed as female today, but historically has been seen as either/neither sex. Ariel is notable for his/her use of white magic in the play, but also for his/her empathy and goodness. These traits are lacking in some of the play's human characters, and Ariel's feelings only highlight this fact.
I love this name for a baby girl and was also a big fan of The Little Mermaid when I was young, which only adds to the enjoyment. Ariel was ranked 140th on the popularity scale in 2016, making it only somewhat popular and a good option if you also love the similar but more popular name Aria, but don’t want your daughter to have 10 others with the same name in her class. Variations and abbreviations include Arielle, Ari, and Elle.
Sources: BabyCenter, Shmoop, SheKnows, OurBabyNamer
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