33

The expression 'a Romeo' is used to refer to:

"a lover, passionate admirer, seducer of women," 1766, from the name of the hero in Shakespeare's tragedy "Romeo and Juliet" (1590s).

From Etymonline

It appears that "Juliet" is not used to refer to the female counterpart, a beautiful devoted lover.

Is there a name used to refer to a gentle, devoted female lover in the same way as Romeo is?

EDIT: Sorry if the question is not clear enough, I am not looking for the name of a female equivalent of Romeo, but for the "female equivalent of Juliet", if a stereotyped version of her exists , like in the case of Romeo.

57

A Penelope is defined as "as faithful wife" (here). It can probably be used more loosely to mean any faithful female lover. It comes from ancient Greek mythology; Penelope was the wife of Odysseus.

Unlike Romeo, which often (but not always) suggests that the male pursues multiple women (cf. Don Juan or Lothario), Penelope suggests a woman who is faithful to a single man.

As to the question of why "Juliet" didn't take off like "Romeo," it's hard to say. I doubt that any answer would amount to more than armchair speculation.

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    Thanks, would Penelope be common usage nowadays ? – user067531 May 18 '16 at 20:17
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    No, it is not common. – GoldenGremlin May 18 '16 at 20:20
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    I think you could say "as faithful as Penelope" to get your meaning across. – AllInOne May 18 '16 at 22:40
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    Penelope is older than Juliet... I wonder if this is a simple case of blocking. – Kevin May 19 '16 at 5:02
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    Odd that you'd say that "a Romeo" refers to someone who pursues multiple women, when the character of Romeo in the play does not actually do that at all. I always thought that it just meant "a charming, handsome young man". Unlike, say, Don Juan or Casanova, who are much more well known as philanderers.. – Darrel Hoffman May 19 '16 at 16:53
41
+100

It is the atypical nature of a character that makes for an informative literary eponym.

In this context, I think the thing that makes Romeo remarkable is not the fact that he fell in love with Juliet but that he is first introduced as being madly, passionately in love with someone else. It is only while trying to court Rosaline that he meets Juliet. He again falls madly, passionately in love, promptly forgetting about his previous infatuation. Indeed, based upon his mood and the apparent ignorance of his cousin, it seems he is only recently in love with Rosaline herself.

It is my understanding that it is this tendency to fall easily in and out of love that is being commented upon when someone is described as "a Romeo".

In a broader context, Romeo and Juliet are most remarkable for the doomed nature of their love, but this has given rise to terms describing the couple, rather than either individual, e.g. "star-crossed lovers". Another interpretation would be that Romeo and Juliet are remarkable for the depth of their love. However such an interpretation would seem to contrast with and belittle one's own experience of love. Rather than diminish their own relationships, I suspect that most people imagine that they love their partners as much as Romeo and Juliet loved each other, and that the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet is driven more by intolerance and cruel fate than by some inherently atypical nature of their love.

In this respect, Juliet's love for Romeo would not be remarkable enough to coin a new term.

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    Other major difference: Romeo committed suicide while Juliet was still alive, because he's too impulsive to even check her pulse or whatever people did in Shakespeare's time. He basically just looks at her and drinks poison, IIRC. What a chump. – Peter Cordes May 19 '16 at 20:13
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    @PeterCordes that's Italians for you... :-) – gbjbaanb May 20 '16 at 18:13
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    +1 This is a good and plausible answer as to why the Juliet character never spawned an eponym. – GoldenGremlin May 21 '16 at 20:48
19

I question the premise of your question. Perhaps you are just looking in a skewed dictionary:

Juliet

The perfect girl. She will light up your life from the moment you meet her.

She's smart but not nerdy, hot but not slutty. Beautiful body and a gorgeous smile, and always up for a good time. A Juliet will be the best girlfriend/friend you will ever have, she's the girl you will want to make your wife.

Sexy, athletic, intelligent, loving, and knows how to party. She may seem intimidating, but that is only because she knows what she wants, and knows she needs a real man.

Sure, the source above is Urban Dictionary, but at the very least it reflects actual usage to some extent. The entries are created by users, and there are several entries for Juliet, which might indicate a significant amount of common usage.

As I mentioned in my comment, I've been searching ngrams and the Internet in general in different ways, and despite the situation in the quoted dictionary, there seem to be plenty of uses of "my Juliet" or "she's my Juliet", etc., and it doesn't seem like using Romeo in the same way is significantly more common.

Also, Juliet (from Wiktionary)

  1. A woman who is or is with a great lover.
  2. By analogy with the Shakespearean character, a woman who is in love with a man from a family, party, or country opposing that of her own.

It seems like the "reputable" dictionaries that come from the age of print do not have a definition for Juliet equivalent to their definitions for Romeo, but the crowdsourced online dictionaries do. Perhaps the culture on the two terms is currently in flux, and the older dictionaries are not caught up.

Interesting source (Bartleby): Juliet

Daughter of Lady Capulet, and “sweet sweeting” of Romeo, in Shakespeare’s tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. She has become a household word for a lady-love.

  • 4
    @Saturana So are you saying as soon as someone mentions "Romeo", any listeners are most likely to think of Shakespeare's Romeo, but not necessarily so with "Juliet"? There's something to that, if for no other reason than the fact that Juliet is still fairly common name, whereas I can't think of anyone actually named Romeo. Still, if I hear the name Juliet used in any way that doesn't seem to be calling someone by name (e.g., "a Juliet"), I'm not going to think of anyone other than Shakespeare's Juliet. I expect I'm not unusual in that way. – Todd Wilcox May 19 '16 at 18:02
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    In my experience, Urban Dictionary entries for personal names are mostly garbage. – herisson May 19 '16 at 18:37
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    Oh no! Actual usage? You mean like my comment on Silenus's answer? ;) – Mazura May 19 '16 at 18:48
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    There is some difference to how they are used though. Of course, any name can be used as an allusion to the famous person with that name. I could refer to my brainy friend as "a Hermione" and you're expected to get the Harry Potter reference. But if I say to my friend "Hey Romeo, stop talking to that girl and go get us those beers," then I'm directly referring to his attempts at romance, and nobody would expect his name to actually be Romeo. I don't think it works for Juliet. If you call any random woman "Juliet" people will just think you said the wrong name. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 May 19 '16 at 20:25
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    Urban Dictionary entries for names are usually written about specific people the submitters know: they're love letters and insults, not definitions. – Jesse McGrew May 21 '16 at 4:57
17

Asking "why isn't there X" is often unanswerable. Why isn't there a word for female cousin distinct from male cousin, like brother is distinct from sister? Why isn't there a good gender-neutral pronoun we can use for humans? etc.

In this case, I'd hazard that the answer is "sexism", specifically, social attitudes that praise a man for chasing women but scold a woman for chasing men. A seducer of women is a Romeo. A seducer of men is a slut. All women are expected to be gentle, devoted lovers to their husbands. Women were expected to be virgins on their wedding day. Men, not so much. Maybe if enough English-speaking people learn to stop slut-shaming, we'll eventually agree on a positive word for a "female Romeo".

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    a seducer of women is more commonly referred to as a Lothario (and that is not a particularly positive term). Romeo refers to a man who romantically pursues a woman, not many (though he may be doing so, it is not the intent of the epithet). Give over with the social commentary on sexism based on a modern day bias. – gbjbaanb May 19 '16 at 7:50
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    A seducer of women is a womanizer, a philanderer, a lecher. Come on – Au101 May 19 '16 at 8:00
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    "Is there a female equivalent of 'a Romeo'?" is an interesting question (maybe ask it?), complicated a little since there seem to be several competing definitions or understandings of "a Romeo". I always understood it to mean a man who wantonly acts in a way causing women to become dangerously romantically obsessed - in which case possible female equivalents could include analogies to Helen of Troy (positive), "man-eater" (positive or negative depending on context), or more negatively, various terms for male anatomy suffixed with "-tease". – user56reinstatemonica8 May 19 '16 at 15:23
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    Surely "Casanova" is used much more commonly for a "seducer of women" than "Lothario", and certainly much more often than "Romeo". Usually "Romeo" us used to tease a (young, naive) man for being overly infatuated/obsessed with a (possibly inappropriate) woman. – S. G. May 19 '16 at 18:42
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    There is a perceived need for recently-coined gender-neutral pronouns. I was a big fan of 'singular they', until I realized he already is a gender-neutral pronoun, some people just have a hard time perceiving it as such, and knee-jerk themselves into a frenzy. – Mazura May 19 '16 at 20:24
15

To make even a plausible guess at the answer to this question, you would need to learn an enormous amount about the sociology and history of the English-speaking world, from the 1590s through today. Here are just a few examples of things that might be relevant.

  • In many societies, past and present, women and men were and are expected to approach romance in very different ways. The evolution of language reflects this.
  • Was English Renaissance theater largely a guy thing? We apparently know very little about Elizabethan theater audiences, so I guess it could have been. There aren't even any contemporary paintings you can turn to for a glimpse of audience demographics: a painting the V&A calls "one of the first attempts to depict the interior of the first Globe theatre" was done 150 years after the fact, and its painter basically just made everything up.
  • Although Juliet hasn't become part of English in the way you suggest, she has left her mark in names like Juliet cap and Juliet balcony. These names, however, were coined much more recently than Romeo. The OED shows Romeo being used in the way you describe as early as the mid-1700s, and possibly even as far back as the mid-1500s—before Romeo and Juliet was written! (Wait, how is that possible?) On the other hand, the OED only shows uses of Juliet cap starting in the early 1900s, and it doesn't even have an entry for Juliet balcony.
  • 3
    It's possible that Romeo was used in that way before the play, and that Shakespeare gave him that name because of the existing word. Like if the word "John" meant "Someone who visits prostitutes", but a famous movie or play names a prostitute-user "John" for that reason, and 400 years from now that movie is still popular, and people just assume that it coined that usage. (That's less likely to occur now that we have such extensive recorded language for this era, but you get the idea) – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 May 19 '16 at 14:18
  • @Mr.ShinyandNew安宇 Read the link in the answer. :) Shakespeare adapted the story; he didn't create it. – reirab May 20 '16 at 3:36
  • @reirab Oh, I know he adapted the story from something that came earlier, that's common knowledge. ... oh, you're trying to tell me that you already knew how it was possible. Sorry, the link colour on this website doesn't contrast enough with the text colour for me to easily see the links, I missed your subtle joke. – Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 May 20 '16 at 3:55
7

femme fatale:

"a very beautiful woman that men find sexually attractive but who brings them trouble or unhappiness"

(Oxford Learner's Dictionaries) http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/femme-fatale?q=femme+fatale

(as opposed to romeo: "a young male lover or a man who has sex with a lot of women" - same source)

  • 2
    Very different from a Juliet, is she? – user067531 May 18 '16 at 20:24
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    @Saturana The female equivalent of a Romeo - Love 'em and leave 'em. – Cathy Gartaganis May 18 '16 at 20:33
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    I don't think Romeo ever intentionally abandoned Juliet... – Jeremy Friesner May 19 '16 at 1:26
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    @JeremyFriesner The definition of a Romeo provided above is the current definition of a Romeo, according to Oxford Learner's Dictionaries, the male counterpart of a femme fatale, and not a reference to the character of Romeo in Shakespeare, though the origin of the expression is the Shakespearean tragedy. – Cathy Gartaganis May 19 '16 at 4:54
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    @JeremyFriesner - but he forgot about Rosaline pretty quickly... – DeveloperInDevelopment May 19 '16 at 10:24
7

Name used to refer to a gentle, devoted female lover in the same way as Romeo is?

Seeing as how the play ends, a Siren or Calypso both seem appropriate.

The term "siren song" refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad conclusion.

5

Though I think it is a bit off on the exact same meaning, Jezebel is often used to refer to women who are seductive and/or promiscuous. It is a very old slur and thus has had many meanings, but today, it seems to me, it is mostly in reference to women who sleep around, steal husbands, and/or practice seduction to get what they want. Women are sometimes called "Jezebel" or are talked about as if they are "a Jezebel".

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    It's important to note that "a Jezebel" satisfies the OP's inclusion of the indefinite article "a" and the name Jezebel being used as a noun, similar to "a Romeo". There are cultural and evolutionary explanations as to why promiscuity is viewed differently in men and women. Considering this, Jezebel is the most fitting answer. – djv May 20 '16 at 15:31
4

Romeo is the more active figure in the original play, he is memorably in love with being in love, and pursues his passions, whatever the cost. Juliet is a more passive, and thus less distinctive figure.

It's worth noting that the complete phrase "Romeo and Juliet" does appear in language as denoting a matched set of devoted lovers, but that the term "Romeo" by itself implies passion, not devotion. This matches the original character, who begins the play infatuated with a different girl than Juliet. Accordingly, the term "Romeo" is often used with a hint of mockery to describe someone with more romantic passion than sense. Since Juliet was a more level-headed character, it wouldn't make sense to use her name in the same manner.

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    I wouldn't really describe either character as 'level-headed,' though I suppose Juliet was less the opposite of level-headed than Romeo. Level-headed people normally don't get married after a few days or commit suicide shortly thereafter. – reirab May 20 '16 at 3:42

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