Naming a Second Baby, Royal Style

Sep 9th 2014

The announcement that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting a second child has set off a new round of royal baby name madness. I myself offered up some suitably regal options to The Stir. Most of my suggestions were repeats from the list I suggested back in 2012 — minus George, which is now big brother's name.

But is royal baby naming the same the second time around? Most parents find that the naming process changes with each child. Unlike most parenting experiences, baby naming gets harder with practice. Every name we choose narrows our options for the next child.

To start with, we can assume Prince George's parents will be crossing his name of their list. All of his name. Despite their long strings of names, the Windsors try to avoid duplication among siblings. Consider William and Harry's full names:

William Arthur Philip Louis
Henry Charles Albert David

We can also assume that they'll be looking at their family tree for inspiration, and avoiding the names of close living relatives. So far, this naming process sounds no different from any parents', provided that those parents favor an ultra-traditional Anglo style.

But for most families, my number one principle of sibling naming is fairness. For instanced, if your first son is a Junior, make sure the other kids also receive names with special family significance. If your first two daughters are Parker and Emerson, don't name daughter #3 Fifi. Sibling names don't have to match, but they should make it clear that all of your kids are created equal.

In a royal family, that's a hard message to send. From birth, the princely brothers William and Harry were decidedly, publicly unequal. William was the heir to the British throne; Harry was the backup. So will it be with George and his little brother or sister.

In theory that could take a little of the pressure off of the second name choice, giving the parents a little more leeway to express their own name style. I can't imagine the royal couple will take that route, though. I'm confident that they'll choose a name that's just as traditional and just as ready to take the throne as George. Going back to the original name list, then, makes sense. Just cross of the names George, Alexander and Louis, and proceed as you did the first time: as if you're naming the future King or Queen of England.

Maybe we can all take a lesson from that approach to younger siblings. It's easy to get caught up in "sibsets" and how your kids' names sound together. But in the end, each individual name has to be ready to rule on its own.

Top royal baby name options:



The Surprising Story Behind One of the World's Top Brand Names

Sep 4th 2014

Brand name or baby name?

That's the obvious question about Mercedes, a traditional Spanish religous name that's also one of the world's best-known luxury brands. It turns out, though, that the question only scratches the surface of this name's complex history. Please join me for a tale of language and literature, religion and commerce; the tale of a single name.

The Spanish word mercedes means boons or favors. (Think of the English cognate "mercy" as a heavenly boon.) Mercedes became a girl's name in Spanish via a title of the Virgin Mary: Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, or "Our Lady of Divine Favors."

It's a big leap from pious gratitude in Spain to luxury automobiles in Germany. That part of the story begins in the late 1800s in Stuttgart, Germany, home of the Daimler Motors Corporation. A small but innovative engine company, Diamler had just begun to produce automobiles. In 1896, a businessman named Emil Jellinek visited the company and ordered one of their new Phoenix motorcars.

Jellinek had grown up in Vienna, the son of a prominent Czech-Austrian rabbi. He was a restless and indifferent scholar, and was sent abroad to make his fortune. This he did admirably, establishing himself as both a diplomat and entrepreneur. By the 1890s he was a successful businessman living on the French Riviera, and a passionate enthusiast of the new sport of auto racing.

For Daimler Motors, Emil Jellinek became a combination of sales partner, wealthy patron, and client from hell. He admired Daimler's engineering enough to become the company's overseas distributor, but also badgered the company about their cars' shortcomings.

Ultimately, Jellinek offered Daimler a huge sum if they would deliver a new sports car designed to his long list of personal specifications. These included a longer wheelbase, lighter engine, lower center of gravity, and electric ignition. Jellinek also decreed that the new automobile should be named for his daughter, Mercédès, who was born in Baden, Austria in 1884. He felt that her name brought good luck and he applied it to many of his ventures, even using it as his own pseudonym when he entered races.

In a sobering example for designers everywhere, this pushy client was right. Very right. The Daimler Mercedes 35 HP, as imagined by Jellinek, stunned the racing world and revolutionized the industry. It is often referred to as the first modern automobile. The car was so acclaimed that Daimler quickly adopted the Mercedes brand name for all of their automobiles.

In the wake of this success, Jellinek changed his own surname to Jellinek-Mercedes, reportedly saying "This is probably the first time that a father has taken his daughter's name.""

That's the oft-told tale of the origin of the Mercedes brand name. It suffices from an automotive history perspective, but when it comes to names, we need to go deeper. Why "Mercedes"? How did an Austrian Jewish girl get a Spanish Catholic name to begin with?

This is my own speculation, but I believe the written accents on the name Mercédès Jellinek point to the answer. Those accents are neither German nor Spanish, but French.

French novelist Alexandre Dumas gave the name Mercédès to an exotic Spanish beauty in his adventure novel The Count of Monte Cristo. The accents served to clarify the foreign name's pronunciation for his French readers. (Before the novel's publication, the name Mercédès was not used in France.) The Count of Monte Cristo was spectacularly popular for many years throughout Europe, and especially in France where Emil Jellinek lived on and off starting in his teens. And in pitching the name Mercedes to Daimler, Jellinek described it as "exotic and attractive" — much like the book character.

I think it's a fair conjecture that he took the name, complete with its French accents, from the Dumas novel. That would make the emblem of German engineering a product of French literature, with Spanish Catholic origins, via an Austrian Jew. Nobody said names were simple.

Retro Macho Baby Names

Aug 27th 2014

Today's macho names are turbocharged. They're as sleek and dangerous as a bomber jet, and they're not shy about telling you so. Boys' names that sound big (Maxx), fast (Blaze), powerful (Zeus), and deadly (Cannon) are soaring.

But suppose you want a name that's tough and manly, but titanium-free? A name than summons up an image of formidable real-life men, rather than weapons or avatars?

Let me take you back to an age of macho past. The names below are generations past their heyday. They won't be mistaken for superheroes, and they may not offer the same schoolyard cool as a name like Stryker or Blade. On the plus side, though, the macho vision they embody is achievable. They hold out a promise of toughness and manliness within human proportions.