It’s official! The name of the latest-born heir to the British throne has been selected:
HIS ROYAL HIGHNESS PRINCE GEORGE ALEXANDER LOUIS OF CAMBRIDGE
(“Prince George” for short)
We Yanks may think we have the corner on the hype surrounding the perfect baby name, but the trend in the U.S. pales in comparison to the recent excitement over the naming of Baby Cambridge. It’s easy to see where we got our interest in baby names – clearly it’s lineal in nature, because our Mother Country has adhered to fierce rules of tradition practiced for hundreds of years when it comes to naming its progeny. Like Mother like Child.
Genealogists from either country will tell you that the format for naming babies can cause headaches. Prior to the 20th Century, our American ancestors followed a fairly simple format – oldest sons were given their paternal grandfather’s name, the next oldest son was given his father’s name, and later sons were named for their father’s brothers. The format may have been simple for our ancestors, but the use of identical names over many generations does, at times, make genealogical research difficult.
For Americans, a first and middle name, along with a surname, usually suffices in the naming of a baby; however, the British Monarchy tends to go one name further. Like us, the Royals choose names that have some historical significance, usually evoking the memory of a famous monarch or relative. Queen Elizabeth II was named for her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother – Elizabeth Alexandra Mary.
So what are the derivations of the names George, Alexander, and Louis, and what are their significance in historical terms? Let’s take a look.
There have been six British kings with the name “George.” Four of the Georges ruled in succession, with a break in name between 1830 and 1910.
The First – I (r. 1714-1727)
The first George was born in Germany and was from the House of Hanover. He became King of England in 1714 and ruled until his death in 1727.
The Second – II (r. 1727-1760)
George II acceded to the throne in 1727. Because his oldest son preceded him in death, George II’s grandson (George III) inherited the throne after his grandfather died in 1760.
The Third – III (r. 1760-1820)
George III was Britain’s monarch during the American Revolution. He was the first Hanoverian monarch to be born in England and to speak English as a first language. When he was deemed mentally unfit to rule, his oldest son acted as Prince Regent starting in 1811, and then became King in 1820 when his father died. For those of you who are not averse to soaking up a little history via the cinema, the Oscar-winning film The Madness of King George (1994) is a good study of this King’s 60-year reign, covering theories about what might have caused his bouts with mental illness.
The Fourth – IV (r. 1820-1830)
There was more than one Royal George to spark marital scandals. George IV secretly married a Roman Catholic by the name of Mrs. Fitzherbert – the marriage was considered illegal. Though George IV later married Princess Caroline of Brunswick, his attempts to divorce her were unsuccessful. She died the year after her husband became King. He agreed to Catholic Emancipation in 1829. None of Charles IV’s legitimate children lived, so when he died in 1830, the crown passed to his brother William IV.
The last of the Hanoverian monarchs were William IV (r. 1830-1837) and Victoria (r. 1837-1901). Queen Victoria’s marriage to Prince Albert ushered in the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha name, which lasted only nine years, during the reign of Edward VII (1901-1910).
The Fifth – V (r. 1910-1936)
George Frederick Ernest Albert was the son of King Edward VII. He assumed the throne in 1910 upon his father’s death and became George V. Due to anti-German sentiment as a result of World War I, George V renamed the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII.
The Sixth – VI
Edward VIII didn’t last long as King of England, reigning only 325 days (January to December 1936). His heart got the better of him, and he chose to abdicate the throne in 1936 to marry Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson, a twice-divorced American (born in Maryland). On the same day as the abdication, Edward’s brother Albert, who acceded to the throne in place of his brother, conferred the family name of Windsor upon Edward, making him Edward Duke of Windsor (Wallis became Duchess of Windsor). The Academy Award-winning movie The King’s Speech (2010) did an admirable job portraying George VI’s unexpected ascension to the throne.
The story has it that Albert chose to take his father’s name, George, in order to create stability and continuity in the monarchy. Oddly enough “George” means farmer and earth worker, which are not the usual trades one conjures up when thinking about British Royals.
King George the VI fathered Queen Elizabeth II, who is the reigning monarch and mother of Charles Philip Arthur George – better known as Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales), heir apparent to the English throne. Prince Charles’ son, Prince William (b. 1982), also known as the Duke of Cambridge, married Catherine Elizabeth Middleton in 2011, now the Duchess of Cambridge – or “Kate,” as we unceremonious Americans like to call her.
The seventh George in the British monarchy became apparent on July 24, 2013, when the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge (William and Kate) named the newest member of the house of Windsor – George (b. July 22, 2013).
The reason(s) behind the choice of the Royal Baby’s second name “Alexander,” is open to speculation and perhaps a little imagination. Not only have there been three Scottish kings by the name Alexander, but it is the name of the famous 4th Century ruler Alexander the Great. In the end, maybe the choice is not based so much on lofty reasoning but on something more down to earth, something more sentimental and heartfelt. The BBC reported that Alexander is a favorite name of the baby’s mother, but it may also be a nod to the baby’s Great Grandmother whose middle name is Alexandra. What do you think?
The choice of the name “Louis” can be pinned down a little better. Prince William’s full name is William Arthur Philip Louis. The Los Angeles Times weighed in on the name choice by reporting, “Louis is apparently in tribute to Louis Mountbatten, a royal relation who was killed by an Irish Republican Army bomb.” Lord Mountbatten, who was the last British Viceroy of India before independence in 1947, was known to the Royal Family as Uncle Dickie, and was a favorite uncle of Prince Charles. He died in 1979.
PRINCE GEORGE ALEXANDER LOUIS
Whatever the reasons are behind the selection of names for the Royal Baby, it was a joyous day for the Windsor Family, the United Kingdom, and the U.S., as well. It was a day to put aside ugly news and focus on a fresh start for a Royal newcomer and an evolving modern Monarchy. The Patriots who fought and died so that America could gain its independence will never be forgotten. And though the Monarchy is to us Yanks a system we love to hate, we also hate to love it. In the end, England is, and always will be our Mother Country, and we are its Child. The U.S. may be all grown up now, but England will always be the matriarch of our American family, so we embrace her, we love her, and we support her, no matter what. Today, Mother and Child are doing well, and it’s worth celebrating.
Photo courtesy of Joan Shurtliff