15 May 2019

Strange Royal Baby Names

By Chris Allerton via SussexRoyal
When The Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced that their son's name would be Archie Harrison, many people around the world scratched their heads. With no precedent in the British Royal Family, Archie just did not sound royal to people. Of course, Archie himself is not royal -- he is a great grandson of the monarch outside of the direct line of succession. His daddy is not destined to be King and neither is he. He is also in welcome company of Queen Elizabeth II's great grandchildren who have unusual, or at least non-royal, given names. Like Archie, the names Savannah, Isla, Mia and Lena have also never appeared in the Royal Family tree before. And, let's not forget that Princess Anne's son Peter was the first Peter to be born near the throne in Britain when he arrived in 1977 and his sister was certainly the first Zara in 1981.

While giving unprecedented names to royal descendants may seem extraordinarily modern, it is actually a tradition that dates back to the beginning of this stem of the British Royal Family, beginning with the Georgians/Hanoverians three centuries ago. At that time, Princess Anne Stuart was about to succeed her childless brother-in-law (who had been co-monarch with her sister Mary) to the throne. However, Anne's 14 children had all died young. Parliment wished to settle the succession question to ensure that none of Anne's Catholic cousins acceded to the throne. So, they drew up the 1701 Act of Settlement declaring that only Anne's second cousin Electress Sophia of Hanover, a Stuart descendant but in the female line, and her descendants were eligible to the throne. As the mother of three living adult sons at the time, Sophia seemed a great choice. Sophia died just weeks before Anne, leaving the throne to her oldest son, who became King George I in 1714.

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In the 300 years since then, nearly 100 royal youngsters have been added to the British Royal Family. More than a quarter of them have been given names that never before appeared in the family. Among the most recent "new" names is one of Queen Elizabeth II's children, one of her grandchildren and one of her cousins. For all that we view Queen Victoria as being "old fashioned", her own name was unique at the time and, more incredibly, she gave "new" names to five of her nine children.

Of course, at the beginning of the Hanoverian dynasty, unusual names would be expected. They were German not British, after all, and when the first dynasts were born (prior to 1701), they did not have any idea that they would one day rule "this scepter'd isle." The first King George only had two children: a son named George and a daughter named Sophia Dorothea. George certainly became a common name for the dynasty, but it was not new for royals. In the Wars of the Roses, Yorkist Kings Edward IV and Richard III had a brother named George Duke of Clarence, who aligned himself with the enemy Lancastrians for a time.

Queen EmeritaSofia of Spain was named for her
grandmother Queen Sophia of Greece.
By Ricardo Stuckert/PR via Wikimedia Commons
George I's daughter Sophia Dorothea did not come to Britain with him, as she was already married to Prussian King Frederick William I, but her name certainly did. Several princesses after her bore the name Sophia and the name was eventually used for one of Queen Victoria's Prussian granddaughters, who married a King of Greece and had a granddaughter named for herself who is now Queen Emerita of Spain (and who, by the way, has a Spanish royal granddaughter named Sofia, keeping the name alive and well within the extended family).

The next King, George II, had eight children and gave "new" royal names to two of the them: Amelia and Caroline. The choice of Caroline was fairly obvious, however, as the name of George's wife, Caroline of Ansbach. It continued to occur in future generations and was carried into the Nordic royal families when their granddaughter Princess Caroline Matilda married a Danish King. The name Amelia occurred again when King George III gave it to his youngest (and favorite) daughter before it fell into disuse in the family. It was revived in the 1990s for Lady Amelia Windsor, granddaughter of the Queen's royal cousin, Prince Edward Duke of Kent.

George II's eldest son Frederick Prince of Wales predeceased him. He did not inherit the throne, but he did introduce the name Augusta for one of his nine royal children. Once again, the little princess was named for her mother, this time Augusta of Saxe-Gotha. It proved to be a popular name, occurring as recently as the Queen's grandmother's aunt Princess Augusta of Cambridge, who passed away in 1916.

Charlotte of Wales
By Sir Thomas Lawrence via Wikimedia Commons
Since Frederick was gone, George II was succeeded by his grandson George III, who went on to have 15 children, 13 of whom lived to adulthood and six of whom received unprecedented royal names: Charlotte, Ernest, Augustus, Adolphus, Octavius and Alfred. The name Charlotte once again came from the mother's name, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, and has been used rather regularly since then. It almost became the name a reigning queen when the future King George IV gave it to his only child in 1796. Unfortunately, that Princess Charlotte of Wales died in childbirth and never inherited the throne. By the time Prince William chose the name for his daughter in 2015, it seemed very traditional indeed.

The names Ernest and Augustus passed quickly out of the British Royal Family when the Hanoverian and British thrones were separated at Queen Victoria's accession. As a female, she has barred from inheriting that crown, so it went to her next uncle Prince Ernest Augustus (she also had an Uncle Augustus), who had one child named George, who named his son Ernst August (the German version) and the heir of every generation since has borne the double name. The current heir is married to Princess Caroline of Monaco, from whom he is separated. He is also not on terms with his heir, another Ernst August, who opted to name his baby son Welf instead.

Having already had seven sons, King George III and Queen Charlotte were running out of ideas when an eighth baby boy arrived. Cleverly they drew upon their knowledge of Latin to give him the name Octavius, indicated his status as the eighth. No other royal child has been given the name since then. Perhaps because the little fellow died at the age of four or more likely because no one else has had an eighth son. However, George and Charlotte did not stop at eight boys. For their ninth, they drew back upon English history to use the name of England's only great king: Alfred the Great. Baby Alfred passed away shortly before his second birthday, but Queen Victoria used the name for her second son in 1844.

Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent
the future Queen Victoria
By Stephen Poyntz Denning via Wikimedia Commons
After the sudden tragic death of Princess Charlotte of Wales, mentioned above, King George III's many unmarried sons rushed into approved marriages and raced to father an heir for the throne. When the fourth son Prince Edward Duke of Kent's wife gave birth to a daughter, it didn't seem terribly likely that she would be Queen. After all, one of the older brothers might yet have a child or Kent himself might have a son who would take her place due to the male-preference succession of the time. Nevertheless Kent's oldest brother, George Prince of Wales, who was serving as Prince Regent for their "mad" father, was irritated when Kent proposed a grandiose name for the baby: Georgiana Charlotte Augusta Alexandrina Victoria. An argument over the baby's name took place at the baptismal font. The Regent finally agreed to let her be called Alexandrina, after the Russian Emperor who had so recently helped them defeat Napoleon. Not only was the name unprecedented in the British Royal Family, but Kent insisted she must have a second name at least. "Very well" big brother allowed, "call her after her mother" -- and she just happened to be Victoria of Saxe-Coburg. And, this is the story of how one of the most iconic royal names of the modern era entered into the British Royal Family and spread through her descendants to nearly every other European monarchy. This also explains why Queen Victoria was called Drina during her childhood. Perhaps even more than Archie, Alexandrina Victoria, was a rather odd a choice for a royal prince's child.

It is not surprising perhaps that the unprecedented Victoria did not pause to give unprecedented names to her own children, as mentioned above. She added Albert, Alice, Helena, Leopold and Beatrice to the list of suitable royal names. Drawing upon the names of her husband, Albert of Saxe-Coburg, and her father, she named her first son, Albert Edward, expecting that one day he would be the first King Albert. Although her chose the much more traditional King Edward as his regnal name, Alberts and Edwards have proliferated throughout the extended family. Even the Queen's father was named Prince Albert -- though he chose to be King George when the time came.

The name Alice largely stayed within their second daughter's own line: she gave a version of it to one of her daughters, Alix, who became the murdered Empress Alexandra of Russia. Alice's first daughter, Victoria of Hesse, gave the name Alice to her own first daughter. That little Alice married a Greek prince and became the mother of a boy named Prince Philip, who has been married to Queen Elizabeth II since 1947. Nevertheless, there have been no other Alices born into the British Royal Family. Likewise the name Helena, which Victoria gave to her third daughter, stayed in that line, but didn't get far. Princess Helena named one of her daughters Helena Victoria, who never had children. She and her childless sister Marie Louise were considered official members of the British Royal Family, even though they had born into a German princely house.

Queen Victoria named her youngest son Leopold after her uncle, who had been selected as the first King of Belgium. Before gaining his own throne, Uncle Leopold has been married to that tragic cousin Charlotte, who should have been Queen, if she had not died so tragically and young. Unfortunately Victoria's baby Leopold also died tragically and too young. He was the first member of the family to be diagnosed with hemophilia, a disease that would be passed on through two of Victoria's daughters into other royal, imperial and princely families. Leopold also passed it to his daughter, Princess Alice of Albany, named for his older sister who had at least one son and three grandsons afflicted with the condition. Leopold's name has yet to be employed again in the British Royal family although the Belgians have used it several times.

The three oldest Edinburgh princesses: (from left) Marie,
Victoria Melita and Alexandra
From the Royal Collection via Wikimedia Commons
The tradition of "new" royal name didn't end with Queen Victoria. Her heir King Edward VII added the male version of his mother's name to call his first child Prince Albert Victor. Victoria's second son Prince Alfred Duke of Edinburgh added another new name to the Queen's to name his second daughter Princess Victoria Melita. For his third daughter, he introduced the name Alexandra. By that time, the Princess of Wales was a Danish princess named Alexandra, but the name was more likely derived from the baby's maternal grandfather Tsar Alexander II of Russia. Meanwhile her third son Prince Arthur Duke of Connaught named his youngest daughter Princess Patricia of Connaught when the little girl was born on St. Patrick's Day.

Three more "new" royal names were added in the 20th Century. Edward VII's grandson, another Prince Edward Duke of Kent, was the first to name a British prince Michael in 1942. The Queen herself was the first to introduce the name Prince Andrew in 1960, when she named her third child for her husband's father, Greek Prince Andrew. Finally, today's Prince Andrew used another name without British precedent with his youngest child, Princess Eugenie. While Queen Victoria's granddaughter Princess Victoria Eugenie of Battenberg was born in Balmoral Castle and grew up in the Queen's household, she was not officially a British royal. She had received the name in honor of her godmother, Empress Eugenie of France, who had been born into the Spanish nobility. The name returned to Spain, when Victoria Eugenie later married the Spanish king.

So, while the name Archie may never have been given to the son of a British prince before, its uniqueness has its own deep historical roots.


  1. Wonderful post, as always, thank you so much. Your knowledge of the subject is just incredible. No doubt you should write a book, think about it, pls! Best, Milka

  2. Thank you so much, Milka! Writing books is part of my retirement plan!