Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Names Shakespeare Didn’t Invent: Imogen, Olivia, and Viola Revisited

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Sara L. Uckelman (2018) Names Shakespeare Didn’t Invent: Imogen, Olivia, and Viola Revisited, in Names

DOI: 10.1080/00277738.2018.1490518

by Sara L. Uckelman Durham University, Durham, England

Published online: 29 Oct 2018


Just as Shakespeare’s plays left their indelible stamp on the English language, so too did his names influence the naming pool in England at the beginning of the 17th century and beyond, and certain popular modern names are often described as inventions of Shakespeare. In this article, we revisit three names which are often listed as coinages of Shakespeare’s and show that this received wisdom, though oft-repeated, is in fact incorrect. The three names are Imogen, the heroine of Cymbeline; and Olivia and Viola, the heroines of Twelfth Night. All three of these names pre-date Shakespeare’s use. Further, we show in two of the three cases that it is plausible that Shakespeare was familiar with this earlier usage. We conclude by briefly discussing why these names are commonly mistakenly attributed to Shakespeare’s imagination, and the weaker, but not mistaken, claims which may underlie these attributions.

Keywords: Imogen, literary names, Olivia, Shakespeare, Viola

Author information

Sara L. Uckelman works at Durham University and is the editor-in-chief of the Dictionary of Medieval Names from European Sources. Her interests include the personal and place names of pre-1600 Europe, as well the effects of medieval naming practices on contemporary fantasy fiction.

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