What does Juliet mean when she says, "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet."
3 Answers | Add Yours
What she means here is that she does not care what Romeo's name is and she wishes he would just take the name off and be someone else so that their families would not be enemies.
She says this when she is up on her balcony but before she knows Romeo is there. He's listening, but she does not know it.
So what she is saying here is that it does not matter what Romeo's name is. If you call a rose something else, it still smells the same. And if Romeo had a different name he would still be the man she loves.
The quotation 'what's in a name...' from the play Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare as spoken by Juliet in the so-called 'balcony scene' foreshadows the words of Mercutio ' a plague on both your houses.' In old Europe, the idea of dynasty was very important and that could be referred to by mention of family, 'house' , arms or heraldry - all were similar and showed lineage of status that went back generations. So the names of Montague and Capulet went very far back and engendered either hatred or loyalty depending on one's allegiance or dependency. So Juliet's childlike comment shows either innocence or naievte (she loved Romeo whatever he was callled) - but for what was in a name the locals would fight to death- with terrible consequences.
The quotation is actually a very profound one. It suggests that a name is simply a label to distinguish something from another. It does not create worth nor does it create true meaning. What is important is the worth of the individual or thing. A rose, if called something entirely different, would still smell as sweetly as it does with the name "rose." Juliet likens this to Romeo - Romeo is still the man she loves had he a different name. What is his name but, simply, a label. It does not define him as a man.
This, of course, is relevant because the Capulets (her family) and the Montegues (Romeo's family) loathe each other. To be in love would be forbidden simply because of their names. What Juliet exposes is the ridiculousness of the feud between the two families over, simply, who they are. What the feud is about is, therefore, unknown and irrelevant.
This quote suggests Shakespeare's belief that a name means little - it is the worth of the individual that counts.
Join to answer this question
Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.Join eNotes