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British Names: Exciting Choices of the Prime Ministers

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Nameberry favorite Twinkle aka WINNIE MONCRIEFF, who lives in London, enlightens us on the long line of fascinating British names chosen by her country’s prime ministers.

In the spirit of friendly, transatlantic competition, I couldn’t let a post about the President’s children go by without taking a look at the naming habits of Prime Ministers past. With a few more years of incumbents to consider(Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister in the modern sense of the position, was appointed in 1721), I discovered a veritable mountain of lovely, classic names.

The most commonly occurring name for the son of a Prime Minister was William, which popped up twelve times.  In fact, one PM, William Henry Cavendish-Bentwick used it twice, naming his first two sons (who both survived childhood) William and William Henry. In second place was George, with nine. The middle name Augustus appeared four times.

As for daughters, the most popular name was Mary, which occurred seven times, as well as there being two little Marias. The Catherine variants numbered seven – five Catherines, one Katherine, and, most recently, a Kathryn. Other names which proved surprisingly popular were Hester and Louisa.

Strange naming trends abounded; naming children after relatives and friends, for example. ‘What?’ I hear you cry. ‘I named my daughter after so-and-so.’ Well, of course, but not like PM George Canning did when he named his second son William Pitt Canning, after friend and former Prime Minister, William Pitt the younger. Robert Peel also named one of his sons after a former Prime Minister who had supported his career, bestowing upon him the name Arthur Wellesley Peel.

Surnames would sometimes be added on to a child’s real surname, too, especially if the name carried some prestige; presumably, this was a way to garner favour with old, heirless Uncle Whatsisname, who owned a large estate. Despite the possible monetary benefits, I still feel a little sorry for young George Nugent-Temple-Grenville.

There is other clear evidence that there were no Nameberry-esque organisations back then, either, willing to point out potential naming faux-pas; George Hamilton-Gordon would no doubt have been warned gently off the repeating sounds in his son’s names, George John James. Perhaps little Frederick and Frederica Perceval (Spencer Perceval) would have been spared having their names constantly mixed up, as would Henry and Henry Fitzroy (Augustus Fitzroy).

Despite these seemingly lax naming standards, monikers were a clear indicator of social class – Herbert Henry Asquith, who was of relatively humble origins, used his middle name more and more as he grew in social standing, until the point where his second wife knew him only as Henry. Apparently, Herbert was a much more ‘common’ name.

But for all of the Prime Ministers who would bestow a name as a middle upon an earlier child (Catherine Anne, for example) only to use it as a first name for another (Anne), Charles Grey, the namesake of Earl Grey tea, was the main offender. Four of his eight sons were named :

HENRY GEORGE

GEORGE

HENRY

WILLIAM GEORGE

The same Charles Grey was also famously the father of an illegitimate daughter, Eliza, by Georgiana Cavendish, the Duchess of Devonshire, who was played by Keira Knightley in the biographical movie ‘The Duchess’.

A round-up of British Prime Ministers would not, of course, be complete without mention of the Iron Lady herself, MargaretMaggieHilda Thatcher, also known as Thatcher the Milk Snatcher, after she ended the policy of free milk for schoolchildren in a round of budget cutting. Her role as the first and only (as yet) female Prime Minister of Britain has made her an important historical figure, but she was much less ground-breaking in her naming tastes – she called her two children Mark and Carol.

Other ‘first of a kind’ Prime Ministers were Benjamin Disraeli, the only PM of Jewish descent to date; Spencer Perceval is the only Prime Minister to have been assassinated (in the lobby of the House of Commons). He and his wife also eloped when her father didn’t approve of the match! David Lloyd George, the only Prime Minister whose first language was not English (it was Welsh), named three of his children Mair (MEER), Olwen and Gwilym. Funnily enough, Gwilym is a Welsh form of that leading Prime Ministerial name, William.

Likewise, the first Labour Prime Minister, James Ramsay MacDonald, who was of Scottish origins (in case you hadn’t yet guessed) and was also the illegitimate son of a farm labourer and a housemaid, named his children Malcolm, Alister and Ishbel. He also appointed the first female Minister, Margaret Bondfield; clearly, Margaret is the name to use if you want your little girl to be a pioneering politician.

But, finally, here are some of those wonderful names of Prime Minister’s children that I promised you. Of course, there were lots of beautifully named Eleanors, Fredericks, Gilberts and Helens, but these are the unusual stand-outs [with their famous fathers’ first name in brackets] :

GEORGIANA Fitzroy [Augustus] and GEORGIANA Russell [John]

AUGUSTA Fitzroy [Augustus]

DUDLEY Montagu Perceval [Spencer]

ERNEST AUGUSTUS Perceval [Spencer]

FRANCIS ALBERT ROLLO Russell [John]

MARY AGATHA Russell [John]

AGNES Gladstone [William]

BEATRIX Gascoyne-Cecil [Robert]

GWENDOLEN Gascoyne-Cecil [Robert]

HUGH Gascoyne-Cecil

RAYMOND Asquith [Herbert]

CYRIL Asquith [Herbert]

VIOLET Asquith (the grandmother of Helena Bonham Carter) [Herbert]

HARRINGTON BONAR Law [Andrew] – so long before the surname-for-first name trend!

LEONORA STANLEY Baldwin [Stanley]

ESTHER LOUISA Baldwin [Stanley]

RANDOLPH Spencer-Churchill [Winston]

MARIGOLD Spencer-Churchill [Winston]

FELICITY Attlee [Clement]

MERIEL Douglas-Home [Alexander].

Winnie Moncrieff lives in London with her husband, Rupert, and their children Ambrosia, Jasper and Raphael. A former teacher, she is now a stay-at-home mother.  Her passions, aside from naming, include Greek mythology, cooking, working with children and travelling. Winnie and Rupert are currently trying to choose names for their twin daughters, due in early July.

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