Twelfth Night: Names

As we begin our second read-through and deeper dive into Twelfth Night, let’s take a moment and take a look at the names. Some are fitting, some not, some seemingly unrelated at all.

  • Olivia
    the Latin “olive”
    according to some reports, Twelfth Night is the first appearance of the name
  • Viola
    variant of Violet, the flower
    Note: Viola’s name under disguise, Cesario, is derived both from Caesar, and Latin for “head of hair; hairy”
  • Maria
    from the Latin, possibly from “sea,” “male,” or Mars
    or from the Semitic “beloved” or “beloved lady”
    Despite Viola disguising herself as a male, Maria is the most aggressively “male” females in the play, pushing forward the ridiculing of Malvolio; and she is, of course, beloved of Sir Toby.
  • Orsino
    from the Latin “bear”
    Ironic use of name? Or perhaps this is a reference to a Florentine count, Don Virginio Orsino, who visited Elizabeth’s court in January of 1601, which some critics have used as a rationale behind the title of the play (Twelfth Night being the Epiphany, or January 5/6th).
  • Malvolio
    from the Italian “ill will”
    Pretty much sums up the character, just as the name of Romeo and Juliet’s Benvolio’s (“good will”) summed up his.
  • Sebastian
    from the Greek meaning “venerable” and also “awe, reverence, dread”
    variant of the Greek translation of the title Augustus
    Saint Sebastian, a third-century Christian martyr
    Note: Sebastian makes reference to another name, Roderigo, which is derived both from the Germanic for “noted” and the Spanish for “notable leader”
    Did Sebastian call himself Roderigo before the shipwreck, and only after the supposed death of his twin (re)take on the given name of his father?
  • Antonio
    from the Latin family name Antonius
    though there is no true definition, “priceless” and “of inestimable worth” are popular definitions
    Ironic as the character treats Sebastian as if he were priceless, but that care and love are unrequited.
  • Feste
    no clear name derivation, but for the clown/fool, obviously a link to “festive” or “festivity”
  • Toby
    the Middle English variant of Tobias, the Greek version of the Hebrew Toviah, “Good is Yahweh”
    also Scottish Gaelic Tobar Mhoire meaning “Mary’s well”
  • Andrew
    from the Greek “man” meaning “manly”
    Ironic, needless to say.

Of course, these last two are more important for their comic surnames, Belch and Aguecheek (the man has the jaundiced look of a man with malaria),

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