Thoughts Story

Thought of the week: What’s in a name?

This week, Artistic Director Michelle Terry, asks this question and reflects on the devastating impact of COVID-19

3 minute read

The quote 'What's in a name?' from Romeo and Juliet is alongside an actress standing strong and looking up

Watching Twelfth Night, Olivia asks Viola how she would cope with a love unrequited. Along with the building of a willow cabin and singing love song ‘loud even in the dead of night’, she would shout out the name of her beloved:

Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out “Olivia!”

The very act of writing the sonnets was a way for Shakespeare to immortalise his love; by writing poems, verse that will exist long after they have gone, ‘Your name from hence immortal life shall have’.

In The Crucible when John Proctor wrestles over whether to sign his name to a confession of witchcraft and save himself from the gallows, he replies: ‘I have given you my soul, leave me my name….Because it is my name. Because I cannot have another in my life’.

In Otsuchi, northern Japan, after their cousin passed away, one resident had the idea of placing a disconnected old phone box at the bottom of his garden. He would ring his cousin’s number and as he spoke to him his words would ‘be carried on the wind’.

When the same town was ravaged by the tsunami in 2004, the phone was opened up to anyone who needed to come and speak to those they had lost:

I have words
That would be howled out in the desert air,
Where hearing should not latch them.

In Julius Caesar they murdered the wrong Cinna.

What is my name? Whither am I going? Where do I dwell? Am I a married man or a bachelor?…. I am Cinna the poet, I am Cinna the poet.

Hitler. Shakespeare. Rosa Parks. Jesus. Florence Nightingale. Martin Luther King. Mother Teresa. Thatcher. Obama. Trump. Juliet. Romeo.

There are 7.8 billion people on planet earth.

That’s 7,800,000,000 names.

The Equality Act 2010 says there are nine protected characteristics; nine things about you that must be protected by law: your age, your race, your religion, your sex, your sexual orientation. It also includes disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, and pregnancy and maternity.

That doesn’t include all of the other things that define who you are: your height, your weight, your shoe size, your relationship with your mother or father, or siblings and children, where you were born, where you live, how you live, who you love, how you love, the fact you were a poet and not a conspirator, your pride about your hair, your refusal to eat anything but ham and cheese sandwiches on white bread, you keep a diary and every birthday card you have ever been sent, your love of lemonade and tinned peaches and your utter disdain for strawberries, your favourite film is Singing in the Rain, your love of robins, your sensitive skin, the mole on your forehead….

This week the UK Office of National Statistics announced that the UK death toll from COVID-19 alone may be closer to 45,000 and rising.

That’s 45,000 names.

Illustration of a bloomed flower

What’s in a name?

— Romeo & Juliet



Each week during the UK lockdown, our Artistic Director Michelle Terry shares her thought of the week.

Using Shakespeare’s language, Michelle reflects on the individual and universal meaning of the words. By giving personal and emotional insight, she uses the quote to relate to, and express, the mood of this uncertain time.


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Thought of the week: Loss and lament

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After the most challenging year in our charity’s history, we still need our supporters to help us recover.

Please donate to help fund the future of Shakespeare’s Globe.