The name Dracula means ‘son of Dracul’ (son of the Dragon). ‘Dracul’ is derived from the Latin Draco, meaning ‘dragon’; in modern Romanian it can also mean ‘devil.’ The title ‘Dracula’ belonged to a real historical figure, Vlad III (the impaler), prince of Wallachia in the 15th century.
Vlad III’s father was called ‘Dracul’ because he was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order created in Hungary in the middle ages to fight the enemies of Christianity (in particular the Ottoman Turks). Vlad III is said to have killed thousands of civilians during his reign, with impalement on a sharp pole as his favoured method of execution.
It is often assumed that Stoker’s Count Dracula is based on this historical figure. However, apart from the name there are few similarities. This has led some Dracula scholars to conclude that Stoker did not intend there to be any connection between Vlad and his Dracula, but simply chose a name he liked. Stoker had originally intended to name his villain Count Wampyr, before coming across Dracula in a Romanian history book.
Perhaps a different influence for the character of Dracula was Stoker’s employer and friend, the actor Henry Irving. Bram Stoker worked for Irving for nearly thirty years as business manager at the Lyceum Theatre in London. He developed a deep admiration for Irving, incorporating his gentlemanly mannerisms, gestures, forceful personality and tendency to play villains into the character of Dracula.