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Victorian Names: A Royal Legacy

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For this royal week, Eleanor Nickerson starts her guest blog with name-loving Queen Victoria herself, then goes on to explore the name trends in the Britain of her era.

Queen Victoria not only gave her name to an entire era, she also ‘gave’ her name to generations of children who were named for her, and was arguably a huge name icon of the nineteenth century.

It is said that Victoria was very particular about the names she chose, selecting from family members and friends, and even tried to dictate what her grandchildren were named.  Her nine children were named:

It is clear to see from the vast number of children named Victoria and Albert (or Victor and Alberta/Albertine for the opposite gender) that the Royal couple were huge namesakes for British Victorians, as were the queen’s children and grandchildren.  Many a Victorian child had at least one name that was also used by a member of the royal family –in many cases, the whole name – as can be seen in the records by the great number of children named Albert Victor (after Prince Albert Victor) and Helena Victoria (after Princess Helena Victoria).

Some lovely Royal names include:

 

The Birth Index clearly shows that if a name was used for a Royal baby, that name would most likely rocket in popularity. For example, Melita is recorded for 104 children from 1837-1876. In November 1876 Prince Alfred named his daughter Victoria Melita and in 1877 alone 41 children were given the name –with 276 more Melitas recorded over the following twenty years, peaking again in 1894 when the Princess married.

As we prepare to celebrate the latest royal wedding of William and Kate it is interesting to look back at the impact that an earlier royal wedding of the heir to the throne had on naming. On March 10,1863 Prince Albert (later Edward VII) married Alexandra of Denmark, an event celebrated with great enthusiasm all around the country.

We can see the impact of this momentous event in the use of the name Alexandra. Between the years 1837 (the year the Civil Registration Birth Index begins) and 1862 there are only 68 girls called Alexandra recorded across the whole 25 year period. In 1863, the year of the wedding, there were a staggering 463 babies registered with the name Alexandra in that year alone, with well over 300 registered the following year.

As well as the Royal Family, notable politicians of the day were also used as namesakes. The surnames Gladstone and Disraeli (after William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli – the two most prominent Prime Ministers of the era) appear quite frequently as first and middle names for boys across the era, even long after their tenures. It wasn’t uncommon for girls to be given these illustrious surnames as middle names as well.

It may seem strange to modern parents why anyone would want to name their child after a politician. But politics in the Victorian age underwent a radical evolution under pressure to adjust to the economic, social and demographic changes brought on by the Industrial Revolution.  Politics was being opened up to the British people in a way it had never been before, and its foreign and imperial policy was making Britain a mighty nation. Who better to name a child after – what better patriotic symbol – than those who were helping to mould and form a powerful empire?

Several Victorian parents took the namesake business even further by giving the entire name of a notable politician (middles and surname included) to their child as first names. Across the records it is not unusual to stumble across a Benjamin Disraeli Paston or a William Ewart Gladstone Anderson.

Here are just a few specific examples of children given first names after Prime Ministers:

As we can see, for boys, there were plenty of patriotic namesakes to be used. But girls were not left out completely. The Victorians had an interesting way of getting around the gender divide by creating many ‘new’ feminisations of male names. Of course, several already existed and had been used for centuries such as Charlotte, Georgiana, Henrietta, Philippa, Thomasina, but during the Victorian period we see more of an adoption of the European style of feminisation. Names like Bernadette, Clementine, Josephine, Yvette, were all imported from the continent and other more interesting feminisations were styled.

  • Adolpha
  • Alfreda
  • Cuthberta /Cuthbertina
  • Donalda
  • Edmunda
  • Everetta
  • Harolda / Haroldine / Haroldina
  • Hectorina
  • Huberta /Hubertina
  • Lawrencina / Laurencina / Laurencine
  • Leonardene
  • Lionella
  • Osmunda
  • Rudolphine
  • Ruperta / Rupertia / Rupertina
  • Samuelina

Some might argue that the use of royal and political names shows a lack of imagination and ‘sheep-like’ quality amongst Victorian parents. However, if you look carefully at some of their more eccentric choices, you can clearly see a strong patriotic thread running through.

Charlotte Mary Yonge, writing in 1863, remarked that “enthusiastic [parents] mark popular incidents” in their choice of names, giving the examples of Navarino, Maida and Alma having been “inflicted in honour of battles”. The Boer War throws up several ‘battle baby names’ from 1880-1902 including Bloemfontein, Colenso, Johannesburg, Ladysmith, Mafeking, Pretoria and Talana. My personal favourite was a baby born in 1900 called Magersfontein Paardeberg after two such battles.

National as well as international events were commemorated. The Golden Jubilee in 1887 produced several children with the name Jubilee. Ten years later for the Diamond Jubilee we see a peak of use in the names Victoria/Victor, Diamond and Jubilee for both boys and girls with many parents going all the way by naming their children Diamond Jubilee or Victoria/Victor Diamond Jubilee.

Below are some of the more interesting ‘commemorative’ names used for both boys and girls as first and middle names:

  • Census – given to children born around the census in 1841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891 and 1901.
  • Coronation – used in 1902 and later in 1911.
  • LivingstoneDavid Livingstone, the popular Victorian missionary and explorer.
  • Rhodesia – British colony established in 1889 (given to girls).
  • Trafalgar – the famous British sea battle.
  • Transvaal – British colony established in 1889 (given to girls).
  • Waterloo – the famous British land battle.

As many Victorian name tastes are becoming increasingly popular again today, it will be interesting to see how many of the trends we are willing to revive. Will we see a huge peak in the name Catherine after the Royal Wedding? Will we start meeting David Beckhams or Wayne Rooneys after modern namesakes? Or perhaps we’ll be even more fanciful and in a few years you’ll meet an Olivia Olympics, Joshua Jubilee or a Diamond Sophie.

I have to admit, I’m quite hoping we will.

In her next blog, the erudite Eleanor will explore the names that followed the Victorian Era–the Edwardians.  Stay tuned!

Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a twenty-something primary school teacher living in Coventry, England who, beyond having a name obsession, loves researching family trees, poring through old records and adores anything to do with history.

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