A Word By Any Other Name?

So today, Bardfilm and I were talking about Juliet’s famous “A rose by any other name” speech. More specifically, he’s the one who came to me and said “Hey I just noticed something!”

The line is actually “A rose by any other word.”  Not name.  Word.

We compare versions.  Turns out that Q1 has “name”, but Q2-Q4, as well as First Folio, all say “word.”

How odd!  Quick geek check — Google search for “a rose by any other name” shows 1.2 million instances, but for “a rose by any other word” shows only 250k.  That’s backwards.  According to the text, it appears that “name” would have been the first, possibly bad, version – that “word” should be the preferred interpretation.

Thoughts?  Where do you stand on this one? Have you always thought of the line as “a rose by any other word”? If so, does it drive you crazy when people misquote it?

The best I can figure is that “name” shows up like 5 other times in that speech, so this became the accepted modern edit to make it flow nicely.  But it does seem to fly in the face of the actual evidence, particularly First Folio.

8 thoughts on “A Word By Any Other Name?

  1. This is a fraught issue. Read the speech as a whole in each version (Folio, Q1, Q2 onwards). Notice that the most commonly used wording of the entire passage (from "What's Montague?" to "O be some other name!") appears in none of those versions. How legitimate is it to quote that favorite iteration of the speech as "Shakespeare" when it is, by and large, a product of editorial compilation? The substitution of "name" for "word" is just one aspect of that editorial intervention.

  2. Simple – 'rose' is not a proper noun (i.e. a name). The prenominate flower is referred to by a word, not a name.

    Incidentally, the Rose theatre wasn't far from the Globe, and it was in part a bawdy house, so Shakespeare might have been getting a sly dig in there.

  3. Another variation on a reference
    to The Rose playhouse is that the
    phrase "..by any other name would
    smell as sweet" was an ironic dig
    at the stinking drainage ditch
    outside the theatre which the
    owner, Henslowe, was twice fined
    over for not keeping in good order.
    Anyone in London over the
    summer should make an effort to
    visit The Rose remains for a
    performance and news of the
    long overdue completion of the
    on site dig, plus soon-to-be
    realised development of the
    site after a quarter century in

  4. I've always struggled with this as an English Teacher. About two years ago, I saw that Juliet says "word" instead of "name" in the First Folio and that finally confirmed it for me. I had always read it differently depending on which edition I was reading at the moment. After that, I started teaching the line with "word" even if the edition my students were using said "name". We then discuss which version they prefer and why. How does one word make more sense than the other? Does it make any difference at all? Does it change what Juliet is saying? We also discuss why they think editors felt the need to change the word from "word" to "name". It makes for a good discussion with high school students.

  5. Okay, I'll admit I was unable to remember whether it was "word" or "name" upon reading this post. Sure, I'll take the Shakespeare Geek's word for it, but why was I so sure it was "name" two minutes ago? Although R & J is one of my favorite plays… and I've seen it multiple times… and I was in it a couple years ago (Tybalt)… I wan't sure.
    I think "name" is nicer for the flow of the speech.

  6. An excellent example of the difficulties of textual authority!
    Alexander Pope was the first editor to adopt the First Quarto reading (undoubtedly for the same reason Ophelia mentions–he thought it sounds better).
    It would be nice if we could choose an authoritative edition for each of Shakespeare's plays, but the more I study the plays, the more I come to believe it is just not possible. The First Quarto has long been considered a "bad quarto," and I have always given great weight to the First Folio editors, but the transmission of texts in Shakespeare's day was so erratic, and the evidence regarding the basis of the texts is so scant, I do not feel confident about the authority of the texts for R&J. As dangerous as it can be, sometimes I think it may be reasonable to pick and choose readings from among the texts. If so we are left with (1) what makes sense, (2) what sounds "right" (and one can take that in many ways), and (3) what is reasonable textually. In this regard, I support Pope.

    I think there is a subtle difference between "word" and "name," not just in how they sound, but in the meaning imparted, especially in context: "That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet, So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd / Retain that dear perfection which he owes [owns] without that title. Romeo, doff thy name…"

    Anonymous's argument does not convince me. Note the common use, for example, of "name" as "what we call something" as in Macbeth 2:1,16: "he greets your wife withal, by the name of most kind hostess."


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