Saturday, July 27, 2013

Royal Namers: Traditionalists, Trendsetters and Trailblazers

So the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have had a baby boy and named it George Alexander Louis. The name that was expected and, indeed, if you started working out all the possibilities - the only so-called 'royal' name that was really viable.

I wanted to see how their royal predecessors' name choice affected the popularity of the name. Are royal names copied? But for the recent generations of royals, the BBC got there first. Their graph is perfectly adequate and going from my title, it seems that Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip were traditionalists, and Prince Charles and Princess Diana were trendsetters. By that, I mean that the names chosen by Elizabeth and Philip were already fairly popular when chosen by them, and did not increase substantially in popularity, despite being given the seal of approval. William and Henry - or Harry - however, grew in popularity following their births. You could say that Charles and Diana tapped into the zeitgeist of the age, or that they did set a trend.

To me, it seems clear that baby Prince George has a name that is traditional. It is yet to be seen whether the choice will be a trendsetter - it has risen in rank over the past ten years but decreased in the actual percentage of people who bear the name (see the ONS's Name Comparison tool and Anna Powell-Smith's England and Wales Baby Names visualisation site). If anything, at the moment, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge seem to be trend-followers rather than trendsetters.

So the modern royals are traditionalists and trendsetters. How about Queen Victoria? I'd like to suggest that she was both, and a trailblazer as well.

I talk about where my data comes from at the end of the post.

Queen Victoria the Traditionalist

The first child, born in 1840, was named Victoria. It was the name that the Queen had chosen as her regnal name (her first name was Alexandrina), and that the Queen's mother, the Duchess of Kent, was known by. As a regnal name, it was a trailblazer - there had never been a Queen Victoria nor any other prominent British royal wearing that name. But as a choice for Queen Victoria's daughter, it was traditional - she named her daughter after herself. And as this graph shows, the accession of the queen and the birth of her first child barely affected the name's popularity. Granted, I don't have any data from pre-1840, but suffice to say that the number of Victorias was negligible throughout the Queen's reigns, at least until her Jubilees. Her own name set no trends.

Louise was Victoria and Albert's sixth child, born in 1848. Her birth had little effect upon the popularity of the name, indeed the big spike in its popularity came in the 1870s - when Louise married a subject, the Marquess of Argyll. Previous royal marriages with European royals had proved unpopular, when Louise married for love, it seems to have prompted a spike in the popularity of her name.

Louise was a traditional choice - it was the name of Albert's mother. However, Albert's parents had separated, and it is possible that Victoria chose it because it was the name of her beloved tutor, Louise Lehzen, who had been supplanted by her husband. The name had also been borne by various European royals including Louise of Denmark who, by the 1860s, would be the Danish Queen and Edward VII's mother-in-law. More notably, it had been borne by a daughter of George II who had become Queen of Denmark and as Louisa, by a sister of George III. With the exception of Louise, Victoria and Albert had assiduously avoided any names borne by previous Hanoverian princes and princesses, and it may be why Louise didn't get copied by the public immediately. 

Leopold was Victoria's eighth child, born in 1853. The above graph may look like the birth of Prince Leopold had an effect on the name's popularity, until you look at the scale. It doesn't rise above 0.01% of all the children born in those years. There were very few Leopolds. Like Victoria, it wasn't a traditional British royal choice (indeed, few of the names that Victoria and Albert chose were traditional royal choices) but it was a traditional choice in that it honoured Victoria's favoured maternal uncle, Leopold, King of the Belgians. 

Queen Victoria the Trendsetter

Albert, better known by his regnal name, Edward VII, was Victoria's second child and heir, born in 1841. Like Victoria, it was a traditional choice - named after his father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. It was also a new name for the royals of Britain - though it was popular on the continent, Albert had never caught on in Britain. The growth in popularity of Albert must be due to these royal Alberts - but it is difficult to tell whether Prince Albert or his son were who was being copied. The Prince Albert Victor on the graph is the king that could have been - the eldest son of Edward VII, he died of influenza in 1892. I also missed another Albert - George VI - who was born in 1895.

Alice was Queen Victoria's third child, born 1843. Her name is the most mainstream of all of Victoria's children, but it's clear that it rose in popularity throughout Alice's life and decreased following her death. In this case, it is clear that Alice was a trendsetting choice. Lord Melbourne, Victoria's first and favoured Prime Minister, liked the name and recommended it to the Queen. He had only had one son, and so had been unable to use it himself. Alice was not a royal name - it doesn't seem to have been used by British royals and barely on the continent (Alix of France, daughter of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII of France is the closest I can find). But unlike Albert or Victoria, it was a name that had been used steadily in Britain since the Norman Conquest - it's the most popular name in Henry III's Fine Rolls and was in the top 10 in the 16th and 17th Century. 

Alfred was Victoria's fourth child, born 1844 and Arthur was her seventh child, born 1850. With two of her younger sons, Victoria chose the names borne by two great kings - Alfred the Great and King Arthur. However, it may be more complicated than that. The early medieval period received a great revival in interest during the Victorian period, so Victoria and Albert may have been reflecting that sentiment. But there were also a great Arthur and a great Alfred who may have inspired them.

Arthur, Duke of Wellington, was of Anglo-Irish stock. He bore his given name well - as the general who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and then as Prime Minister, he was both a military and political leader. Following his death, in 1852, he was given a state funeral. Arthur was rising in popularity before Victoria and Albert chose it for their son - the Duke of Wellington was a popular namesake. 

Arthur did have a background as a British royal name - aside from the mythological king, there was Henry VII's son and heir, Prince Arthur and Arthur of Brittany, heir of Richard I until his imprisonment and death by Richard's brother, King John. I think, however, that the Wellington link was much stronger than the royal link. Victoria and Albert had already shown a willingness to break away from the traditional stock of names, perhaps part of a concerted effort to distance the Queen from her disreputable predecessors.

Alfred, similarly, may have been named after another great Victorian - Lord Tennyson. I am less certain about this link - Tennyson was born in 1809, and by the 1830s and 1840s had published several popular verses. Queen Victoria is known to have derived comfort from In Memoriam A. H. H., which was not completed until 1849. Most of Tennyson's great milestones (Poet Laureate, Charge of the Light Brigade, baronetcy and Idylls of the King -  about King Arthur) all occurred following the birth of Prince Alfred. But Tennyson had already made a name for himself and he could have influenced Victoria's choice. And, beyond Victoria, the growth of popularity of Alfred throughout the period could be linked more closely to Tennyson than the Prince.

Queen Victoria the Trailblazer

What's the difference between a trailblazer and a trendsetter? In the case of these two names, Victoria and Albert chose names that were barely used in Britain and consequently grew in popularity. With trendsetters, Victoria and Albert seem to have added to the popularity of names that were already rising. As trailblazers, their choices brought these names to the attention of the wider public.

Helena was the fifth child of Victoria and Albert, born in 1846. One of her godmothers was Helene, Duchess of Orléans. Helena was another German import, it had never been very popular in Britain and had no royal precedent. It is, however, related to Eleanor - a name with strong medieval royal connotations, born by three English queens (of Aquitaine, of Provence and of Castile). However, there was no real precedent for Victoria and Albert choosing Helena - by doing so, they were trailblazers.

Beatrice was the ninth child of Victoria and Albert, born in 1857. With her name, it seems that they took an obscure name and launched it into public consciousness. It might be that simple.

But Beatrice was also a name that was central to the work of the pre-Raphaelite artist and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti. He had translated Dante Alighieri's La Vita Nuova in the 1840s, a collection of courtly love poetry between expressing Dante's love for Beatrice Portinari, and later produced paintings of Beatrice from Dante's Divine Comedy. Though Rossetti was Dante's most prominent advocate in the mid-Victorian period, Dante's work was also inspiring other artists, poets and musicians. Victoria and Albert may have been following a general trend. It is difficult to pull apart the two.

However, it is notable that while Beatrice had been used as a royal name in Spain and Portugal (and briefly in England), it wasn't a German royal name. As with Arthur and Alfred, Victoria and Albert bought into the medieval revival of the period and popularised a previously overlooked name.


My data was gathered in the same method as my Victorian Smiths study, using FreeBMD to find out how many people with NAME X Smith (eg Victoria Smith) were born every five years from 1840 to 1910. In a new development for me, I then worked out how many Smiths in total were born for each five year period. From this, I worked out the percentage of, for example, Victorias born for each period. For example, 5 Victoria Smiths were born in Jan 1840-Dec 1844, out of 40783 Smiths total for that period, so 0.01% of children were named Victoria.

In the case of Victoria, Helena, Louise and Leopold, the numbers of children born with those names were very small. Please look at the scales at the side of the graphs.