Celebrity Names Blog

Is the Origin of that Name Welsh? Gaelic? Latin? Try Shakespearean.

NCIS star Michael Weatherly and wife Bojana Jankovic recently welcomed baby Olivia, and offered an intriguing explanation for the name: “My wife Bojana is Serbian and her name means war or warrior...And when you give someone an olive branch, that’s an offering of peace so Olivia is peace. I think we have a Tolstoy novel going on now: Mother and daughter, war and peace!”

While the Weatherly-Jankovic family may be happy with their Tolstoy-ian name theme, it was not Tolstoy but another classic author that immediately came to mind when we heard the name Olivia.

Indeed, Olivia isn’t necessarily the derivative of Olive that Weatherly and others believe it to be -- as Baby Name Wizard Laura Wattenberg noted, the name is an invention of one William Shakespeare. Perhaps Olive is how Shakespeare himself thought of the name (although it is just as likely derived from Oliver, whose meaning most likely comes from the Germanic Olaf or "ancestor"), but the character in Twelfth Night was the first time the name’s use was recorded. After all, why wouldn’t the man who brought the English language the words laughable, dwindle, and scuffle be equally as inventive with his character names?

Here are some other well-known names originally invented by the Bard:

Jessica as it’s now written first appeared in The Merchant of Venice, where the name is given to Shylock’s daughter. The name may have been an English version of the Hebrew name Iskah, a woman mentioned briefly in the book of Genesis. Iskah was written “Jeska” in English Bibles in Shakespeare’s day. With Jessica ruling the name charts for majority of 1980s and 1990s, a whole lot of Jessicas can thank the Bard for inspiring their name.

Well before it was the name of a well-loved character on a certain HBO comedy, Miranda was the name of the heroine in The Tempest. It’s believed to be derived from the Latin word mirandus, meaning “wonderful” or “to be admired.” The Oxford English Dictionary still recognizes the adjective “mirandous” as a synonym of “miraculous.”

And if it weren’t for early 17th Century typos, we wouldn’t have Imogen. It’s believed that the Shakespeare intended the heroine of Cymbeline to be named Innogen, a Celtic name supposedly derived from the Gaelic word inghean, meaning “girl” or “maiden.”  Well, two Ns can look an awful lot like one M, and therein Imogen was born. While not particularly popular in the U.S., Imogen is a hit in other parts of the English-speaking world. It’s currently at #30 in parts of Australia and #46 in England.

What do you think of these Shakespeare-invented names? Do any of them surprise you? Have you ever chosen a name from a beloved book? Share your thoughts in the comments.



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April 18, 2012 5:18 PM
By Allison (not verified)

Love the name Miranda. It's lovely. And Jessica is nice as well.

I think Shakespeare was a wonderful name maker. I wonder if people back then mocked his names the way people do with new inventions now?

April 23, 2012 3:55 AM
By NakiChale (not verified)

While the Weatherly-Jankovic family may be happy with their Tolstoy-ian

April 30, 2012 11:57 PM
By C. Andrews (not verified)

Our daughter's name is Miranda Penelope, both from classic literature. But I definitely had Shakespeare in mind with her first name. (I've never seen "Sex and the City" -- the only non-Shakespeare people I associate with the name are singer Miranda Lambert and actress Miranda Otto.)

July 10, 2012 12:11 AM
By One Way Link Builders (not verified)

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July 10, 2012 12:16 AM
By One Way Link Builders (not verified)

Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article

August 10, 2012 5:18 AM
By Faustine (not verified)

The country's history is found in Irish surnames. A history that goes back two thousand years and is full of warriors and heroes, or rather children and grandchildren of warriors and heroes. The four most common names in Ireland refer to the turbulent past and military.

The most common name is "little-dog son of the sea", Ó Murchu, English Murphy. Being a dog of the sea is nothing derogatory, but rather means 'warrior of the sea'. In second place is a family as bellicose as the first, the "grandchildren of the fight," Ó Ceallaigh's, the English O'Kelly. In third place are the "grandchildren of black eyes", the Ó Súilleabháin, the English O'Sullivan. Fourth, to honor Welsh, Breathnach, Walsh's English, which show the presence of Welsh in Ireland, arrived with the Normans in the thirteenth century. In fifth place names the most numerous, the first families 'Mac', that is to say, son, "son of the blacksmith," the Mac Gabhann, English Mc Gowan or Smith.

With the five families above we learn several things about Irish surnames. The Ó means 'little-son', 'offspring', the Mac means 'son'. Irish surnames in there are as many Macs as Ó. Scotland also known as a Gaelic language, we find ourselves in Mac surnames in the country. However, the Scots have not got used typically to refer to Irish grandfather, most of Scottish families are called Mac, Ó is rarely used. Mac and Mc mean the same thing: "son", and are just two different spelling conventions, the Mc is simply an abbreviation of Mac.

Family names are often duplicated, namely Gaelic origin, and English craft. This is explained by the British occupation which lasted for centuries, until in 1921 the southern part, and the enormous efforts made to destroy the Gaelic society. Everything was good to destroy: the ruling classes, the system of government, religion, laws, culture and language. Gaelic names were not spared. They were given either a spelling in English, as McGowan Gabhann for Mac, is an English equivalent, eg Smith, "the blacksmith." In both cases, the English version was often brutal and unsparingly. The Irish have understood themselves the inconvenience of display with a Gaelic name and too many have abolished Ó and Mac. Since the British left the south in 1921 it had a certain return to the original spellings, however most of the Irish continue with what is now a double name, license since independence, while the Irish Republic entitled to two names, one in Gaelic, the other in English.

October 9, 2012 1:31 AM
By Ligia Doan (not verified)

The Oxford English Dictionary still recognizes.

October 15, 2012 12:55 AM
By Maida Sells (not verified)

It’s believed to be derived from the Latin word mirandus, meaning “wonderful” or “to be admired.

October 18, 2012 12:55 AM
By THEPLANNERONLINE (not verified)

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