What's In a (Shakespearean) Name?

What's In a (Shakespearean) Name?

[image description: a young woman in a black vintage military jacket holding an old, blue-covered copy of a Shakespeare book in front of half her face.]

April 23rd was quite a day in Shakespeare’s life, considering that it’s both his birthday and his death day.

Love him or hate him, his influence and contributions to English literature are undeniable. And you’ve probably met at least a handful of his leading ladies over the years. Ever wonder how they got their names? It turns out that even if you don’t know much about Shakespeare, if you know a little Green or Latin you can learn a lot about what these leading ladies were like.

I borrowed this infographic from Invaluable to help explain the subtle genius of the Great Bard.

[image description: An infographic on how Shakespeare’s female characters got their names. The text reads: Cordelia. King Lear (1606). Origin: Celtic and/or Latin. Meaning: heart, daughter of the sea. The name is adapted from Queen Cordelia, the second-ruling queen of pre-Roman Britain. Cressida. Troilus and Cressida (1609). Origin: Greek. Meaning: golden. The name Cressida is derived from the tale of the eponymous Trojan heroine, which was told by Baccacio, then Chaucer, and later, Shakespeare. Desdemona. Othello (1604). Origin: Greek. Meaning: unlucky, ill-fated. Othello refers to Desdemona as his “ill-starred wench” before taking her life. Juliet. Romeo and Juliet (1597). Origin: French. Meaning: youthful. The name underscores the youthful innocence of fourteen-year-old Juliet. Katherina. The Taming of the Shrew (1623). Origin: Greek. Meaning: pure, virginal. The meaning of the name Katherina refers to the “shrew” in the title of the work, and any lady of the era not yet wed. Ophelia. Hamlet (1609). Origin: Greek. Meaning: help. The name is fitting for a tragic character who commits suicide due to irrational behavior by her lover, Hamlet. Portia. The Merchant of Venice (1605). Origin: Roman. Meaning: pig, female advocate or barrister. The name signifies a brilliant, spirited character and was even used by American statesman John Adams to address his wife, Abigail, in letters. Rosalind. As You Like It (1603). Origin: Old German. Meaning: beautiful rose. The name Rosalind reinforces the character’s beauty and strength, while her alter ego “Ganymede” comes from a Greek myth about the Prince of Troy to represent the prestige of a young, desired man. Titania. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1605). Origin: Greek. Meaning: great one. Shakespeare adapted the name Titania from Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses, in which the alias was given to the proud and worthy daughters of Titans.

[image description: An infographic on how Shakespeare’s female characters got their names. The text reads: Cordelia. King Lear (1606). Origin: Celtic and/or Latin. Meaning: heart, daughter of the sea. The name is adapted from Queen Cordelia, the second-ruling queen of pre-Roman Britain. Cressida. Troilus and Cressida (1609). Origin: Greek. Meaning: golden. The name Cressida is derived from the tale of the eponymous Trojan heroine, which was told by Baccacio, then Chaucer, and later, Shakespeare. Desdemona. Othello (1604). Origin: Greek. Meaning: unlucky, ill-fated. Othello refers to Desdemona as his “ill-starred wench” before taking her life. Juliet. Romeo and Juliet (1597). Origin: French. Meaning: youthful. The name underscores the youthful innocence of fourteen-year-old Juliet. Katherina. The Taming of the Shrew (1623). Origin: Greek. Meaning: pure, virginal. The meaning of the name Katherina refers to the “shrew” in the title of the work, and any lady of the era not yet wed. Ophelia. Hamlet (1609). Origin: Greek. Meaning: help. The name is fitting for a tragic character who commits suicide due to irrational behavior by her lover, Hamlet. Portia. The Merchant of Venice (1605). Origin: Roman. Meaning: pig, female advocate or barrister. The name signifies a brilliant, spirited character and was even used by American statesman John Adams to address his wife, Abigail, in letters. Rosalind. As You Like It (1603). Origin: Old German. Meaning: beautiful rose. The name Rosalind reinforces the character’s beauty and strength, while her alter ego “Ganymede” comes from a Greek myth about the Prince of Troy to represent the prestige of a young, desired man. Titania. A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1605). Origin: Greek. Meaning: great one. Shakespeare adapted the name Titania from Ovid’s poem Metamorphoses, in which the alias was given to the proud and worthy daughters of Titans.

Who’s your favorite leading lady in Shakespeare’s plays? Tell me in the comments!

I was quoted in Publishers Weekly!

I was quoted in Publishers Weekly!

On Instagram Poetry and the Poets Who Write It

On Instagram Poetry and the Poets Who Write It