Study Guide

A Note on Names in Richard II

By William Shakespeare

A Note on Names

What's in a Name?

You probably noticed that a lot of characters in this play have multiple names, which can make things pretty confusing. So before we get to our Character Analyses, let's talk about why that is.

Here's the deal: members of the English nobility were named after the land their families controlled. For example, John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster is often called "Gaunt" (where he was born) or "Lancaster" (the land he controls and that is supposed to be passed down to his son when he dies). Think of it this way. Let's say your name's "Sam" and you were born in Oakland but you own all the land in San Francisco because you inherited it from your dad. Your official name is "Sam of Oakland, Duke of San Francisco" and your friends call you either "Oakland" or "San Francisco" for short. Get it?