July 25th 2013
So we now know that George will be the most popular baby boy name of 2014 in Britain. It was the bookmaker’s choice of favourite name long ago. It was pretty much inevitable. Why?
First of all, the media already have a Prince Charles, Prince Andrew, Prince Edward, Prince William and Prince Harry (christened Prince Henry) which eliminates all those names as potentially confusing.
The British Royal Family has avoided innovation in names since Queen Victoria, who at birth was a mere fifth in line to the throne. Four uncles had to first fail to have offspring, then pre-decease her before she became queen. Queen Elizabeth II’s father was christened Albert, because he was the second son, and unlikely to be king. When his brother Edward VIII abdicated so as to marry Mrs Simpson, Albert had to step up to the throne, and adopted the title of George VI. Changing names is allowed on accession to the throne. All popes do it. British monarchs can if they wish. Albert, Duke of York, wanted to demonstrate continuity after the dastardly deeds of his smitten brother, so chose his father’s name, George. Albert, the German name of Victoria’s consort, also had an air of the dark forces in Germany in the late 30s,
Victoria was only a few weeks old.
So the name is chosen from the existing stock of names. That narrows the choice of available kingly names to George, James, Richard, John and Stephen.
The Royal Family are so proud of their Scottish connections that it’s said some junior members support Scotland against England in international matches. This adds a further consideration. England and Scotland were joined by the Act of Union in 1701, but had shared the same monarch since 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Numbers get serious. When Queen Elizabeth II was born, as daughter of Albert, Duke of York, she was third in line to the throne, but everyone assumed her uncle would marry and have children, rather than abdicate and leave the country. So ‘Elizabeth’ was not chosen as a royal name. In 1952 / 1953 Scottish nationalists were outraged as “E II R” (Elizabeth II Regina) appeared on post boxes and telephone boxes and destroyed some. Elizabeth I had been Queen of England only, not of Scotland, and indeed had had Mary Queen of Scots decapitated. This all blew over as the media pointed to the great Elizabethan Age of the first Elizabeth, and talked of a New Elizabethan era. I would guess a new baby girl in 2013 would have been named Elizabeth. The choice would have been Elizabeth, Mary or Victoria. And no, in spite of the tabloid enthusiasm, Diana would surely not have been in the running.
Monarchs of Merrie England Vol 1: Illustrated by W. Heath Robinson, 1903
At a time of talk of Scottish independence, it pays to be wary over names like Richard, John and Stephen, which come from kings of England only. There may well be mutters north of the border when Charles III appears, because some believe Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Young Pretender, was “Charles III.” However, this is stretching history. Charles Stuart was born in Rome, and first visited Scotland for the rebellion. The Bonnie Prince Charlie rebellion of 1745/6 was essentially a Highland, and Catholic rebellion, and he hoped to ignite Jacobites and Catholics in England and Ireland too, rather than simply establish a Scottish kingdom. It’s hard to believe he would have been accepted in the Protestant Lowlands.
John, who lost the crown jewels, and Stephen were not popular kings. John is destroyed by the Robin Hood stories where he’s bad Prince John scheming with the Sheriff of Nottingham to usurp the throne. Fiction? Yes, but fiction has created the modern image. Stephen ruled during civil war and anarchy in the 12th century.
Richard might summon up Richard The Lionheart, but just as likely we would think of Richard II’s death, allegedly from a poker inserted in the rectum, and Richard III limping around a stage saying, ‘Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer, by this sun/ son of York.’ Since the discovery of his body in a Leicester car park, Richard III is getting some rehabilitation from Shakespeare’s portrayal, but we still think of those poor little princes in the tower. Even with Richard The Lionheart, we have a king who spoke not a word of English, and spent only weeks or months in the country.
That gives us a shortlist of James and George. James gives us the King James Bible, and the king who was son of Mary, Queen of Scots. Wiki only goes as far as to say “James had close relationships with male courtiers, which has caused debate among historians about their nature.” Recent biographies have gone considerably further. James II still lived in an era when he called himself “James II of England and James VII of Scotland” but he was deposed in the bloodless Glorious Revolution of 1688 and had to flee the country. That flight, I think, takes out James as a contender.
So to George. The first two spoke only German. The third went mad, and “lost the American colonies” but many would say that was an historical inevitability given the three months it often took to get a communication across to America and back. The fourth, the Prince Regent during dad’s incarceration in the madhouse, was a much-lampooned character. So George was not running well in the 18th century. However, both 20th century Georges rescued the name’s reputation, and cemented the popularity of the monarchy. George V, the Queen’s grandfather ruled at the height of the British Empire’s extent. His son George VI was king during the Blitz and World War II, and was a patently good and likeable man, though Colin Firth in The King’s Speech probably gives most people’s idea of him.