Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Portia

Portia is derived from an old Roman family name Porcius (from the Latin “porcus” meaning “pig”) and dates back many centuries B.C. The Porcii families were generally members of the Plebian class (free land-owning Roman citizens as opposed to slaves), and the most notable branch were the Catones which produced famous statesmen Cato the Elder and Cato the Younger. Porcia Catonis was the famous daughter of Cato the Younger remembered for being the wife of Brutus (one of Julius Caesar's assassins and the subject of the famous "Et tu, Brute?" phrase uttered by Caesar at the moment of his death). She is also remembered for her interesting method of suicide: swallowing hot coals (purportedly after hearing of Brutus’ death in battle). It’s unclear how the family name came to be; they originated in the Alban Hills southeast of Rome so perhaps they were pig farmers to begin with. In any case, don’t let the etymology scare you away, because where Portia gets most of her charm is from William Shakespeare’s central character in “The Merchant of Venice” (1596). In the romantic comedy, Portia is the most eligible bachelorette in Belmont having been left a fortune by her father. Not only that, but she’s also intelligent, quick-witted, cunning and beautiful. There’s a typical Shakespearean twist, however. According to the wishes of her dead father, all of Portia’s suitors must first correctly pick one of three caskets, one filled with gold, one of silver or one of lead (of course it’s the unappealing lead casket that hides the prize for Portia’s hand). Not surprisingly, Portia has a preference herself in terms of which suitor wins, and so uses her shrewd acuity to balance the outcome in her own favor. For more information on Portia, see literary references below.

All About the Baby Name – Portia



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Portia has never been a commonly used female name in America. In fact, this little “piggy” sometimes goes to market, but has mostly stayed home. The name appeared in 1900, but was only given to about 25 baby girls that year. Then Portia completely disappeared from the charts altogether for 40 straight years (1901-1941). When the name finally reappeared in 1941, it was still only sparsely used. The name retreated into the shadows again throughout the 70s, showed signs of a small comeback in the 1980s and then vanished again in 1992. Portia has yet to resurface. We have to admit; this is a bit of a head-scratcher. Portia has literary currency; it has a certain cosmopolitan coolness with a dose of sophistication; and it’s just plain pretty in a simple, understated way. Some people think Portia sounds pretentious (probably due to the same sound as Porsche the expensive car), but we just see this name as strong and confident. Portia is a great name to consider for parents who are looking for a hidden gem. And so what if it means “pig”?; that’s just part of her secret charm. We’re also a little surprised that actress Portia de Rossi did little to jumpstart the usage of her pretty moniker, or that Real Housewife of Beverley Hills Kyle Richards’ daughter Portia hasn’t reminded expectant parents of this uniquely underused name.

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Cultural References to the Baby Name – Portia

Literary Characters


Portia is one of William Shakespeare’s most enduring characters, as she appears in The Merchant of Venice, probably written 1596 and 1598. Portia has everything – she is rich, beautiful, intelligent and amusingly sarcastic. She also has the misfortune to be the heiress of a father who controls her from beyond the grave, having specified in his will that her suitors must pass almost impossible tasks in order to win her hand (and his wealth) in marriage. A dutiful daughter, Portia abides by his will, but this doesn’t stop her from looking for loopholes in the arrangement, all the while making snide comments about her hapless wooers. It is Bassanio, good friend of the Merchant of Venice, upon whom she has set her sights. We can’t help but wonder at her choice, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time a woman of stellar character fell for a guy who doesn’t quite make the grade. Bassanio, you’ll excuse us, seems to like spend most of his free time with the Merchant, Antonio, but he is certainly not above vying for Portia’s hand in light of her great wealth. Portia rigs the deal and marries Bassanio, so it comes as no surprise that she is able to find a technicality in the law that will allow her (disguised as a male legal expert, of course) to find an out for Antonio from Shylock’s contracted “pound of flesh”. Her “Quality of Mercy” speech is one of the most famous in all literature. The saving of Antonio, methinks, makes Bassanio, his BFF, just a little too happy and grateful. But if Portia is okay with this guy, who are we to complain? May they live happily ever after.

Portia is the wife of the assassin, Brutus, in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Julius Caesar, believed to have been written in 1599. She is a lovely noblewoman, the daughter of Cato, devoted to her husband and used to being his partner and confidante. Brutus is in the midst of a maelstrom of emotions as he ponders the effect upon the state of Caesar’s seeming ambition to be a dictator. Brutus is a close and true friend to Caesar, but he is also a patriotic protector of the rights of the republic against a sovereign ruler, and he is sorely tried by this predicament. Portia urges him to confide in her, to unburden himself and allow her to alleviate his troubles. She is also not a little insulted that her husband would keep something secret from her, and accuses him of treating her more like a harlot than a wife. This lady means business – she proclaims herself to be, yes, just a woman, but “a woman well-reputed”; she is no little wallflower – she stabs herself in the thigh to prove her strength to him. His reply is commendable: “Render me worthy of this noble wife!” This noble wife goes on to an even more ghastly suicide, by eating burning coals, in her grief over the ascension of Octavius and Antony. A woman well-reputed, indeed.

The Merchant of Venice; Julius Caesar

Childrens Books


We cannot find any childrens books with the first name Portia

Popular Songs


a song by the Throwing Muses

Famous People


Portia de Rossi (born Amanda Lee Rogers, actress)

Children of Famous People


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Historic Figures


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