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British Names: Exciting Choices of the Prime Ministers

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 HamiltonGordon 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 SpencerChurchill [Winston]

MARIGOLD SpencerChurchill [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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14 Responses to “British Names: Exciting Choices of the Prime Ministers”

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punkprincessphd Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 8:46 am

Thanks so much for a great blog, Twinkle! I’m a British history buff, so this was like eating ice cream for breakfast. Fabulous.

BTW, I always thought David Lloyd George was fantastic for having, in effect, 3 first names. It used to drive the freshers in my first-year history seminar absolutely crazy.

British American Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 9:29 am

I’m pleasantly surprised that Winston Churchill named his daughter Marigold. 🙂

Nephele Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 9:53 am

Rule Britannia! Especially with names like Beatrix, Marigold, and Felicity! A great blog, Twinkle!

Abby@AppellationMountain Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 10:12 am

What a fabulous list – and what cool names your own kids have, too!

Patricia Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 10:31 am

Wow! What an immense amount of research went into your blog, and I loved every word of it! I too love British history, British literature, British naming patterns past and present. Thanks so much!

spotlightstarlit Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 10:41 am

gotta love

Gwendolyn
Hugh
Marigold
Felicity and
Esther!

susan Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 11:10 am

Love your blog, Twinkle! Favorite names on it: William! (The name William makes me feel weak because it’s just so handsome.) Also love Leonora, and Gwendolyn, but I love Gwendolyn spelled with a “y”. Is your real name Winifred? Love the names in your family, especially Rupert. I’m in awe!
I think Michael Jackson would have been a great British Prime Minister because he named both his sons the same name – Prince Michael. The gloved one had something in common with the namesake of Earl Grey tea, that’s for sure! JK!

Emz Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 1:33 pm

Cool blog. Whereabouts in London are you, Winnie, if you don’t mind me asking? It’s just that naming trends vary so much across the city, I’d be interested to know. Your kids’ names are fab, btw.

twinkle Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 1:51 pm

Thank you all, I’m glad that you enjoyed it!
Yes, Susan, I am a Winifred. I love Rupert’s name, too – when we first met (over ten years ago), he actually made rather a bad first impression, and afterwards I was heard to remark “Well, at least he has a nice name.”
Haha, the thought of Michael Jackson as Prime Minister is hilarious!
Winnie

disa_lan Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 3:52 pm

Great blog, thank you Twinkle.
Agnes is growing on me.
Gwendolen is very pretty and I too like it spelled Gwendolyn.
Violet is a family name and so pretty, it would be a shame if she was never used in our family again.
Leonora and Marigold I think would make cute sisters. 🙂

lemon Says:

February 23rd, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Twinkle,

What a lovely blog! I just adore the sisterly combination of Gwendolen and Beatrix! Two beautiful, unique, and literary names! Perfection.

Also interesting to see that Henry and Margaret – both of which are on my list – are upper-crust politico names…

Thanks!

Lemon

peach Says:

February 24th, 2010 at 12:26 am

A very interesting post! Thank you Winnie. I particularly admire the British sound of these names: Georgiana, Francis, Beatrix, Hugh, Cyril, Marigold.

Gingersnap Says:

May 17th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

I remember reading about Marigold Spencer-Churchill, who died as a young child. Her mother kept a photo of her on her dresser, and one of her other daughters (born after Marigold)didn’t even know Marigold existed until she asked her mother who the baby was. I do love the name, and used it for a pet once.

fresher jobs Says:

April 22nd, 2013 at 12:01 pm

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