‘What's in a Name?’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Amy Gilmore, updated on November 29, 2022

'What's in a name?' is an idiom that dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. It means that while a title or name may imply a specific rank, family, designation, or station, the implied information may not be accurate. 

To learn more about this figure of speech, read through this guide. In it, you will find the definition, background information, usage examples, and writing tips for using this and other popular idioms. 

What Does 'What's in a Name?' Mean?

It is one of the more challenging sayings to define. However, it means that despite a name implying a distinguished rank, title, or association, it is nothing more than a name, and its implication may not be accurate. 

Origin of 'What's in a Name?'

The phrase was written by William Shakespeare in his renowned play, Romeo, and Juliet, during the late 16th century. In the play, Juliet is from the Capulet family and her lover, Romeo, is a Montaque. The two met each other and fell in love, only to realize they were from feuding families who would never approve of their union. 

Emotionally, Juliet says, "What's in a name?' that which we call a rose. By any other name, would smell as sweet." What she means is that her name does not define her. She would be the same person no matter what name she was given. 

In other words, Juliet was saying that her name had nothing to do with who she was. Just as the beauty and aroma of a rose are the same no matter what name you assign it, Juliet was her own person. 

Usage Examples of 'What's in a Name?'

As mentioned, the most famous usage of the term was written by William Shakespeare. However, you can apply the idiom to current situations, too. Here are a few examples: 

  • 'What's in a name?' He has no real talent, but he received favor due to his father's connections. 
  • 'What's in a name?' Having a family name is a blessing if you resonate with your family. For people with a challenging family history, it is a constant reminder that they do not belong.

Similar Sayings

Here are a few other popular idioms you can incorporate into your writing.

'Humble Abode' 

People often greet those visiting their homes by saying, 'welcome to my humble abode.' If someone says this to you, they say their house is modest or unpretentious. Famous author Jane Austen used the term in her book Pride and Prejudice.

'Bearer of Bad News' 

'Bearer of bad news' is a term that describes a person who delivers news that may be challenging to accept.

'Blood Moon'

'Blood moon' is a term people use to describe a total lunar eclipse that causes light from the sun to refract through the Earth's atmosphere and reflect off the moon's surface, causing it to appear as a blood-red color. 

Final Advice on the Term 'What's in a Name?'

'What's in a name' is one of the more confusing idioms. It is not as widely used as more popular sayings like 'shoot your shot,' 'along for the ride,' and 'a gentleman and a scholar.' However, it is a good choice if you want your work to have a Shakespearian feel.

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Written By:
Amy Gilmore
Amy Gilmore is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. She has been a professional writer and editor for the past eight years. She developed a love of language arts and literature in school and decided to become a professional freelance writer after a demanding career in real estate. Amy is constantly learning to become a better writer and loves sharing tips with other writers who want to do the same.

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