Vintage Shakespearean Names for Girls

Mar 20th 2017

We have Shakespeare to thanks for all sorts of popular names today - from Jessica to Juliet, the Elizabethan author’s influence extends far and wide. But some of his most beautiful names fell into disuse without hope of resurrection - until recently!

These elegant choices have been approved by the Bard, and are starting to gain fans for their unique and beautiful sounds. Check out the following twelve names to inspire visions of literary heroines and turn-of-the-century stars.

Mignon Nevada as Ophelia in "Hamlet," 1910, via Wikipedia

Ophelia. This beautiful name jumped back into the top 1000 in 2015 - perhaps it’s time to revive Ophelia! Though it has long been associated with the tragic heroine, parents today love the sound of this elegant and unique name. Why not reclaim the name for a passionate and strong daughter?

Patience. Virtue names ending in Y rank among current favorites - Serenity, Trinity, Destiny - but returning to Puritan roots can offer more vintage choices. Pretty Patience appeared in Henry VIII, and more recently it’s been reclaimed by geek-chic trendsetter and Hollywood director Joss Whedon for his films and series.

Rosalind. Prominent in Elizabethan poetry, classic Rosalind gained fans in the 1940’s thanks to the lovely and witty actress Rosalind Russell. Parents today may like the -lind ending to differentiate from trendy -lynn, with the adorable nickname Rosie as an option too.

Cordelia. With so many positive traits, it’s a wonder that Cordelia hasn’t become as ubiquitous as Elizabeth or Victoria! There’s the kindly character in King Lear, the endorsement from Anne in Anne of Green Gables, and the plethora of namesakes, from artists to activists, just to begin.

Beatrice. From the Latin for “she who brings happiness,” Beatrice is a literary and cultural powerhouse. Already ranking at #565, Beatrice has roots in Shakespeare and Dante, support from celebrity parents (including Paul McCartney), and a retro, friendly sound without parallel. Nicknames Bea or Trixie stand out, but the long form is absolutely gorgeous.

Viola. While Violet and Olivia rank in the top 100, Viola has yet to catch up in popularity. But this stunning, resolute choice shares sound qualities with both fashionable picks, while maintaining its own attractive personality. Modern actress Viola Davis is another great connection as well.

Phoebe. Many current fans will connect the name to the quirky character in Friends, but Phoebe’s roots go much deeper: from Greek mythology to the New Testament to As You Like It, Phoebe has cemented its style and substance in history. Beyond that, the name is simply appealing and amicable in form.

Helena. Quite popular at the end of the nineteenth century, Helena deserves another look. Graceful and refined, Helena has adorned royalty, athletes, and musicians; though its aura is vintage and feminine, it can work for all kinds of tastes and personalities.

Lavinia. Though it nearly disappeared from birth certificates in the 1990’s, Lavinia’s sophisticated sound and scholarly connections have kept it from obscurity. Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus includes the iconic line “She is Lavinia, therefore must be lov’d” - and indeed, luminous Lavinia has been loved by Shaw, Dickens, Thackeray, Eliot, and Lovecraft.

Imogen. Despite its origins - Imogen was the result of a printer’s misspelling of Innogen - Imogen has become a classic in the United Kingdom, already in the top 50 in England. Americans took to similar Imogene for awhile, but the (semi-) original has more function and flair in today’s world.

Gertrude. For many, Gertrude has been deemed “permanently out,” but its history has helped it stay in the game; even in 2015, twenty-six girls were named Gertrude. Namesakes from all sorts of realms - religious, literary, and political - have given this name an uncommon kind of gravitas and appeal. Perhaps nicknames Gertie or Gigi could keep it viable for the contemporary era?

Paulina. A feminine diminutive of Paul, Paulina is an attractive option that’s never gotten too popular. It’s not far from the melody of Alina or the sounds of Penelope, and could also work as an honor name for a familial Paul or Paula. In The Winter’s Tale, Paulina appears as a virtuous and courageous friend - not a bad connection at that!

For names with a similar style, check out Laura Wattenberg’s Girls Names with Throwback Elegance from January!


March 20, 2017 9:47 AM

Newer scholarship derives Beatrice from viatrix "(female) traveler", which was altered pretty early on to the Bea- spelling, due to association with the adjective beatus "blessed". This is based both on the total lack of evidence for the word "beatrix", and on records that appear to show that Viatrix and Beatrix were names referring to the same woman.

March 20, 2017 8:12 PM

Viatrix! Now there's an awesome name! Someone, please name your daughter this. 

March 20, 2017 9:19 PM

Is that VEE-uh-trix? Because I would definitely guess VIE-uh-tix, despite Via being vee-a. I think that it might be because it reminds me of Vitamix... 

I actually met a baby Paulina very recently. It was a few days after encountering a baby Helen. Despite neither being my personal style, I was thoroughly charmed.

As for a name that is so completely my style that I chose it... While I whole-heartledly agree with the description of Cordelia's many and varied virtues, SHHH. I'd like to keep it rare, here! 

March 20, 2017 11:57 PM

Yes, in Latin the letter 'i' is always the /ee/ or /ih/ sound. (Great English Vowel Shift: i->a, a->e, e->i.) I'm less clear on the syllable stress rules, but it usually sounds OK to me to default to Hungarian style (stress on the first syllable).

March 22, 2017 7:50 PM

I figured. Though as I was rereading my own comment, I realized that I say Via as both vee-a and vye-a. The Canadian train is Vee-a, but I if I'm saying the "by way of" meaning then it's vye-a. No wonder I want to pronounce Viatrix that way. Guess I won't use it for my next kid ;)

April 2, 2017 4:22 PM

I always thought Beatrix was a variation on Beatrice, which was a name coined by Dante? Though I guess "bestower of blessings" and "female traveler" could work equally well as interpretations for the Beatrice character, since she is both of those things in the Divine Comedy. Either way, Dante's Beatrice was always Beatrice and never Viatrice, AFAIK. I'm not even sure the b and v sounds overlap in Florentine Italian the way they do in some other romance language. Also, in most romance languages, you actually pronounce vowels in a specific way (unlike sloppy American English), so the e in Beatrice and i in Viatrix would be quite different sounds, anyway.

By EVie
April 2, 2017 9:16 PM

No, Beatrice/Beatrix wasn't coined by Dante--it predates him by several hundred years. Dante's Beatrice was probably based on a real woman named Beatrice ( Beatrix is the older form, Beatrice the Italian variant (pronounced roughly bay-ah-TREE-chay in Italian). Beatrix probably comes from Viatrix--the B/V shift is a pretty common one (the Greek letter beta was pronouced as a B in Ancient Greek, but is now pronounced as a V in modern Greek--e.g. the Greek island called Euboeia in classical times is now called Evvia). The woman named both Beatrix and Viatrix that HNG was referring to is a 4th century Roman Christian martyr:,_Faustinus_and_Beatrix says "It was a common name amongst early Christians, and the spelling was altered by association with Latin beatus, 'blessed.'"

May 9, 2017 1:37 AM

What, no love for Portia? Fantastic name with great literary history, as well as a modern connection.

May 9, 2017 4:45 PM

Trudy is cute any time. Gertie I'm not so sure about.