Once Upon a Time introduced a lot of characters, each of whom took on multiple names, and digging into the meanings of those names can add a lot to each character's background. The show brought in a number of fairytale characters, mixing and matching their stories, and then brought the classic characters into the real world through a series of curses. The character Rumplestiltskin is central to each of the series' arcs, and with that as a base, it shouldn't be surprising that the names of each character are directly connected to their roles in the story and relationships with each other.
By the time of its end with the Once Upon a Time season 7 finale, nearly every main character's parents were introduced, providing new context as to why they were given particular names in-world. Beyond that, the names generally had additional meanings through their connections with literature, religion, and traditional name meanings. By learning the meanings behind each Once Upon a Time character's name, viewers can gain a better understanding of what their roles were in the series and how they developed.
Within the world of Once Upon a Time, Snow and Prince Charming chose the name Emma for their daughter, and she kept this identity in the real world because it was embroidered on her baby blanket. Following a trend established in Cinderella, Emma was a princess with true independence, represented by her choosing her own last name, based on "The Ugly Duckling." In season 6, episode 11, "Tougher Than The Rest," Emma argued that the duckling was always a swan, though it didn't know it, while Pinocchio argued that the duckling had enough belief and hope to transform into a swan. Both interpretations lean into key themes of the series.
Looking to the show's production, the main character in Once Upon a Time was originally named "Anna Swan," though it was changed to Emma for legal reasons. In doing so, her first name switched from meaning favored or beautiful to meaning whole. The new name connected better to the idea of Emma as the Savior, as well as providing a contrast between the daughter Snow and Charming wanted and the one they had. While Emma looked more like Snow White’s original Disney design, she was far from the perfect princess her original name would’ve implied.
Regina Mills / Roni
Regina was an example of evil that was made by those around her, and her name is a strong reflection of that. Cora's child was a major point of contention in Once Upon a Time season 2, episode 16, "The Miller's Daughter," and when Cora chose to be royalty over being with Rumplestiltskin, she named her child, "Regina — for one day, she will be Queen." Regina didn't seem to have a last name before the curse, meaning that the name "Mills" was one she chose, in honor of her mother's humble origins.
In the original "Snow White" fairytale, the Evil Queen didn't have a name, and though Disney referred to her as Queen Grimhilde, the name didn't really stick. Because of that, her name was based on her role in the story. Once Upon a Time actress and Lost alum Lana Parrilla redefined the character, and Regina’s name helped cement that. When Regina was put under Drizella's curse, her name became "Roni" in a reference to Ronnie Spector (via IGN).
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Rumplestiltskin / Mr. Gold / Weaver
For a character whose source material was entirely about names, Rumplestiltskin certainly had a lot of them. His original name, Rumplestiltskin, obviously comes from the story "Rumpelstiltskin," though it is spelled slightly differently than the standard English version. Rumple was not named by his mother, who abandoned him to become the Black Fairy, but was named by his father, who explained that the name was chosen because, "Once, this child was perfect. He was supposed to bring great light to our lives. But now my wife is dead, thanks to him."
While his original name has obvious origins that make him an iconic Once Upon a Time villain, his names from Storybrooke and Hyperion Heights require slightly more explanation. Both Mr. Gold and Detective Weaver were in reference to his original profession as a spinner and his ability to spin straw into gold. Neither real-world name includes a first name, which connects to the secrecy around his name in the fairytale.
Henry Daniel Mills
As the only main character born in the real world, Henry's name is far more normal than his family. However, they still have a lot of meaning in-world. Henry's first name comes from his adoptive mother's father, Prince Henry, who truly loved his daughter. Likewise, Henry's middle name, Daniel, comes from Regina's first love. Finally, Mills is intended as a connection to Regina, although it also connects him with Regina's mother, the miller's daughter.
Unlike most of the characters on Once Upon a Time whose names connect to their fairytale and/or Disney counterparts, Henry's names have few obvious allusions. Because of this, the only clues fans have come from the traditional name meaning. Henry means Ruler of the Home, which is more fitting than it might seem at first glance, as Henry's decision to find his birth mother and his insistence that everyone respects each other was able to fix the decades-long rivalries in their family.
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Snow White / Mary Margaret Blanchard
While Snow White's name was established in the fairytales "Snow White" and "Snow-White and Rose-Red," it also has in-world meanings along with her Storybrooke name, Mary Margaret Blanchard. Snow's mother, Eva, named her after the snowdrop flowers because "they could survive the harshest winter, and you were born during the harshest one of all." The Once Upon a Time live-action Disney princess’s cursed first name comes from the names Mary and Margaret, both of which Snow used as pseudonyms while she was on the run.
Looking into production plans, the meanings of each of the names are incredibly telling. Margaret Blanchard translates to Pearl White, a close approximation of her original name. In addition, Mary translates to Beloved, as does her husband David's first name. Going further, Snow's cursed name is the same as the Biblical mother of the Savior, connecting her to Emma.
Prince Charming / David Nolan / James
Prince Charming didn't have a clear name in Once Upon a Time because he took on several false roles, but that allowed each of his names to carry its own meaning. Named David by his mother, Charming had to take on his twin brother, James's name after his death. When he met Snow, she sarcastically nicknamed him Charming, a moment that demonstrates why they make such a popular ship on Once Upon a Time. Finally, Regina's curse gave him the last name Nolan. The naming complexity did prompt jokes on several occasions.
While David is his primary name and connection, his pseudonyms have important meanings. His cursed surname, Nolan, translates to Noble, which easily connects with his princely status. Prince Charming is a connection to his fairytale origins, although, in the Disney canon, only Cinderella's prince is named Charming. Finally, the name James, which Charming took on while pretending to be his brother, means Replacement or Supplanter.
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The name David comes with many layers of behind-the-scenes meaning to unravel. To begin with, the name means Beloved, which is the same as Snow's cursed name, Mary. Going deeper requires some exploration of Biblical genealogy and history. In the Bible's story, King David was a shepherd and the ancestor of the Savior, and David grew up as a shepherd and is Emma's father in Once Upon a Time. In further parallels, both Davids were descended from characters named Ruth and were engaged to women named Abigail. Finally, David faced off against a giant in Once Upon a Time, as his namesake fought Goliath.
Captain Hook / Killian Jones / Rogers
While there have been multiple names attributed to Captain Hook across media, Once Upon a Time made the character their own through his names. After being named Killian Jones, Hook lost his hand to Rumplestiltskin and earned his iconic nickname. He also dedicated himself to his ship, the Jolly Roger, which inspired his Hyperion Heights name. Captain Hook was one of the best characters introduced after Once Upon a Time season 1 to become a series lead, and he rapidly became a favorite.
In J.M. Barrie's original play Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, the character went by the name James Hook, although the novel states, "Hook was not his true name. To reveal who he really was would even at this date set the country in a blaze." Ignoring the name James was a major departure for Once Upon a Time, with Killian connecting to actor Colin O'Donoghue's Irish heritage and meaning "Little Warrior." .
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