The Name "Ophelia" - Appropriation & Commercialization

Though not explored in detail here is how familiarity with the Ophelia icon has led to the name "Ophelia" acquiring its own power and popularity. Derived from the Greek οφελος (ophelos) meaning "help", the name was probably first used by the 15th-century poet Jacopo Sannazaro for a character in his poem 'Arcadia' (see, the website Behind the Name). It was then borrowed by Shakespeare. In spite of its associations with insanity and suicide, and in spite of the potential for teasing derived from its pronunciation ("I feel ya" and "Oh feel ya"),  it has been a moderately popular first name since the 19th century and is still a name commonly given to females. Facebook, one of the most popular of all the Web 2.0 sites, lists over 500 members with the name Ophelia. In most instances, the name is simply a female first name. In a number of instances, however, the name is used to disguise a member's identity, leading one to wonder why this name has been chosen and whether the name is being used for an avatar. A search of MySpace reveals a similar pattern. The virtual world Second Life, where one can create an avatar and interact with others, has many "Ophelias," although few display any overt link with Shakespeare's character. As might be expected, the name is also used for pet animals (particularly cats) and birds. For some lists of appropriations of Ophelia, see the relevant article in Wikipedia.

Even the world of blogging has its Ophelias, one striking example being the use of the name by Raelinn Schmitt, who comments on wines. At the head of her blog page is a delightful version of Millais's Ophelia. In one raised hand the semi-submerged Ophelia ("a mad woman in love with wine") holds a bottle of Merlot and in the other a glass of the same.

[Reproduced by permission of Raelinn Schmitt. Photography by Geneva Stegall]
     In addition, "Ophelia" is a name that has been appropriated for book titles, or her image has been used on book covers. She is an important character in Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, for example, and she is an acknowledged presence, through the mediation of Millais's painting, in poet Natasha Trethewey's Pulitzer Prize-winning Bellocq's Ophelia (2002). This last is a verse narrative inspired by the early 1900 E. J. Bellocq photographs of prostitutes in the red-light district of New Orleans.


music CD titles and music groups, 



The name has often been used in connection with projects concerned with female adolescence. Indeed, the name "Ophelia" has become code
terminology for teenage girlhood and the troubles of female adolescence. Ophelia's House in Washington (D.C.), for example, provides a "safe space for teen girls to obtain support to advance in school, become leaders and role models in our communities, and eliminate the factors that threaten success…a place by, for, and about young women."
    The name has also been used for hurricanes in 2005 and 2011, for the second innermost known moon of Uranus, one of the smaller moons in the solar system, and for an asteroid (171 Ophelia). The name has been used for towns (Ophelia, Virginia, and Ofelia, Alabama), for streets, and for houses. Above all, however, it is a name appropriated by commerce.[1] There are restaurants, wine bars, inns, perfumes, shoes, lingerie, bed linens, china patterns, jewelry, furniture, glassware, lighting fixtures, a wallpaper pattern (by Graham & Brown of Cranbury, New Jersey), and (ironically) a Florida swimwear boutique that use the name, many of the businesses in question having their own websites and a presence on Facebook. What such commercial enterprises presumably hope to express are some of the positive qualities associated with the Ophelia icon as it has now become: beauty, serenity, purity, femininity, and a certain unthreatening erotic attractiveness, masked in a comfortable familiarity. As might be expected, commercial appropriations of the name completely ignore any hint of the inner turmoil often associated with girls in their teens. Obviously, too, there is no place either for madness or death.

A Sampling of Commercial Appropriations

Things to wear:

 [gown based on Pre-Raphaelite painting of Ophelia by Waterhouse]

This was part of an installation where in October 2010 Paolo Roversi reworked Millais's painting as part of a fashion show in Paris. Ophelia was wearing an embroidered kimono piece from the Japanese label Miharayasuhiro's S/S 12 collection. See,

Things for the House:

Places to Stay: [restaurant and inn]

Places to Eat and Drink:

Chocolate: [advert for Wild Ophelia Chocolate] (accessed 4 July 2012)

Publishing Companies: [Ophelia House] [Ophelia Press, publisher of erotica]

Type Font:

Scandinavian Ferry:

A Dating Site:

A Sampling of Some Non-Commercial Appropriations

Names for Pets:

Variety of Rose:

[1]Carol Solomon Kiefer in an introductory essay briefly mentions this phenomenon in The Myth and Madness of Ophelia (Amherst: Mead Art Museum, 2001), 11.