Prince Louis, and the Subtle Art of Traditional Naming

Apr 27th 2018


Only in the British royal family could the name Louis be greeted as a bold, unconventional choice. Louis is an age-old classic, well-represented in various forms in the royal family tree. It's also popular—in Britain, at least. The names Louis, Louie and Lewis all rank among the top 100 names for boys. Unlike the names of big siblings George and Charlotte, though, it wasn't one of the top predictions of London oddsmakers. And that's big news.

Choosing a royal name is an exercise in heritage and continuity. The name carries outsize symbolic weight, and has to extend a powerful and long-lived brand. You can't strip away all of the trappings of royalty and stay regal. Yet it's also parents naming a baby in the 21st Century. Royal parents William and Kate have proven to be masters at balancing the symbolic and personal sides of the process, and in the process they've demonstrated the subtlety and power to be found in even the most tradition-bound name choices.


Image via kensingtonroyal/Instagram

Their first child's name, George, was an inspired branding statement. The name put aside the troubled recent history of the royal family and harked back to the essential spirit of the realm. It was a nod to the patron saint of England, and to the last man to hold the throne, George VI. Yet the name George was also a contemporary choice, from the perspective of English name style. It was fashionable in England at the time, particularly in the higher socioeconomic strata. In other words, it was probably a name that the new parents just plain liked.

The name of their second child, Charlotte, was an elegantly woven fabric of individual connections and identity. The full given name was Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, a combination that honored William's iconic parents and grandmother (Charles, Diana and Elizabeth) as well as Kate's mother (Carole, which like Charlotte is a feminine form of Charles). Yet as "Princess Charlotte," the girl wouldn't actually share a first name with any of them. That artful balance of homage and individuality placed the young princess securely in the royal line, but outside of anyone's shadow. Once again, it was also a thoroughly fashionable choice.

For baby number three, they've already checked off all the key boxes, meaning some of the naming pressure was off, too. That's a familiar experience in larger families. With relatives already honored, traditions maintained, parents have freer reign to follow their own taste within the constraints of sibling fairness and cultural expectations. Which brings us to Prince Louis Arthur Charles. Louis (reportedly LOO-ee, not LOO-iss) is a classic with regal associations, yet compared to George it's lighter on symbolism, heavier on style.

First, the regal bonafides. Louis and Louise are prominent names in the Hanover family tree. Princess Louise was a daughter of Queen Victoria, and Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was killed by the IRA, was Prince Philip's uncle. Today, Lady Louise Windsor is William's first cousin. And yet, Louis doesn't come across as a core name of English tradition. The spelling Lewis is more distinctly English, while Louis (especially in the LOO-ee pronunciation) is linked more strongly with the French throne. As for an homage to Lord Mountbatten, William and George already bear the middle name Louis in his honor.

So why pick Louis for a new baby? Well, because it's Louis. Who doesn't love that name?

If you're an American, that statement may surprise you. Despite a modest recent uptick, Louis and Lewis remain decidedly out of fashion in the U.S. In Britain, though, all things Lou have been hot for the past generation. The trend peaked around the turn of the millennium, when Louis, Lewis and Louise were all full-on hits and Louise became a popular second element in combo names like Ella-Louise. More recently, with England in the grips of a nickname craze, Louie has taken off on its own and now ranks in the top 50. Louis offers that coveted nickname sound with a formal spelling that sits naturally alongside the formal George and Charlotte.

So much room for self-expression along with symbolism, all without leaving the narrow naming confines of the British royal family tree. It's a good reminder that every name is unique, even if it's shared with countless others throughout history. Sometimes, in fact, that sharing is the very source of the name's power.

 

Comments

1
By EVie
April 27, 2018 8:36 AM

The thing that I find most surprising about it is that they already used it as one of George's middle names! But maybe in the royal tradition of multiple middle names, and with a more limited pool to choose from, reusing one is less of a faux pas than the rest of us generally think. 

2
April 27, 2018 9:16 AM

That's the first thing I thought, too! No actually, it was the third. First was disappointment as, not being British, I am not a fan of anything Lou (guess the Commonwealth didn't help me out there), and second was wondering if my LOO-ee pronunciation guess was right. 

Then fourth, I thought of King Louie from The Jungle Book and mused how unlikely it was that this Louis would one day be king. 

3
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