What’s in a Name

Every month, we like to go through the character names to see if we can find a key to unlock some meaning in the play. As You Like It is no different.

We’ll start off with the more simple and straightforward names and move into the complex and more meaningful.

William comes from Old German, meaning “determined protection.”

Corin comes from Latin, meaning “spear.”

Charles comes from the Old German origin, meaning “free man.”

le Beau is from French, meaning “handsome; admirer; sweetheart.”

Senior as a name has an Old French origin, meaning “lord,” but the word has come to mean “older.”

Silvius appears In Roman mythology as the son of Ascanius, and his son, Brutus, was the first king of Britannia.

Amiens is a possible variant of the Latin name Amyas, meaning “loved.” It could also be an anglicized version of Amadeus, or the masculine version of Amy, both of which may be derived from the French region Amiens.

As we noted earlier in the month, Jaques is a variant of both Jacques (French) and James via Jacob (Hebrew), meaning “he who supplants.”

Hymen appears In and from Greek mythology, as the god of marriage ceremonies, known for feasts and song (no surprise there, given that As You Like It has more songs than any other Shakespeare play). Note: the vaginal membrane meaning did not come into usage until 1615, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (“hymen, n; 2″; OED Online. Oxford University Press, June 2014. Web. 25 July 2014).

Frederick has Old French and Old German origins, meaning “peaceful ruler.” Ironic, perhaps?

Adam is from Hebrew, meaning “earth,” and was the first man in the Bible. Fitting for the oldest man in the play.

Phebe is Greek for “good to speak,bright, radiant.” Phoebe was also one of the original Titans in Greek mythology, traditionally associated with the moon. The moon is a common Shakespearean shorthand for changeable or inconstant, which can be seen in her easy and quick infatuation with Ganymede.

Audrey is Old English for “noble strength.” St. Audrey married Egfrid, the child crown prince of Northumbria. Twelve years into the marriage, he wanted his conjugal rights, but she said no because she had dedicated herself to God. Fitting, given our Audrey’s “not-a-slut” self-image.

Touchstone, according to the OED, means

1. a. A very smooth, fine-grained, black or dark-coloured variety of quartz or jasper (also called basanite n.), used for testing the quality of gold and silver alloys by the colour of the streak produced by rubbing them upon it; a piece of such stone used for this purpose


b. fig. That which serves to test or try the genuineness or value of anything; a test, criterion
  • “touchstone, n; 1a and b”
    OED Online.

Is this the clown/fool by which all future ones should be measured?

Orlando is the Old German variant of Roland, the reckless but courageous knight of the epic poem The Song of Roland. Reckless and courageous? Works for me.

Oliver comes from the Latin for “olive tree,” a symbol of Biblical/divine wisdom. Interestingly, Oliver appears in The Song of Roland, as Roland’s closest friend. Interesting link with to Orlando… but best friend is a bit of a stretch. And the play’s other Oliver, the curate, has the last name Martext, a gag about the mangling of words.

Celia is also from Latin, meaning “heaven.” Would any other location than heaven be worthy of complaint by her?

Rosalind comes from a Latin phrase meaning “beautiful rose.” No disguise can hide her beauty.

The meanings of the two “disguised” names, because of their chosen nature, carry more weight:

According to Homer, Ganymede was the most beautiful of human, so it is no surprise that Zeus abducted him (in the form of an eagle). The OED defines a ganymede as

1. A cupbearer, a youth who serves out liquor; humorously, a pot-boy.
2. A catamite (which is defined as “A boy kept for homosexual practices; the passive partner in anal intercourse”)
  • “ganymede, n; 1a and b”
    OED Online

Rosalind’s Ganymede is constantly referred to as “pretty” but not handsome. And her name is also a joke: to the Elizabethans, who knew all-too-well definition #2 above, this would mean that she would look like an effeminate homosexual youth.

I had thought that Celia’s chosen name of Aliena was just a simple allusion to the word “alien,” which according to the OED meant

A. adj.: 1.a. Belonging to another person, place, or family; not of one’s own; from elsewhere, foreign.
B. n.: 1. a. A person who does not belong to a particular family, community, country, etc.; a foreigner, a stranger, an outsider.
  • “alien, adj: A1a; n: B1a”
    OED Online

However, what I didn’t know was that Aliena comes from the Greek Alina or “sun ray.” If Celia knew her name meant “heaven” (as she probably would have, with an aristocrat’s classical education), I wouldn’t find it surprising that would choose a name that reduced heaven to a single ray of sunshine (as one might exist in a forest).

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