Victorian Names: A Royal Legacy

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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18 Responses to “Victorian Names: A Royal Legacy”

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Namenutt Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 1:33 am

As a dual South African/British citizen, I was astounded and very amused to see the place names of the Boer War! Very interesting blogpost. 🙂

Stephie656 Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 6:33 am

I don’t get it – where in the article did you tell us what Victoria named her kids? (otherwise very inspirational post!)

NotNic Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 6:41 am

My Great-Grandmother’s middle name was Pretoria and she was born in 1901. As good South Londoners I often wondered where that came from!

pam Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 7:26 am

I added the names of Victoria’s children.

Stephie656 Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 7:37 am

Thanks for adding her kids’ names. Leopolda, Thomasina, Livingstone, Haroldina and Josepha are so interesting. So is Marquess and Everetta actually… Good post good post.

Elea Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 8:00 am

Stephie656 – I had originally put ALL Victoria’s children and grandchildren and the post was HUGE 😉 Linda and I had to cut it down a bit but I’m glad the kids are back in. It was a wrench to cut some of them.

NotNic – That’s great! I’m glad to have added some background info for you.

Andrea Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 8:17 am

Victoria demanded that Victoria or Albert or both be included in the names of many of her grandchildren, to the point where nicknames had to be used for all the kids with the same names in the family. Most names were repeated again and again, so nicknames were needed.

Alfred’s daughter Victoria was generally known as “Ducky” while her elder sister Marie (eventual Queen of Romania) was nicknamed “Missy” and her younger sister Alexandra was called “Sandra.” Their little sister Beatrice Leopoldine Victoria was actually called “Baby Bee” rather than just “Bea” in the family.

Helena’s elder daughter had a string of names but was officially known as Helena Victoria and called “Thora” by everyone in the family. Thora’s younger sister Franziska Josepha Louise Augusta Marie Christina Helena, etc., was known as “Marie Louise” for official purposes and called simply “Louise” by her grandmother. Alice’s daughter Alix was actually Viktoria Alix Helena Louise Beatrice. It was used as a variation of Alice because the Germans couldn’t pronounce Alice and she was always called “Alicky” or “Sunny” in the family. She became Tsarina Alexandra. Alix’s elder sister Elisabeth was called “Ella,” which seems to have been their standard family nickname for Elisabeth. “Ella” was also the family nickname for Alix’s ill-fated niece Elisabeth (daughter of the aforementioned Ducky and Alix’s brother Ernie.)

Victoria’s son Leopold was called “Leo” in the family, while his brother Alfred was called Affie. Alice Maud Mary’s childhood nicknames were Ali and Fatima (because she was chubby.) Helena was always known by the German diminutive “Lenchen.” Beatrice was called “Baby” because she was the baby of the family. Beatrice’s eldest son Alexander was called by Drino, another diminutive. And so on and so on. Victorian nicknames were more interesting sometimes than the names themselves.

Andrea Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 8:21 am

The names of Victoria’s eldest daughter Victoria (“Vicky”) were also quite interesting. Victoria’s daughter Charlotte was called “Charly” in the family. Vicky’s daughter Victoria somehow ended up with the nickname “Moretta.” Margarete, the baby of the family, was called “Mossy,” apparently because her parents thought her hair grew like moss when she was a baby.

SadieSadie Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 8:51 am

Am I insane to think that Rhodesia is cute?

tarynkay Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 11:22 am

@SadieSadie: if Rhodesia weren’t such a politically-loaded word, it could be really cute. But there is some serious, horrific, oppressive, colonization-special, very recent history there in former Rhodesia (current Zimbabwe), so I wouldn’t use it. Maybe just Rhoda instead?

Elea Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Andrea I completely agree. The nicknames are fascinating – worthy of a blog just on their own! I love that Affie was connected with “affable”. My favourite is definitely Drino. It sounds just so darn cool and yet has a link through Victoria as she was called Drina as a child. Never heard of Margarete being called Mossy. That’s a new one for me. Thank you!

Olivia Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 2:03 pm

This is a great blog! Beatrice Leopoldine Victoria is particularly lovely. Helena Augusta Victoria is almost as wonderful.

Gingersnap Says:

April 28th, 2011 at 7:43 pm

I read somewhere that even today, the Queen has the last word on the names of her grandchildren; although Princess Anne has a daughter named Zara, which doesn’t fit the royal mold. I’ve also been reading that if William and Catherine have a daughter, they plan to name her Diana, which I suspect wouldn’t please Her Majesty either.

pdxlibrarian Says:

April 29th, 2011 at 7:53 am

I have to say that the idea of naming children after politicians isn’t that strange here in the US. In my great-grandfather’s generation, he and his 5 or so brothers all have first and middle names to honor past presidents — even Garfield is included.

There are also a number of baby boys given first names like Lincoln and Truman right now, as surname first-names are more popular.

I think the thing that is more unusual is naming babies after living politicians, or politicians that are not presidents.

Joanna Says:

April 30th, 2011 at 2:03 am

So, so very fascinating. I’ll stay tuned!

– Jo

Jonathan S. Says:

August 6th, 2011 at 11:05 am

My great grandmother was named Alice Alberta for the royal family 🙂

rachelemma Says:

February 20th, 2012 at 12:35 am

In my family tree there was an Ethel May Jubilee born in 1887 in Australia. I was wondering where her 2nd middle name came from.
How wonderful!!

NameLovingWriter Says:

July 18th, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Stephie656: IT WAS AT THE TOP OF THE PAGE

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:

Victoria Adelaide Mary
Albert Edward
Alice Mary Maud
Alfred Ernest Albert
Helena Augusta Victoria
Louise Caroline Alberta
Arthur William Patrick
Leopold George Duncan
Beatrice Mary Victoria

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