Traditionally, members of British royalty have not only been given a whole string of middle names, most have also been given an affectionate nickname. Queen Victoria’s children, for example, answered to Vicky (Victoria), Bertie (Albert), Alee (Alice), Affie (Alfred), Lenchen (Helena), Loosy (Louise), Leo (Leopold) and Baby (Beatrice).
Previously, these names were kept within the family. But more recently, Charles and Diana broke the mold by formally announcing after their sons’ births that they were going to call William “Wills” and that Henry was to be called “Harry”.
This then opens up a variety of options for William and Catherine. Let’s say they choose the name “Elizabeth Diana Catherine Charlotte” for a daughter. They could use a nickname for the first name – Bess, Betsy, Lily, Eliza? – or announce that they will call her by one of her middle names, or even a nickname from the middle name – Lottie, say, or Kitty.
It has not been common, among the royals of recent years, to repeat the first names of other royals within the immediate family. It is therefore unlikely that Anne, Andrew, Edward, Beatrice, Eugenie, Louise and James will be used as a first name. It is common to commemorate family – both living and deceased – in the middle names and, in this, there is a lot more freedom. Many royal babies are given their godparents’ names, and it isn’t uncommon for non-royal family to also get a look in. Diana, Carol and Michael are just as likely to be used as middle names as any other ‘royal’ name.
As choices for a girl go, there are only four names that have been borne by reigning British queens: Anne, Elizabeth, Mary and Victoria. Added to this, however, are a long line of Queen Consorts and princesses.
As a potential name, Elizabeth has a lot of clout behind it. It has been borne by two successful and popular reigning monarchs and would honour a whole host of family members including the Queen, the Queen Mother and also Catherine herself (it is her middle name). Elizabeth has a multitude of nicknames on offer for the royal couple to choose from. Lily, Eliza and Elsie are current Top 100 favourites in England, and right now Betsy is riding a meteoric rise.
Mary has also been borne by two reigning monarchs and has since been given as a first name to three daughters of reigning monarchs, and to several more as middle names. It is also one of the Queen’s middle names. Mary has long since had its heyday as a popular name, but it would make a striking vintage choice.
Queen Victoria established Victoria (which was actually her middle name) as a solid royal choice. With quite a bit of pushing on her part, three of her five daughters were given the name (one as a formal name) as well as twelve of her granddaughters and two great-granddaughters. Victoria has the advantage of being a classic yet not overly-used name, but perhaps it is a little too loaded down by association to be used again just yet.
Alexandra was first introduced into the British royalty by Queen Alexandra, the consort of Edward VII. Several royals have borne the name since, most commonly as a middle name. The Queen herself has Alexandra as a middle name, and one of William’s godmothers is Princess Alexandra, the Queen’s first cousin.
Alice had no history as a royal name until Queen Victoria chose it for her second daughter, liking it, she claimed, because it was “an old English name.” Princess Alice was a popular figure and was known for championing charities and taking an active part in many women’s causes, especially nursing. Her granddaughter was also named Princess Alice (Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie) and is similarly remembered for her charitable works. This latter Alice is Prince Philip’s mother, and therefore William’s great-grandmother.
Amelia may be a rare royal name, but it is also one of the most popular British girls’ names of this generation. There have to date been two princesses named Amelia in the British royal family: a daughter of George II and a daughter of George III, and it has occasionally been used as a middle name. A down side is that Amelia is also the name of one of William’s Spencer cousins. Helena is another one of the rarer royal princess names that may be up for consideration.
Caroline has not been used by the British royals as a first name since the Georgian era, when we had two Queen Consorts who bore the name and three Princesses. If William and Catherine chose to revive it, it would be a nice way to honour both Prince Charles and Carol Middleton in one fell swoop.
Charlotte was one of the most illustrious feminine names of the Georgian era. Queen Charlotte was the wife of King George III and together they had a daughter and two granddaughters with the name. The last Princess Charlotte Augusta was the only legitimate heir throughout her life and was set to become Queen Charlotte I. She was very popular with the people and was deeply mourned publicly at her early death aged 21. William’s uncle, Earl Spencer, gave the name to his daughter, Charlotte Diana, who will be turning one later this month and it is also Pippa Middleton’s middle name.
Eleanor, Isabella and Matilda all have the distinction of being borne by more than one medieval royal consort and all are currently Top 100 favourites. Empress Matilda was the heir presumptive of her father – she even ruled in her own right for a few months – but was never officially crowned. None have been used as first names for royal princesses since the 17th century, though Eleanor and Matilda have occasionally been used as a middle name. There was some speculation that Eleanor was considered by Charles and Diana if they had a girl; instead Diana’s sister Jane used it for her daughter in 1985.
As a royal name, Philippa is rather an obscure one. Nevertheless, it has been borne by one queen consort – Philippa of Hainault, the wife of King Edward III, who was popular with the people for her kindness and compassion. It has not been used within the royal family since the 16th century but perhaps it will now be revived to honour Catherine’s sister, Philippa “Pippa” Middleton.
Although currently a very popular first name, Sophia is one of the lesser known royal names, borne mostly by Georgian princesses. Britain narrowly missed out on having a Queen Sophia I when the heir to the throne, Electress Sophia of Hanover, died weeks before she would have become queen in 1714. The traditional British pronunciation that was used at this time (and still is used, particularly by the elite) is so-FYE-a.
Whatever the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge might choose for a daughter, the media will always come up with their own form of the name.
Diana, Princess of Wales was erroneously dubbed “Princess Di” for years; Sarah, Duchess of York was labelled “Fergie” and Catherine is still referred to as Kate Middleton, despite her married name having been “Wales” for over two years now and the palace formally announcing that she prefers to be called Catherine. What the media (and therefore wider world) will call the royal baby, isn’t necessarily going to be the choice of the parents themselves and, perhaps, that in itself is an added consideration for the royal couple to contend with.
Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a primary school teacher living in Coventry, England and author of the excellent, highly recommended blog British Baby Names.