Celebrity Names Blog

Shakespeare Names: The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare Names: The Merchant of Venice
Fame Pictures: A real-life Portia: Portia de Rossi

Last Saturday we took a look at the names of Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, and today we look at The Merchant of Venice.  Though the two plays are running in New York's Central Park, the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park productions tend to get nation-wide exposure -- thanks to the stars (Al Pacino this year) and to the philosophy (it matters that everyone go to the theater, regardless of income, so free tickets).  And thanks, of course, to Shakespeare.  Presidents from Lincoln to Obama have turned to his plays for advice; authors and filmmakers turn to this words for titles (think The Sound and the Fury and What Dreams May Come); and his expressions are everywhere in our daily speech (one fell swoop; what's done is done; it was greek to me; in my mind's eye).  So, we wonder, what does Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice provide for naming inspiration?

The Merchant of Venice


  • Unlikely to be appearing on the charts.  Merchant is perhaps the most infamous of Shakespeare's plays -- given the play's anti-Semitism and how Shakespeare depicts Shylock -- and it's impossible to separate the name from the play and its disturbing discrimination.


  • A strong and sexy name, it also sounds intelligent and commanding.  
  • Not likely to be shortened.
  • Also seen in Julius Caesar
  • 1940s to 1980s made the top 1000 names in America
  • Famous celeb: Portia de Rossi

Bassanio, Antonio, Salerio, Solanio, Lorezno, Gratiano

  • Antonio has long been a popular choice, in the top 1000 American names since the late 1880s.  With more formal and European influenced names on the rise, Bassanio and Lorenzo, in particular, look well-positioned for increased popularity.  Bassanio begins with the unexpected B, and sounds cosmopolitan and classy.  A young Bassanio on the playground could fit right in with a Fabrizio or Sebastian.  In her entry on Sebastian, Baby Name Wizard makes a point that applies to all these names: "elegance has gone mainstream."  
  • Names ending in -o we haven't seen much of lately, and they have a certain panache.  Perhaps because the o sound is, obviously, such an open sound, it brings forth in the speaker a certain openness.  Before you laugh, think of all of Shakespeare's speeches that begin with O!  This sound seems to strike a romantic, sweeping, chord within us.   
  • Nickname potential: Bass, Tony, Sal, Soly, Renzo, Grat


  • A lovely name.  Brings to mind Vanessa and Dorissa.  But the unexpected Ner beginning gives the name a twist.
  • In response to a post on Musical Names, a reader recently suggested the name Nessa.  That'd be a potential nickname for Nerissa.


  • Though Lance is a name we know well, Launcelot seems likely to remain on the stage, not entering our daily lives


  • in the 1980s Jessica was the #1 most popular girls' name in America.  Barely making the list in late 1880s, it then left for awhile, before the dramatic spike to #1.  Currently Jessica is at #78.  Why do you think this name experienced such a surge in popularity, three centuries after Shakespeare wrote this play?  Is it funny to think of it being used commonly in the 1600s, or does it strike your ear as fitting equally well in the 1600s, 1980s and 2000s?
  • Celeb versions: Jessica Capshaw and Jessica Rae Springsteen

So, two questions:

1. What's your favorite?

2. What seems most celeb baby friendly?

3. What name do you hope to see used more frequently, even if it wouldn't be your choice? 



Please do not add links to your comments. Thank you.

July 20, 2010 12:31 PM
By Lara Jane (not verified)

I would say Portia, for sure. It's a beautiful name!

Being the Bard nerd that I am, I love this series so far. My names were chosen from Shakespeare!

July 20, 2010 12:43 PM
By Miriam (not verified)

Umm, Portia is derived from the Latin for 'pig.' Just sayin'....

July 20, 2010 7:08 PM
By Anya (not verified)

Portia in Russian (pronounced POR-tsiya) means "a serving" - of food, trouble, punishment etc. I'd never use it for this exact reason if nothing else. I try to avoid, and advise my friends to avoid using names that might mean smth funny/odd in most popular languages.

My favorite is Lorenzo.

July 21, 2010 3:22 PM
By Holly (not verified)

I know it's common but my favorite is Jessica. The others seem a little...pretentious to me.

July 25, 2010 2:08 PM
By Jessica (not verified)

My favorite is NOT Jessica. My parents weren't thinking when they named me, and now I need to deal with accusing expressions, "Not ANOTHER Jessica," when I introduce myself. People seriously need to think before naming their children.

July 27, 2010 9:07 PM
By Chelsea (not verified)

I actually considered Lorenzo for my baby born in March, with a nn of either Enzo or Renzo. As a kid, I knew a girl named Lorenza, and thought that was such a cool name. I wonder if that will ever catch on.

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