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What's in a shoe's name?

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Shakespeare's Juliet once asked, "What's in a name?" - a question that would be well posed to the many different types of shoes that feature in our lives (and on our credit cards). After all, many of us have a passion for shoes, but it doesn't usually extend to examining their historical origins.

But the origins of shoe names is fascinating. For instance, did you know that Brothel Creepers originate from World War II, and Mary Janes have their roots in a comic strip?

We asked Abi Silvester, editor at shoewawa.com, to talk us through the cultural origins of a selection of well-known and quirky shoe names...

Stilettos

The stiletto is named after the slender dagger of the same title, itself derived from the Latin "stylus", meaning a pin or stalk. While "stiletto" is often use to describe all kinds of high heels, strictly speaking the heel should be very slender (the origial Italian shoes had heels no more than 5cm in diameter) and should be made from a solid steel or alloy.

Mary Janes

Mary Jane was a character in the comic strip Buster Brown first published in 1902, and was the younger sister of the eponymous character. Both characters wore the single-strapped shoes we now term “Mary Janes”.

Brothel Creepers

The creeper shoe was worn by soldiers in the desert regiments during World War II. Their crepe soles were ideal for the climate and environment. However, those same soldiers quickly found the quietly creeping shoes were also perfect for wear in a wholly different environment: the London nightspots they frequented while off duty.

D’Orsay shoes

D’Orsay shoes, in which the side or "vamp" of the shoe is cut very close to the sole, were named after Count Alfred d’Orsay; a 19th Century "dandy", artist and friend of Lord Byron. The shoes were worn by men at the time, and the cut-out sides were introduced to accommodate wider feet.

Sandals

The word "sandal" - along with bazaar, jasmine and pyjama - is one of many words in the English language that derive from Persian.

Espadrilles

The rope-soled shoes that are currently so popular take their name from the Provençal word “espardilho”, which in turn comes from the Latin “spartum”, meaning a tough, wiry grass.

Mocassins

Mocassins were named after the Algonquian-speaking native Americans who first made and wore them. The soft slipper shoes were originally made from deerskin, and their name, "makasin" simply means "shoe".

Loafers

The term "loafer" when applied to a slip-on shoe was a brand name coined in 1930s America. The reasoning behind the choice of name is unknown, but it could refer to “landloafer” meaning “wanderer” or “vagabond”, or possibly to the farmyard term “cattle loafing” as an early Esquire photoshoot for the shoes was taken in a field of cows. Many have later assumed that meaning relates to “loafing around”, as one may do in casual shoes.

Brogues

The word "brogue" is from Irish and Scots Gaelic brōg, which simply meant a leg or foot covering. It was adopted in the English language in the early 20th Century, when it took on its present day meaning of a perforated, smart shoe.

For more detailed origins of shoe names, head over to shoewawa.com.

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