Much Ado About … Names

Let’s take a look at the names of some of the more important characters in Much Ado About Nothing

Both Dons, Pedro, Prince of Arragon, and John, the Bastard, have common male names, ones of both saints and apostles. The common-ness of the names runs counter to the elevated stature of the men. Since no familial explanation is made of the “bastard” reference, one has to wonder if it’s not the “illegitimate” definition (“bastard, n.; 1a” OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 13 September 2014.), but rather the more war-like definitions of “a kind of war-vessel” or “a species of cannon” (“bastard, n.; 6 and 7, respectively” OED).

The name of Conrad, Follower of Don John, comes from the Germanic: kuoni meaning “brave” and rad meaning “counsel.” Interestingly, it’s Conrad who suggests to John not to “make full show of (his villainy) till (he) may do it without controlment” (I.iii.17-8).

On the other hand, the other follower of Don John, Borachio is not a counselor, but rather a borracho, which is Spanish for “drunkard.” Borachio even makes a reference to his name when he says that he is “like a true drunkard” (III.iii.104).

The other major family’s eldest member is Antonio (Leonato’s elder brother), another reference to a saint, St. Anthony (the Great), known as the father of all monks. Kind of fitting, as he acts as the “father” of the hidden (think monastic) “daughter.”

The root of Leonato, Governor of Messina, is Leon which is Greek for “lion.” More importantly, the name is taken from the source material of Bandello.

The name Beatrice, Niece to Leonato, comes both from viator, Latin for “voyager, traveler” and beatus, Latin for “blessed.” As she has never married, she has never settled with any man; she is a voyager through life.

The name of Hero, Daughter to Leonato, is a reference to a legendary Greek lover of Leander, who swam across the Hellespont every night to meet her. Leander drowned in a storm and she killed herself after learning of it. The name foreshadows the possible tragic aspect of the character’s love with Claudio; in hindsight, it fits given Claudio’s confusion and drowning in the lies of Don John, and her subsequent “death.”

Margaret, Gentlewoman attending on Hero, comes from the Greek margarites meaning “pearl.” Margaret was also the patron saint of expectant mothers, with an interesting legend of a miracle: she was swallowed by Satan (in shape of dragon) but escaped by use of her cross. The play’s Margaret is swallowed up by Borachio’s scheme, but she escapes punishment because of her (relative) innocence.

Benedick comes from benedictus, Latin for “blessed.” Interesting that both Beatrice and Benedict share a name meaning “blessed,” as they are blessed only by each other.

On the other hand, Claudio comes from claudus, Latin for “lame, crippled.” From a purely 21st century perspective, Claudio is lame, but more importantly, he is crippled by his constant doubt (of both Pedro and Hero).

Dogberry, the constable, is a reference to a plant or bush, nothing of intelligence.

And finally, Verges, the headborough of the watch, comes from the English word, verge, meaning “rod or wand carried as an emblem of authority or symbol of office; a staff of office” (“verge, n.; 4a” OED).

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