The Friday Fact

Since we were discussing the name Jessica the other day, would you like to learn some more facts about Shakespearean names? Did you know that in addition to Jessica, Shakespeare also invented the name Miranda (used in The Tempest) and was the first recorded person to use the name Olivia (in Twelfth Night)?

As we learned, Jessica is most likely based on an old Hebrew name, Iskah, which appears in the Bible (and was translated as Jeska in English). It went on to become the most popular name for baby girls in the 1980s and 1990s. Meanwhile, evidence shows that Shakespeare probably invented the name Olivia, perhaps as a feminine version of Oliver, but perhaps not. It too has grown in popularity in the past few years.

Miranda was also invented by Shakespeare, most likely as a name form of the Latin word “mirandus” (lovely) or the Latin verb “mirari” (to admire).

Are these kids named Richard, Elizabeth and Mary or Demetrius, Ophelia and Desdemona?

Shakespeare was obviously a fan of unusual and striking names. Romeo, Juliet, Ophelia, Othello – these aren’t names we necessarily hear all the time today, even if Jessica and Olivia are. Many of his plays are set in countries other than England, particularly Italy, so it makes sense that the names he uses are distinctive, but still, how many Italians named Mercutio were there in the 16th century? It seems that he simply had a flair for the dramatic!

It’s especially funny when we consider statistics like the following – around 75%-85% of babies born in Elizabethan England were named after their grandparents. This means that most little Elizabethans were running around with names like Mary, John, Richard, Katherine, Joan and Robert. Not an Iago in the bunch!


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