The Royal Baby Name: A Unique Naming Experience That's Strangely Familiar

Dec 6th 2012

My phone has been ringing madly since the news broke that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a new heir to the British throne. Everyone wants to talk royal baby names: What name will they choose? How creative can they be? What impact will their choice have on baby name style?

At first glance, a royal name choice seems far removed from the decision facing typical parents -- even typical celebrity parents. Baby names are fashion statements today, expressions of the parents' style and creativity. Even parents who prefer traditional names still look for a fresh sound, making names like Elijah and Violet more common than John and Mary. And while we still love our parents and grandparents, we're not ready to sacrifice our sense of style to give them namesakes. Their "boring" names become middle names, or are honored obliquely with initials.

Can you imagine the royal family tossing aside tradition that way? What is the British monarchy, after all, without tradition, symbolism, pageantry and reminders of its past? I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that a little Princess Lexie-Mae or Prince Kenzie-Lee could trigger a crisis for the throne. You can't strip away all of the trappings of royalty and stay regal. (By the way, I plucked those sample names from the England & Wales naming stats; each was bestowed on ten or more babies last year.)

This decision, in short, isn't just a baby name choice. It's a statement of public identity for the royal family; a branding opportunity for the British throne. But that, oddly enough, is where Wills and Kate are most like other parents their age. In past generations, the main audience for name choices was your immediate family. Today, parents are more likely to consider the impact on a broader stage: what image will this name project about our family, and our child? What name will make a positive impression and set the child up for success? You might think of the royal baby name choice as an extreme version of this, with extra in-law pressure. Or, to turn it around, you might say that today, we're all raising royal babies.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

OK, so what are they going to name the kid? Since you asked...name choices reflect the way the parents live their lives, and the futures they dream of. These parents have been very respectful of image of the royal family and the roles they have to play, but within those bounds have attempted to carve out some quiet, privacy, and modernity. The respect suggests a name prominent in William's family tree. The quiet and privacy suggest avoiding names laden with too much symbolic pressure, which would rule out the likes of Victoria, Elizabeth and Diana. (They can use middle names for the family homages -- something else they have in common with other parents today.) And the modernity suggest avoiding names currently born by close living relatives.

Here's a short list of names that fit those criteria:

PRINCES
Albert
Arthur
Edmund
Frederick
George
John
Philip
Richard
Robert

PRINCESSES
Alexandra
Alice
Caroline
Eleanor
Margaret
Mary
Matilda

If you're a gambler, Matilda gives you attractive odds at 100/1. (Surely it's ten times as likely as Waynetta, at 1000/1?) I also like the odds on all of the A names -- Alice, Alexandra, Arthur and Albert -- along with Margaret and Eleanor.

And if it were up to me? Queen Alice or King Arthur. Impeccably British, well-represented in the royal family tree, fashionable in England today, and full of the stuff that dreams are made of.

Comments

1
December 6, 2012 12:00 PM

No Georgian names? What about Amelia, Charlotte, Louisa?

I think Frances is a contender - Diana's middle name and her mother's first name. Charlotte is Pippa's name so perhaps a homage there.

The Middleton family names (Carole, Dorothy) don't quite have the royal ring. On the male side I think James would come into play though. 

2
By EM2N
December 6, 2012 12:39 PM

I've read maybe in two places that George is the front runner for a boy.  I think Will and Kate will probably go for something else though... I kind of love how they seem to try to buck some of the regal trends (like how they lived in a little cottage after they were married).  I'm thinking they will go for something off that list that is little more modern sounding.  I actually love George but just don't think they'll with it.  My money is on Arthur or Frederick (Prince Freddie).

I don't have a strong guess on a girl but I'd love to see Alice, Caroline, Margaret, or Frances.  I bet whichever they choose will see a pretty big popularity spike both in the US and UK, especially if it's a girl.

Do we know if they'll find out and reveal the baby's sex?  My guess is no.

3
By PJ
December 6, 2012 12:41 PM

oh my goodness a little Prince Freddie would be the cutest thing EVER.

 

I also like Victoria a lot for them. I understand how Diana or Elizabeth is too much pressure, but if Albert is a contender, shouldn't Victora be as well?

 

4
December 6, 2012 12:46 PM

The royal baby name countdown is exciting! My first thought was something along the lines of: Oooooooh, can't wait for the months of discussion and then to see what they actually come up with!

Second thought: Ugh oh. What if they use AUGUSTA, an option I believe I saw listed on one site or another, ( and an all-time favorite name I'm determined to use on a future daughter), catapulting this modern rarity into the public consciousness and thus onto the U.S. charts????!!!!!!! Everyone will assume I jumped on the Kate Middleton bandwagon! NOOOOOO!!!!! Dear royal baby, please have the courtesy to be male. 

Sadly, I'm a bit of a name hoarder when it comes to the ones I actually plan on using. Oh, well. Still exciting! And I believe Kate has been hospitalized for some type of accute morning sickness? I wish them the best.

 

5
December 6, 2012 1:09 PM

Well, certainly not John--there hasn't been a King John since 1200 and he is not remembered fondly (to say the least).  King Arthur seems too mythical.  I wouldn't be surprised at a Richard or a Henrietta.

6
By a666
December 6, 2012 1:19 PM

As well as King John, Prince John (George V's youngest) added to the perceived "royal curse" element of the name too - can't see them using that at all.

As a Brit I wouldn't find Princess Lexie-Mae too contentious at all - Lexie is from Alexandra, a common royal name, and Mae is only an alternative spelling of May, again a common royal (nick)name (it's how Mary of Teck was known). Lexie-Mae/Alexandra Mary would be no stranger than Harry/Henry, Kate/Catherine.

Prince Kenzie-Lee on the other hand would indeed be a bit more ~out there~.

7
December 6, 2012 2:57 PM

"What about Amelia, Charlotte, Louisa?"

Excellent question! There are arguments against each, but they're all close calls.

Amelia: A little borderline on degree of royal lineage, and practically speaking I think the Princess Diaries books make that name problematic for a real-life princess right now.

Charlotte: A form of Charles; I generally eliminated opposite-sex versions of names that were off my list.

Louisa: William has a first cousin Louise, a daughter of Prince Edward.

8
By a666
December 6, 2012 3:55 PM

If Charles and Elizabeth are out, wouldn't Philip have the same problem?

9
December 6, 2012 6:20 PM

Arthur has a little problem.  Would baby Arthur be Arthur I or Arthur II?  The monarchy would have to publicly declare the legendary one as fact or fiction, first.

10
By a666
December 6, 2012 6:52 PM

It would be King Arthur (becoming Athur I if another Arthur were to become king after - they don't give a number to the first until there's been a second, hence Elizabeth I or Henry I, but just King John and Queen Anne). It would make no committment either way to Arthur Pendragon having been real, because the numbers only count for since the Norman Conquest in 1066 (for the same reason if they call it Edward, it would be Edward IX not Edward XII, because of the previous 11 kings called Edward, only 8 were post-Conquest).

11
December 6, 2012 7:31 PM

John may not be chosen due to King John and the two princes who died young (sons of Edward VII and George V). Also, both Prince Alberts that became king did not use the name, and Prince Albert Victor died young, so Albert seems "doomed" as regnal name.

If William and Catherine are going to be very traditional, I think they will choose George for a boy. If not, I'd be happy to see Arthur, Frederick, or Edmund.

It's harder to guess a girl's name. I'd be happy to see Alexandra, Matilda, Caroline, Eleanor, or Alice. I also think Georgiana is a good possibility. Spain will have a Queen Leonor, but I don't know if that would influence them to not choose Eleanor.

12
By Coll
December 6, 2012 8:51 PM

I think it's a girl and I think they'll go with Caroline, which has royal heritage and a connection to Kate's mother (and is also an attractive and modern name but one that won't ruffle any feathers). Definitely Diana as a middle and probably Elizabeth or Victoria, too. My money's also on George for a boy. Arthur would be ravishing--and since it's on our short list for a future son I don't know whether to hope they pick it (thus clearing away a lot of potential objections to our choosing the name) or hope they don't pick it (and prevent us from seeming like royal imitators).

And please don't pick Henrietta!!!! (I don't think they will, though. Do they really want to name their daughter after her Uncle Harry?)

13
December 6, 2012 11:18 PM

I'm pretty sure John is out.  I've read that Princess Diana wanted to name one of her sons John after her father but tradition wouldn't allow it. 

 

I was researching my family tree recently and learned my great grandma's name was Vera and her siblings were Vernon, Victor, Viola, Viva (pronounced with a short i) and John. 

14
By EVie
December 7, 2012 12:46 AM

Arthur isn't at all implausible. There actually was an Arthur who was Prince of Wales, the firstborn son of Henry VII. Sadly, he died at age 15, probably of consumption, which is why we ended up with King Henry VIII instead of King Arthur. 

I also remember hearing at some point that Arthur was Prince Charles's first choice name for William, but Diana thought it was too stodgy. Diana wanted Oliver, but that's a no-no for the royal family because of Oliver Cromwell. William was the compromise. I'm not sure how true that story is, though.

15
December 7, 2012 3:07 AM

I'm English and I had to laugh at Lexie-Mae, I'm always seeing Lexies at baby groups and the other week I saw a Lily-Mai complete with hearts over the i's

 

Has anyone suggested Henry or Edward yet?

16
December 7, 2012 10:04 AM

@13 - Valentine Augustana - They should have used Vaughn!

17
December 7, 2012 10:06 AM

I love Laura's picks of Alice and Arthur... they feel slightly fantastical, but are obviously rooted in established names. And they are decidedly British, and literary to boot!

18
December 9, 2012 3:44 PM

Arthur I like as a middle name for my future head of state, but as a first? King Arthur has so much romantic baggage that it seems silly-- symbolic head of state in Britain and the 16 realms of the commonwealth or not, the kid's only human :) Maybe if Arthur Tudor had become king and this was an Arthur II--but as it is, I really hope not! Edmund gets my vote (or George, or maybe Frederick).

19
December 10, 2012 1:04 AM

I am pulling for a Princess Edwina!!!

20
December 11, 2012 12:32 PM

Hi everyone (nice to "see" you all again)! 

I vote for Alexandra or Eleanor for a girl and Frederick or maybe Nicholas for a boy. I thiink the fact that Kate and Will have traditional names yet modern/spunky nicknames will weigh a bit in their decision. So a Princess Alexandra (called Lexie ) would not be odd for me. What about Spencer for a boys middle because it was Diana's maiden name?

21
December 11, 2012 2:03 PM

Oh, I do hope its a boy.  I'm expecting a girl next month and my husband and I had actually agreeed quite early on that we both like the name Alice (a slight miracle).  Being in the U.S., this is still a fairly uncommon name, which is sort of a must since our other daughter has one of those "not in the top 1000" very uncommon names.  Do you all think a Princess Alice will catapult the name in the U.S. to top ten status in just a few years?  I realize that there is no guarantee that Laura is even correct that they would use Alice, but I'm suddenly pulling for a little prince.

22
December 11, 2012 2:30 PM

peasoup, I think you misunderstood slightly: Alice is not Laura's prediction, it's just what she'd choose if it were up to her. I don't see the name mentioned in any of the "royal baby name odds" articles online.

If the fates of the names Diana, William, Harry (and Henry), Beatrice, and Eugenie are any indication, a Princess Alice wouldn't really register in the name's American popularity. It is on an upswing of late, though, and I don't think a royal namesake would stop that.

All things are relative, though: the recent upswing just means  that instead of about 200 babies in a million at its low in the 1980s-90s, it's now given to 500 babies in a million. That's one child in 2,000 within her age group -- not exactly a Sarah or Sophia. (And nowhere near a Jennifer; no name even gets close to that, any more.)

Alice is a good name, by the way; The mother and daughter I know by it are both lovely people.

Back to the topic, I'm hoping for a Georgianna or a George...

23
December 11, 2012 2:39 PM

I'm rooting for Alexandra, Eleanor, or Alice for a girl, and I'm not sure for the boys.  I love Arthur, but it's one of my favorites, so I don't want it shooting up the charts any time soon...

24
December 11, 2012 2:40 PM

ZOERHENNE!!!!!!! So happy to see your post!!!!

25
December 11, 2012 4:23 PM

As the mother of a 4-year old Alice, I heartily approve of your name choice. Alice is a still-uncommon name in the United States, but one that everyone easily "gets". People tell me all the time how much they love the name. Congratulations in advance.  :)

26
December 11, 2012 10:15 PM

I'm thinking if Will and Kate want to reach back into English history for a name that hasn't been used for a long time, they might pick Charlotte or Sophia for a girl. These were the two princesses, both heirs to the throne, who ALMOST became queens of England.  It would be a bit of poetic justice to finally have a Queen Charlotte or Queen Sophia.

Charlotte was the name of George IV's only child and heiress, who lived from 1796 to 1817.  She would have become Queen Charlotte I if she had outlived her father, but she died in childbirth along with her baby son.  She was extremely popular with the English people.  As a name, Charlotte would pay tribute to both William's father Charles and Kate's mother Carole.  Plus, it's Pippa's middle name.

Sophia also has a royal British connection.  Sophia of Hanover was the heiress presumptive to Queen Anne, and would have been Queen Sophia I of England had she lived three weeks longer.  Instead, her son became George I in 1714.  Sophia means "wisdom", which would be a lovely connotation for a modern queen.  Also, the British royals are close friends of the Spanish royal family.  The current Queen of Spain is Sofia, who was born a Greek princess and is a cousin of Prince Philip.  She's had a rough year -- maybe they'd like to honor her with a royal English godchild.

And for middle names, I'm sure Elizabeth and Diana are the winners like everyone else!

27
December 12, 2012 11:28 AM

GAH!! zoerhenne!!! We've really been missing you since your disappearance!! If you can spare the time, we would LOVE if you checked in now and then!!

28
December 12, 2012 9:23 PM

Karyn + Elizabeth T: Glad to "see" you again too. I will check in here and there again but maybe not 100 times a day like I used to. :P

I won't bog down the thread with all the particulars but suffice it to say Real Life and a very fun online game (that's now been cancelled) were what had my attention since May. Would love to know how many babies I missed and how everyone is doing. Maybe I will open a forum thread. Nice to think I was missed :)

29
December 28, 2012 1:25 AM

the royals can pick any name they want, when he or she succeeds the throne they most likely will change it, charles is going to become edward in honor of his grandfather. they wont name the child john since back in history john was a shitty king. most likely, the boy will be george or edward, the girl will be mary, margerat or elizabeth

30
March 11, 2013 5:18 AM

Well, definitely my choice is Arthur for the prince and Alexandra for the princess. The two names are perfect for royal names.

31
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