Rare Royal Girls’ Names: Christabel, Eugenie and Melita
Royal babies have been on everyone’s mind lately, and we recently saw two babies born in the royal family within less than a month of each other.
Not only have been people been doing web searches for Prince George and Maud Windsor, they’ve been searching for royal baby names in general, uncommon royal names, and royal names that nobody else is using. So here is a list of queens and princesses connected to English royal houses by either birth or marriage, whose names aren’t popular or common.
Adeliza of Louvain married Henry I, and became queen of England. She didn’t produce any royal heirs; however, after Henry’s death she re-married, and had seven children and is an ancestor of many of the noble English families. William the Conqueror had a daughter called Adeliza, named after his sister – the name wasn’t uncommon amongst Norman–French aristocracy. Adeliza is a medieval English form of Adelais, a short form of the original old Germanic form of Adelaide. It’s pronounced ad-uh-LEE-za. Although it doesn’t have any connection to the name Elizabeth, it looks like a combination of Adele and Eliza, and might feel like a way to honour relatives who have variants of these names.
Berengaria of Navarre was Queen of England through her marriage to Richard I, “the Lionheart.” She is the only English queen never to set foot in the country, since she only visited England after her husband’s death, when she was no longer queen. There are a few other royal English Berengarias, perhaps named after her. Berengaria was a traditional name amongst Spanish royalty, and is the feminine form of an ancient Germanic name meaning “bear spear”. It is pronounced behr-en-GAR-ee-uh, and the name has been bestowed upon a planet in the Star Trek universe inhabited by dragon-like creatures. This doesn’t sound like any currently popular names, and the nickname Berry is appealing.
Christabel was the middle name of Princess Alice, wife of Prince Henry, a son of George V. Princess Alice was a direct descendant of Charles II, through an illegitimate line. She is related to Sarah, Duchess of York, the wife of Alice’s great-nephew, Prince Andrew. The name Christabel is a combination of Christina with a -bel suffix, but Princess Alice was given this name because was born on December 25, and the name suggests Christmas bells. Her niece Princess Alexandra, also born on Christmas Day, shares the middle name Christabel. Apart from the Christmas connection, this pretty name might seem like a good way to honour a Christine and an Isobel (for example) simultaneously.
Elfreda was a wife of Edgar I, the first king’s wife to be crowned and anointed as Queen of England. Beautiful and powerful, she was unfortunately linked with the murder of her stepson Saint Edward the Martyr, and ever after appears in medieval history in the role of evil stepmother. Her own son was Ethelred the Unready, only a child when he took the throne. Elfreda was a traditional name amongst Anglo-Saxon royalty, and Alfred the Great of Wessex had a daughter named Elfreda, an ancestor of Queen Matilda, the wife of William the Conqueror. The name went out of use after the Norman Conquest, but was revived in the nineteenth century, although it never became popular. Freda would make a good nickname – unfortunately, sweet Elfie would probably be misheard as Alfie, leading to confusion.
Eugenie was the second name of Victoria Eugenie, a grand-daughter of Queen Victoria who married Alfonso XIII and became Queen of Spain. Her middle name was in honour of her godmother, Maria Eugenia “Eugénie” de Montijo, empress consort to Napoleon III. The name remains well known because of Princess Eugenie of York, daughter of Prince Andrew, who was named after Victoria Eugenie. Eugenie is the Anglicisation of the French form of Eugenia, which is the feminine form of Greek Eugenius, meaning “well born, of noble birth”. This elegant name is said yoo-JEE-nee, and Gina or Genie could be used as nicknames.
Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark was a cousin of Prince Philip. Like her cousin, she married into the British royal family when she wed Prince George, the Duke of Kent, an uncle of Queen Elizabeth II; she was the last foreign-born princess to marry into the British royal family. Princess Marina was attractive and stylish, earning her a place in the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame, and her favourite shade of blue-green became known as “Marina blue”. Princess Marina’s mother was the grand-daughter of Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and Marina may have been named after Princess Marina of Russia. Marina is the feminine form of the Roman Marinus, which may be from the Latin for “of the sea”.
Princess Victoria Melita was a grand-daughter of both Queen Victoria and Tsar Alexander II, making her Princess Marina’s great-aunt. Her love life was one of great turmoil, because she fell in love with her cousin Kirill, Grand Duke of Russia, but was forced to marry her cousin Ernest, Grand Duke of Hesse instead. The marriage wasn’t a success, as Victoria Melita preferred Kirill, and Ernest preferred young boys. Her life contained some bitterness, but Victoria Melita’s middle name has a sweet meaning. Melita is the Latin name for the island of Malta, thought to come from its Greek name, Melite, meaning “sweet as honey. This doesn’t sound out of place next to popular names like Mila and Layla, and would be a great way to honour Maltese ancestry; you could use Millie or Lita as nicknames.
Princess Sibylla (born Sibylle) was a great-granddaughter of Queen Victoria who married her second cousin Prince Gustaf Adolf (known as “Edmund”) of Sweden; her son Carl XVI Gustaf is the current king of Sweden. The name Sibylla (or Sybilla) has been used amongst European royalty and nobility since the Middle Ages, and has been connected with the British royal family from early on. William the Conqueror’s son Robert was married to a Sybilla, and Henry I had an illegitimate daughter named Sybilla, who married Alexander I of Scotland. Sibylla is from the Greek word for a female prophet of the ancient world who uttered divine revelations in a state of frenzy; the word became sibyl in English. During the Middle Ages, it was thought that the Greek and Romans sybils had been precursors to Christian prophecy, and therefore gained respectability as a Christian concept and name. This name (and its variants), though uncommon, is quite trendy in Australia.
The splendidly-named Sigrid the Haughty was supposedly the wife of Sweyn Forkbeard, who ruled England before the Conquest, in the days when the Danish royal house held the throne. It’s not clear if Sigrid was her real name, because it seems that Sweyn’s wife was actually Polish rather than Scandinavian, and in fact we can’t be sure if “Sigrid the Haughty” even existed–she may well be a fictional character. Sigrid is from the Old Norse name meaning “beautiful victory.” The usual nicknames are Siri and Sigi.
Thyra was the daughter of Sigrid and Sweyn Forkbeard, the sister of Canute the Great. She was married to Godwin, the first Earl of Essex, the father of King Harold who fell at the Battle of Hastings. She didn’t live very long, and she and Godwin didn’t have any children together, so she’s rather a footnote in the history books. According to at least one source, Queen Thyra was English, the daughter of King Ethelred of Wessex. She was said to be a smart and sensible woman who led an army against the Germans. Thyra is from the Old Norse, derived from the name of the god Thor, and possibly meaning “Thor’s war.” The name is pronounced TEE-rah, and I think it’s attractive and contemporary-sounding, although pronunciation may be an issue, with people trying to say it THY-rah.
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on September 5th, 2013 at 11:54 pm
I actually really like the names Melita and Thyra, though I can see how the pronunciation of Thyra would be a problem. I most likely would respell it should I ever use the name in the future. Adeliza and Sibylla are also very pretty.
on September 6th, 2013 at 3:09 am
My favourites are….
on September 6th, 2013 at 5:12 am
Adeliza is beautiful. I have a thing for “z” in names!
on September 6th, 2013 at 9:05 am
Christabel for a Christmas baby is lovely!
on September 6th, 2013 at 10:19 am
As an avid British history reader since I was a young girl, I enjoyed reading this blog. I like the name Melita but Melitta is a coffee maker.
Elfreda may sound too “old-fashioned” for today’s parents and Berengaria would be quite the mouthful. I think these names are usable in the real world:
Eugenie – I would pronounce this name the French way “u-ZHAY-nee”
Sibylla – I do prefer the Sybilla spelling
on September 6th, 2013 at 5:23 pm
Who are the lovely girls in the photo?
on September 6th, 2013 at 6:30 pm
@niteowl13, the girls are Princess Olga, Princess Elisabeth, and Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark.
Thyra is actually pronounced TÜ-rah, but that’s hard to say for English speakers.
The current Princess Eugenie’s name is pronounced YOO-zhen-ee.
on September 7th, 2013 at 5:32 pm
I always liked Christabel and Melita. And from royal boys I like Adalbert, Leopold, Luitpold, Sigismund, Sigvard and Olav 😀
@katja: No, Eugenie of York’s name is yoo-JEE-nee (:
on September 8th, 2013 at 3:43 am
@Katja I will leave the Danish pronunciation recording of THyra I heard and people can judge for themselves. To me it sounds like TEE-ra, and I suspect it will be the same for many other Anglophones.
I also hear Princess Eugenie’s name as yoo-JEE-nee.
on September 9th, 2013 at 1:05 pm
Princess Eugenie’s name is not pronounced yoo-JEE-nee by the royal family. If you listen to the princess (as well as members of her family) say her name, you will see that I am right. Here is one example:
http://youtube.com/watch?v=VIa1cHi9yGY (at 2:02)
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