by Eleanor Nickerson of British Baby Names
It’s July! Which means, the month of the Royal Baby’s arrival is here. Many assume that the Royal couple only have a very small pool of names to choose from and, while this is true, royal history shows us that William and Catherine actually have a lot of flexibility in the way they can use those names.
Let’s take the example of King George V and Queen Mary who named two consecutive kings: Edward VIII and George VI. Their eldest son was given the appropriately “kingly” first name of Edward, but was actually known as David to the family – his full name being “Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David”.
The second son was named “Albert Frederick Arthur George”, but called Bertie by his family and friends. When he became king, the name Albert had no precedent as a regnal name (and was deemed a bit too ‘Germanic’ in the aftermath of WWI) so it was easy enough to use one of his middle names instead.
The precedent that this, and other monarchs, have set means that, whatever Catherine and William choose for the baby’s ‘formal’ name, it doesn’t need to be the name they are called by within the family, or even the name he/she will use if they become King or Queen. Middle names and nicknames offer them a wider selection to choose from.
We should also remember that all ‘Royal Parents’ are young parents of their generation – and choose their children’s names accordingly. When Queen Elizabeth chose the names Charles and Anne, they were both Top 50 in Britain. William was also given a Top 50 name, while both Henry and Harry were rising back into fashion when Prince Harry was born.
Fortunately, several names that have been borne by ruling monarchs are currently in the Top 50:
As the name of William’s father, Charles is a prime contenders for one of the names of a new royal prince – whether first or middle name. Charlie (currently Top 5 in Britain) would make an on trend nickname to distinguish the little prince from his grandfather.
Edward has not only been borne by eight kings, it is the only kingly name that is British in origin, and a solid Top 50 favourite at the moment. The down side is that the name is already ‘in use’ by William’s uncle, Prince Edward, but they could always place it the middle as a reserve regnal name – or better yet, use a cool nickname. Ned or Teddy, anyone?
George is most people’s top bet for a royal boy. It is not only an established name for a King of the United Kingdom; it’s also a fashionable Top 20 favourite and, even better, not currently ‘in use’ by a member of the immediate royal family. One down side is that George is the name of one of the Spencer cousins. Though William and Catherine may not want to repeat the names of extended family, they have little room to be picky about this – William’s relatives on both sides have bagged most of the royal names on offer.
Henry: an established royal name for kings and a great way to honour William’s brother. As our own Prince Henry of Wales goes exclusively by Harry, there is no reason why another Henry would cause confusion.
I’ve seen James mentioned several times as a possibility for the next royal prince; it has precedent as a kingly name, and it is also the name of Catherine’s brother. While James could be used as one of the many middle names, it is very unlikely that it will be in the first spot. There is a good reason why royals have avoided it for potential heirs to the throne for hundreds of years. James Stuart may have been the first King James of England but he was the sixth King James of Scotland. Add to that the confusion of James III & VIII as a pretender to the throne (some lists count him, some don’t) and a new King James would cause a headache of official royal titles. King James the III/IV & VIII/IX? I seriously doubt it. Prince Edward also has a son called James who is now five years old.
It may seem a tad narcissistic, but Royals have a long history of giving the first borne son the name of his father. If it isn’t used as the official name, it will quite likely be used in the one of the middle spots.
John, Richard and Stephen have also been borne by ruling monarchs, but there is little precedent for their use in the royal family in recent centuries, and they have long since had their heyday. Who knows, perhaps the Wales’ want to break the mold, ?
There are also a few other names that have been borne by royal princes that, although are a little less conventional, are both traditional and fashionable. These most likely won’t be chosen as a “formal” name, but they could be used as a middle name which the family call them by, or as a first name with a more formal middle name reserved for the regnal name.
Alexander has never been borne by a king of England, but there have been several Kings of Scotland with the name. Prince Alexander was also the youngest son of King Edward VII. Using Alexander as a first name, however, would cause the same problems as James, but it could be used as a middle name that gleans several nickname opportunities. Alexander is also the name of one of William’s Spencer cousins.
Albert was first introduced into the British royal family by Prince Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria. So determined was she to make sure Albert was borne by all his “male English descendants”, she fanatically gave the name to all her sons, badgered all her children to use it as well and, when the Prince of Wales had his first son, she decreed that the baby be called Albert Victor even before informing his parents. The last to bear Albert as a first name was the Queen’s father, King George VI, but it is also one of Prince Harry’s and Prince Andrew’s middle names.
Although Kings of England are generally counted from William the Conqueror onward, arguably the first actual king ‘of England’ was the iconic Saxon king, Alfred the Great. Since then, the name has been also borne by a son of George III, and a son and grandson of Queen Victoria.
Like Edward and Alfred, Arthur is a truly native British name, making it a highly appropriate name for a British prince. It is also, more famously, the name of the legendary and valliant King Arthur. King Henry VII named his eldest son Arthur but, when he died young, we were deprived of a reigning King Arthur. Queen Victoria also chose the name for one of her sons, in honour of the heroic Duke of Wellington. Arthur is also extremely fashionable at the moment, having seen a meteoric rise back into the Top 100 in the last five years.
Like Arthur, Frederick was the almost kingly name we never had. Frederick Louis (Lewis), Prince of Wales was the eldest son and heir of King George II; when he predeceased his father, his son, George, became king instead. Frederick was also borne by several other Georgian princes and was the second name of both King George V and King George VI. Upon the former’s birth, Queen Victoria wrote to her son (later King Edward VII) stating “Frederick is […] the best of the two, and I hope you will call him so.” Sadly, she did not get her wish, and George never was called by the middle name Frederick. Maybe now is finally Frederick’s time – especially given that both Freddie and Frederick are currently Top 100 favourites.
Louis is one of William’s middle names, given to him in honour of Louis Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Philip and “Honorary Grandfather” to Prince Charles. It’s also a current Top 100 favourite in Britain. Louis has no precedence as a British regnal name, though it has been borne by many French monarchs. It is also the name of one of the Spencer cousins. For Lord Mountbatten it was pronounced it LOO-ee, but previously, when the Georgians used Louis as a middle name for their princes, it was LOO-is.
Whether boy or girl, it’s almost guaranteed that this royal baby will be a trendsetter from birth – with everything from their booties to their strollers becoming sought-after – and most especially their name and/or nickname. And while all parents feel a pressure to name their children well, Catherine and William have the unenviable added burden of naming a future monarch.
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.