Concerning the Name

by Josh Mittleman
known in the SCA as Arval Benicoeur

©1998 by Josh Mittleman. All rights reserved

Last updated 15 July 1998

The name Miranda was invented by William Shakespeare for a character in his play "The Tempest", which was first performed about 1611. The name is a Latin word meaning "worthy to be admired" [1].

We have found no evidence that Miranda was used as a given name before this date. The first example we could find is in England in 1687; it appears again in New England in the 19th century and became somewhat popular in Britain and the United States in the 20th century [1].

We did find a single example of the name Admiranda in 1231-32, derived from Latin for "admired" [5]. There was a brief period, roughly 1200 to 1250, when there was an English fashion for coining fanciful women's names. By and large, these inventions didn't survive, and Admiranda was one of the unsuccessful ones.

Miranda is used as a surname in Iberia, derived from one of at least two place names: There is an ancient city Miranda de Ebro on the river Ebro in northern Spain and another Miranda do Douro on the river Douro in Portugal [2]. Miranda is a form of the verb mirar "to look (at)" and probably meant something like "look-out point" or "watchtower". We find the surname as Antonio de Miranda in 1531 and Bastiam de Myranda in 1533, both in Portugal [3]. However, we find no evidence that this surname was used as the basis for a given name: The re-use of surnames as given names is extraordinarily rare in both Spanish and Portuguese.

Mirande is a city in southern France, derived from the Old Occitan word miranda "watchtower". The place name naturally produced surnames [4]; but again we find no evidence that any of these surnames was used as a given name.

To summarize: Miranda does not appear to have been used as a given name before 1687 and did not come into regular usage until the 20th century.

Notes and References

[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988).

[2] The New York Times Atlas of the World (New York: Times Books, 1983).

[3] Ford, J.D.M., ed., Letters of John III, King of Portugal, 1521-1557 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1931).

[4] Morlet, Marie-Therese, Dictionnaire Étymologique des Noms de Famille (Librairie Acade/mique Perrin, 1997).

[5] Reaney, P. H., & R. M. Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames (London: Routledge, 1991; Oxford University Press, 1995), p.xl, cited from the Kent Feet of Fines.