Have you seen the preview for the new take on Romeo and Juliet? My daughter has been intrigued to see some Shakespeare (he’s gotten a lot of rave reviews from my husband and me!), and while I was thinking that Midsummer Night’s Dream might be more palatable to a tween, this might be just the ticket. Which of course, got me thinking about some of the awesome names that Shakespeare peppered throughout his plays—especially for his female characters. We’ve done bigger roundups of Shakespearean names in the past (check out the boys’ names and the girls’ monikers), but some of the names on those lists aren’t exactly going to be playground friendly. (We’re looking at you, Hamlet!) So what names would still sound fresh and fun—and showcase your love of the bard? Here’s my list.
Balthasar appears in several plays, including Romeo & Juliet—usually as a servant or minor character. It’s a name that means “God protects the king,” and could be an intriguing, off the beaten path choice.
Beatrice is an up-and-coming name now, and is one of the sharpest Shakespeare’s heroines (from Much Ado About Nothing). Plus, it’s a name that means happiness, so what can be bad about that?
Bianca is the beautiful younger sister of the sharp-tongued Katherine in Taming of the Shrew. Her name is based on the Italian word for white, and is in the top 400 in popularity.
Cordelia is a name I still associate with the mean girl turned Scooby Gang member in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but Shakespearean types remember her as the faithful daughter of King Lear. It’s a name that means heart, and hasn’t been in the top 1000 in the U.S. since the 1950s.
Duncan means dark warrior, but in MacBeth, he’s the unfortunate victim of MacBeth’s plot to gain the throne. It’s been on a sharp decline ever since it hit its peak in 1997, but it might make a nice alternative to Dylan or Declan.
Edmund is a nice alternative to Edward, and means protector. It was used for one of the villains in King Lear—and is featured in two of the historical Henry plays.
Emilia is Iago’s wife in Othello, who unknowingly plays a part in his sinister plot—and pays for it with her life. The name means rival, and is yet another variant on the uber popular Amelia/Emily crew.
Francis seems destined to be dusted off, thanks to the new pope, the new show Reign—and its Shakespearean pedigree. Francis appears in two plays: He’s one of the foolish band of players who perform Pyramus and Thisbe and the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the friar in charge of Hero and Claudio’s wedding in Much Ado About Nothing. Francis means “free man.”
Helena is one of the pair of lovers in A Midsummer Night’s Dream—and also the heroine of All’s Well That Ends Well. It’s a lovely name that means bright and shining, and is currently inching toward the top 500 baby names.
Henry probably doesn’t need any more help reaching toward the top names—it’s currently in the top 50 and climbing. The inspiration for Shakespeare’s most famous set of historical plays, the Henry IV pair and Henry V, the name means, appropriately enough, ruler.
Hermione may be well known thanks to Harry Potter, but Shakespeare used it first, as a main character in A Winter’s Tale. The name means messenger.
Hero may seem like a boys name, but Shakespeare used it for a girl in Much Ado About Nothing. It’s a lovely name that means “demi-god,” for either sex.
Imogen, which means beloved child, is a red-hot name in England, but still not as well known here. Shakespeare has her as a heroine in Cymbeline.
Juliet really needs no introduction—and her lovely name, which means “youthful,” is currently #253.
Shakespeare spells Katherine/Katharine two different ways in his plays—he uses Katherine spelling, however, for his most famous heroine bearing the name—the feisty lady in The Taming of the Shrew. This timeless name means pure.Malcolm is currently a top 500 boys’ name, meaning “follower of St. Columba.” This is the prince who becomes king after MacBeth kills his father.
You may think Sex and the City when you hear the name Miranda, but it’s a lovely name from The Tempest that means marvelous, and is currently in the top 250 names in the country.
Nerissa’s another witty Shakespearean lady—Portia’s maid in The Merchant of Venice. Her name means “of the sea.”
Ophelia is Hamlet’s doomed love, who drowns after a wicked-good monologue. It’s a name that means “help,” and might make a nice alternative to the overused (though equally Shakespearean) Olivia.
Orlando was the romantic lead in Twelfth Night, bearing a name that means “famous.” Swashbuckling actor Orlando Bloom may have helped give the name a fresh wave of cool—it’s currently in the top 500 baby names for boys.
Portia may have a lot of people thinking she’s named after a luxury car, but the regal Portia was a savvy heroine in The Merchant of Venice. The name means doorway, and hasn’t been in the top 1000 names since the early 1990s.
Puck doesn’t seem like a name that’d work nowadays, but thanks to Glee’s Noah “Puck” Puckerman, perhaps it has a shot. It’s the nickname for the mischievous sprite Robin Goodfellow from A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
Romeo has been a favorite of celebrities for their sons—both the Beckhams and Jon Bon Jovi chose it for their sons. It’s currently in the top 350 baby names in the U.S., and means simply, from Rome.
Rosalind means pretty rose, and was picked by Shakespeare for his sweet heroine of As You Like It. It hasn’t been in the top 1000 names since the 1970s, but with Rose and other floral names hitting the forefront, it’s only a matter of time before it resurfaces.
Sebastian surfaces in two of Shakespeare’s plays—as a hero and one of the main characters in Twelfth Night, and as a baddie in The Tempest. It means person from Sebasta, and it’s currently climbing toward the top of the baby name list. You’ll get bonus points if you pair it with Viola as a sib set (or better yet, a set of twins). Viola is Sebastian’s twin in Twelfth Night, and her name means violet—making it a perfect alternative to the red-hot floral name.
What do you think? Any of the names don’t strike you as “usable?” Did I miss a gem? Share your thoughts in the comments. (And don’t forget to like In Name Only on Facebook to keep up with the latest in baby names.)
Image: William Shakespeare by Stocksnapper/ Shutterstock.com