Names: Despina, Dorabella & Fiordiligi


Senior Member
English (AE)
In Mozart's opera, Cosi fan Tutte, there are 3 female characters, named as above. I suspect these names have, or are derived from meanings; but I can't find anything in the dictionaries at my disposal.

My guess is that Despina means something like spite (or despise), based in part on her chracter's nature. (She's the maid who has been around the block; her two masters are young idealistic women.)

Dorabella looks to me like a combination of Golden and Beautiful; but some people in my group think it's related to Adorable.

Fiordiligi (fior di ligi) looks so much like Fleur de Lis that I think it must be, ma qui sa?

Your responses are invited.

Grazie mille.
  • Juri

    Senior Member
    The book of it.names(ediz.Radio it.) ignore "invented" Despina(from thorn)
    Dorabella derives from Dora+bella, the basic name is Teodora or Dorotea=Santa Dorotea, martire 6.febbr. from greek doron theos(God's gift) Fiordiligi is in relation with San Fiorenzo vescovo and Santa Fiorenza, martire, but comes sure from the flower Fiordaliso-cornflower

    In French fleur de lis is quite an other:white lily


    Senior Member
    English (AE)
    I wish my Italian were better, but I'll just say Mille mille grazie molti.

    Now, one comment on the convoluted nature of translation. I guessed that fiordiligi might be fleur-de-lis from the apparent similarity. But the WR French-Italian dictionary gave the translation of fleur-de-lis as fiordaliso, so I thought I must be wrong.

    So according to the WR dictionary, they are the same thing-fleur-de-lis in French, and fiordaliso in Italian; in English Sword Lilly or Iris--I suppose White Lilly must be another name for the same flower.

    However, you say it's Cornflower. I went to, and sure enough, along with the Cornflower description are translations, and the Italian is given as you said, fiordaliso.

    So maybe the name fleur-de-lis was borrowed from the French (or vice versa) but applied to a different plant?

    It's not worth my time to research this, but I think it points up one of the little pitfalls in accurate translation. Now that I think of it, I guess they would be partial false cognates.

    Thanks again so much. Grazie di novo.


    Senior Member
    It is rather difficult to make mistakes with the french " fleur de lis"(lilium)" qui etait l'embleme de la royaute=which is the symbol of the kings!


    New Member
    English, Greek
    The name Despina actually comes from Greek mythology. Despina was one of the daughter-goddesses of Poseidon & Demeter, and she was a dancer of animal dances. The original spelling is: Despoina.

    This name was "adopted" later on when Christianity was broken-into its various religions, and so has become one of the "titles" for the Holy Virgin (i.e. Mary) in the Greek Orthodox liturgical writings. The underlying meaning is that THE DESPOINA (through the dance of life) brought the Spiritual Christ-being into the physical realm (and "animal-body") named Iesu.

    Also, Despina is the name of Neptune's 3rd moon (recall that the name Neptune and Poseidon both represent the same being -- one being the Latin name and the other the Greek name).

    You might want to try typing names into your browser and see what references come up before you make inaccurate assessments and post them. It is amazing how misinformation becomes popular. And then leads to misunderstanding, confusion, chaos, and the Tower of Babel we're all entrenched in.

    Don Alfonso

    New Member
    German (GER), English (CAN) - bilingual
    I see this conversation dates from some time ago, and I'm not sure the participants are still reading this - Patchouli's negative energy might have put a damper on what was an interesting conversation. If you're all still out there, this might be of interest.
    That there is a Despina (Despoina) in Greek mythology does not exclude the fact that spina=thorn and de=from (old italian). This may well be Da Ponte's reason for choosing the name as it reflects some of Despina's contrarian nature. Rather than agreeing with all the idealistic notions of Dorabella and Fiordiligi, she doesn't hesitate to give her rather contrasting point of view; a thorn that can burst bubbles, and she certainly plays an important part in bursting F & D's bubble of idealistic, eternal love!
    Fiordiligi as the flower of the lily is a very appropriate image - purity and innocence of course (F certainly sees herself as pure), but also VERY appropriately a symbol of forbidden love as in the story of Hyacinthos! As perfect as all that seems for Fiordiligi (and now that the image is there it's hard to forget - thank you JB!), there doesn't seem to be (that i can find) any link between ligi and lily in italian. What Da Ponte seems more likely to have been thinking of is Fior-di-ligi=flower of the faithful (pl.) suggesting that Fiordiligi is exemplary in her faithfulness. She thinks so too ("Come scoglio"), which is why her "Per pietà" having betrayed Guglielmo is so moving.
    Dorabella's name certainly contains "bella". "dora" could be from "dorare" (second and third person singular imperative) meaning to gild - very appropriate, or it could be "d'ora" meaning "of now", as Dorabella lives more in the moment and is quicker to give in to temptation.
    Wonderful names! Wonderful music!
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