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Perchance you know it not, but there’s a snazzy little car named after a character in a Shakespeare play. It isn’t Diomedes from Antony and Cleopatra, nor is it Balthazar from The Comedy of Errors. Although Alfa Romeo typically sees less celebrity flex than most luxurious brands, the automaker’s name provides an unmistakable clue about the oh-so-romantically named vehicle.

Unlike its namesake, this ‘Italian girlfriend’ survived

Of course, the car is the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, and the complicated story of how the thrice-reborn Alfa Romeo was named after a Shakespeare character is worth knowing. In fact, there are at least three stories, and each is entirely plausible.

Initially produced from 1954 through 1965, two- and four-door passenger cars and station wagons bearing the Giulietta brand were a nod to the tragic titular character in the Shakespeare play Romeo and Juliet. So are all Giulietta cars made by Alfa Romeo between 1977 and 1985 and from 2010 to 2020. Nicknamed “the Italian girlfriend,” every Giulietta pays respects to Juliet Capulet, a teenage protagonist in the 16th-century play by William Shakespeare. 

‘Romeo and Juliet’ in a nutshell

A 1929 Hollywood Revenue poster for 'Romeo and Juliet'
A 1929 Hollywood Revenue poster for ‘Romeo and Juliet’ | LMPC via Getty Images

Doomed at age 13, Juliet was the love interest of a somewhat older Romeo Montague. Despite their attraction, they were forbidden to date due to a long-standing feud between families. It was for these two that the term “star-crossed” was coined by Shakespeare, explains TeachersCollegesj.

Overlooking the feud, Romeo and his pals Mercutio and Benvolio don disguises and crash a Capulet-hosted party where Juliet’s parents introduce her to Paris, a fellow they hope she’d marry. Meanwhile, party-crashing Romeo takes one look at Juliet and instantly falls in love. Later that night, he appears beneath her balcony, where the pair poetically pledge their eternal devotion. Juliet implores her handmaid to arrange a secret wedding, and the couple is married by Friar Laurence the very next day. Juliet returns home, expecting her new husband to visit her that night.

Unaware of the hush-hush wedding, a Capulet cousin named Tybalt challenges Romeo to a street fight. Romeo declines, but his friend Mercutio accepts the challenge and is killed. Romeo avenges his friend, killing Tybalt Capulet in the process. In return, Romeo is banished from Verona.

Secretly married to Romeo, Juliet is distraught that Romeo is missing and her parents still want her to marry Paris. Friar Laurence prepares a potion to make Juliet appear dead, then sends a messenger to find Romeo and tell him of the plan. Due to the plague in Verona, the messenger is unable to deliver the message in time.

Romeo hears from a friend that Juliet has perished. Brokenhearted, he purchases poison from a druggist and makes his way to the Capulet family vault to do himself in, stopping to dispatch Paris along the way. Juliet wakes up, finds Romeo deceased, and uses his dagger to end her life. Ultimately, peace is restored between the Montagues and the Capulets, who promise to erect a monument in Juliet’s honor, explains Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

In case you’re wondering, the Romeo in Alfa Romeo has nothing to do with the Shakespeare play. According to Jalopnik, Alfa is an acronym for Anonima Lombard Fabbrica Automobili. The Romeo part refers to Nicola Romeo, an Italian industrialist who invested in the company in the early 20th century.

How the Giulietta got its name

Related Don’t Buy a Used Alfa Romeo Giulia When You Can Spend Less Money on a Better Car

Don’t Buy a Used Alfa Romeo Giulia When You Can Spend Less Money on a Better Car

Some cars, such as the Kia Telluride, Dodge Dakota, Buick Riviera, and Chevrolet Bel Air, are named after places. Others, including the Ferrari Enzo, Lotus Elise, and Lamborghini Gallardo Valentino Balboni, are named for real-life people. The Alfa Giulietta was named for a fictional character. Here’s how it may have happened:

Some say the idea for the Giulietta name came from the wife of a Milanese architect who dabbled in poetry. Another story suggests that a Russian prince approached a group of Alfa directors in a Parisian nightclub and asked, “You are eight Romeos, without even one Giulietta?”

According to Hemmings, the third plausible story is that the car was named for Giulietta Masina, the wife of Italian film director Frederico Fellini.

In 1965, Alfa paused the production of the Giulietta and introduced the Giulia. In 1977, Alfa discontinued the Giulia and debuted a new iteration of Giulietta. The last Giulietta rolled off the line in 2020. Today, a new Alfa Romeo Giulia can be had for a starting price of $43,950, according to Alfa Romeo USA.