Archive for the ‘Historical Names’ Category

Vashti — a name it seems everyone loves, but few actually use!

I’ve met more than one person who have said they set their heart on Vashti, but when it came to crunch time, settled on something else. Something less distinctive.

Why is that?

After all, Vashti’s not exactly a new creation. It’s found in the Bible.

The biblical Vashti was the name of the first wife of the Persian King Ahasuerus — better known to history as Xerxes, though it is unclear which Xerxes he is supposed to be. He is popularly identified with Xerxes I — whose known named wife was called Amestris in Greek sources.

And, actually, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Vashti and Amestris share the same source — just as Ahasuerus and Xerxes do; the one traveling from the original via Hebrew, the other by Greek.

Indeed, according to one theory, it may be that another name closely linked to Vashti’s tale also stem from the name of this queen — none other than Esther.

In the biblical Book of Esther, the story goes that Ahasuerus banised Vashti because she refused to come before him “to show her beauty to the people and nobles.”

He was “in high spirits from wine” at the time.

Reading between the lines, it was considered improper for Vashti to be at the party, and in summoning her in such as way, Ahasuerus would have dishonored her — and himself.

As king, of course, he was used to being obeyed, whether his commands were reasonable or not. He couldn’t be seen to allow her to disobey him.

So Vashti was shown the door, and Ahasuerus married Esther instead.

For standing up to her bully of a husband, Vashti is now regarded as a bit of a feminist icon, though she’s had more than her fair share of flack in past centuries. The Midrash is particularly unflattering.

Which is kind of ironic really, as it is possible that the historic Vashti and Esther were actually the same person, the two emerging from different interpretations of the real name of the wife of King Xerxes.

I’ve mentioned before that Esther might derive from Ishtar, but have only recently come across the interesting theory that both Amestris and Esther come from the Akkadian Ummu-Ishtar “Ishtar is (my) mother” or Ammu-Ishtar.

Ammu is more difficult — it may be the same as the Hammu of Hamurabi, which is thought to be an Amorite name, with (H)ammu a divine name.

That Amestris and Esther might come from either of these is perfectly plausible; and the same is true of Vashti, with the loss of the initial vowel and mutation of the “m” to a “v.”

Other theories keep it simpler, and suggest Vashti derives directly from an Old Persian word meaning “beautiful” or “best.”

Another plausible option is a derivation from the Old Persian vas “to desire.”

Like many biblical names, Vashti came into use after the Protestant Reformation in the sixteenth century; it appealed particularly to the Romani, and by the nineteenth century had come to be regarded as very much a Gypsy name.

Augusta Jane Evans used it in her 1869 novel Vashti.

Nowadays, its best known bearer is the English singer-songwriter Vashti Bunyan, whose 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day is a cult classic.

A bit like the name Vashti!

In 2010, only 29 little girls were called Vashti in America, and less than three in Britain.

Isn’t it time this diamond of a name got to sparkle?

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On our holiday last week we stayed at historic Gurney Manor — sometimes called Gurney Street Manor — in Cannington, Somerset.

It is a very special place.

Rescued by the Landmark Trust in the 1980s, much of the fabric dates to before 1400, with substantial additions in the mid-to-late fifteenth century.

Because it largely came down in the world after the seventeenth century, many of its ancient features, including the fifteenth century covered passage across the inner courtyard linking the old kitchen to the hall, have survived.

Unsurprisingly, it proved quite a good hunting ground for names, which are almost text-book examples of the typical names through the centuries, demonstrating fluctuations in fashion both generally, and across the social spectrum.

The original owners — and the family who gave their name to the manor — were a branch of the baronial family of Gurney, the founder of which came to England with William the Conqueror. Only a few names are known from this earliest period, emerging from the fog of remote history; a RICHARD de Gurney, flourished in 1243, when he put in a claim on the mill, then in possession of his “kinsman” WILLIAM, son of PHILIP.

Richard had a son called ROBERT.

By the end of the thirteenth century, the property appears to have been owned by JOHN de Gurney, who was alive in 1327.

The last of the line at Gurney Manor, and probably the one responsible for much of the parts of the hall dating to the late fourteenth and early fifteenth century, was HUGH, who succeeded to the estate in 1358. Either he, or a son of the same name, was there in 1401, with a wife called BEATRICE.

He had no son, and so the manor passed to his daughter JANE — an unusual name at the time, when the usually feminine form of John was Joan. She married ROGER Dodesham.

Responsible for most of the fifteenth century additions was their son, another WILLIAM, who was a lawyer as well as a landowner.

William had sisters called JOAN and ELEANOR, and on his death in 1480, the Gurney Street Manor passed in trust to Joan’s daughter, AGNES, wife of WALTER Michell, who died in 1487. Agnes and Walter had three sons, who each succeeded in turn, WILLIAM, JOHN, and THOMAS.

Thomas, whose wife was called MARGARET, died in 1503, when the manor passed to his son, another THOMAS. He also had a daughter called ISABEL.

Thomas made a number of improvements and refinements to the house, adding fine windows and new chimneys — but it all came to an abrupt end on December 13, 1539, when he murdered his wife JOAN and sister-in-law ELEANOR, seemingly at Gurney Manor, before killing himself.

He had two known children, another JANE, and another RICHARD.

Richard, who married an ELIZABETH, died in 1563, leaving the manor to his son, TRISTRAM.

Tristram, meanwhile, died in 1574, when the manor passed to his brother, Sir BARTHOLOMEW.

On Bartholomew’s death in 1616, his lands were split between his daughters, JANE and FRANCES. Gurney passed to Jane, wife of WILLIAM Hockmore.

William had considerable property elsewhere, and Gurney’s owners no longer lived there; the house and its acres was let to tenants, so that by the late nineteenth century, it was regarded as just a (large) farmhouse.

The names of most of these tenants is lost, but we still know the names of the house’s owners, and their families.

Jane and William Hockmore, for instance, had six children, SUSANNAH, GREGORY, CHARLES, WILLIAM, FRANCES and RICHARD, not all of whom lived to adulthood.

Gregory, married to MARY, inherited in 1626, dying in 1653, when the estate passed to his son, also called GREGORY (he also had a daughter called JANE).

Gregory II, married to HONOR, also had two children, a son WILLIAM, and, quelle surprise, yet another JANE.

William, who inherted sometime between 1676 and 1680, married another MARY, and had three daughters, MARY, JANE and HONORA; only Honora survived to adulthood, becoming William’s heiress on his death in 1707-08.

She married DAVIDGE Gould (his mother’s maiden name was Davidge) around 1713, and had five children who survived to adulthood: Sir HENRY (d.1794), RICHARD (d.1793), HONORA (d.1802), WILLIAM (d.1799) and THOMAS (d.1808).

Henry, married ELIZABETH, and had two daughters, another ELIZABETH, and HONORA MARGARETTA. Elizabeth married TEMPLE Luttrell; Honora Margaretta, who died in 1813, married General RICHARD Lambart, 7th Earl of Cavan.

And Gurney passed through her to the Earls of Cavan.

(Temple Luttrell was an interesting character; an MP, he was reputedly also a smuggler, and built a folly, called Luttrell’s Tower, at Eaglehurst near Southampton. On his death in Paris in 1803, Luttrell’s Tower passed to the Earl of Cavan too. By pure coincidence, Luttrell’s Tower is also now owned by the Landmark Trust.)

Richard and Honora Margaretta had five children:

  • SOPHIA AUGUSTA (1787-98)
  • RICHARD HENRY (b. and d. 1788)

George, who died before his father, married the simply named SARAH, and had five children:

  • ALICIA (d.1913)
  • JULIA (d.1897)
  • OLIVER GEORGE (1822-98)

Frederick John William’s wife was CAROLINE AUGUSTA, and they also had five children:

  • MARY HYACINTHE (d.1933)
  • SARAH SOPHIA (d.1914)
  • OCTAVIUS HENRY (1855-1919)
  • ARTHUR (1858-1937)

Frederick Edward Gould’s wife was MARY SNEADE (Sneade was her middle name — her surname was Olive), and their children:

  • FREDERICK RUDOLPH (1865-1946)
  • ELLEN OLIVE (1867-1945)
  • MAUD EDITH GUNDREDA (1869-1940)
  • LIONEL JOHN OLIVE (1873-1940)

Frederick Rudolph had no children by his first wife CAROLINE INEZ; by his second wife, HESTER JOAN, he had two daughters; the first, ELIZABETH MARY was born in 1924.

The following year, Gurney was sold to its tenants of more than thirty years, the Bucknells, and with it an unbroken line of descent, if not of inhabitation, of at least eight hundred years, was finally severed.

The Bucknells were a thoroughly English Victorian middle class family; the father, a classic “gentleman farmer” was a solid and respectable JAMES, his wife an equally establishment MARY ANN. One daughter was ELIZA HARRIS, the other, OLIVE MARY (possibly named in honor of the Countess of Cavan), and they also had a son, BENJAMIN JOHN.

In 1901, there were also three servants living with them at the manor: FRANK, EMILY and MABEL.

Gurney’s time once more owned by its inhabitants was short-lived; the Bucknells sold in 1934, and by the 1940s it had been subdivided into flats. By the 1980s, it was in a sorry, neglected state, with most of the flats empty, but then the Landmark Trust bought it, and the rest is (more!) history…

No-one lives there for more than three weeks at a time anymore, but it has been fully restored to its medieval glory and I think the place rather likes the variety of ever changing faces coming and going, and basks in their rapt admiration.

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No, that’s not a particularly fine Old Welsh name!

It’s the Welsh for “inspiration everywhere.”

You see, this week, Small Child and I ran away to Pembrokeshire in South Wales.

And while enjoying the fresh sea air, and exploring the pituresque little towns and magnificent ruins, I encountered plenty of interesting names and name inspiration. These are just some of my favorites:

Arawn — We passed one very pleasant day of our holiday painting pottery in a café in magical Narberth, the Arberth of the First Branch of the Mabinogion, and home to Pwyll, from where he rode forth hunting one day and encountered Arawn, Lord of Annwfn — the Celtic Otherworld. There’s rather an inspiring and spine-tingling view of the surrounding countryside from the not-so inspiring and spine-tinging car-park in the centre of Narberth; it’s easy to imagine the hounds and horses of Pwyll and Arawn hurtling across the fields… Some postulate that Arawn derives from biblical Aaron. I say that’s utter nonsense. It is far more likely to derive from the Common Celtic *ar-yo– “to plough” or the same ancient root which gives Modern Welsh: aran “mound.”

Carew — One of the most romantic castles I know, a mixture of medieval and Elizabethan. It’s name derives from the Welsh, and is equally romantic: caer “castle” and “fort” + rhiw “ice.”

Cawdor — Although in most people’s minds, Cawdor is firmly associated with Scotland (and, indeed, Macbeth, erstwhile Earl of Cawdor), more recent Earls of Cawdor had their seat at Stackpole in Pembrokeshire. It was a late eighteenth century Baron Cawdor, indeed, who repelled the last invasion of Britain, by the French in 1797 at Fishguard. The Gaelic form of Cawdor is Caladar, deriving from coille “wood” and dur “water” or “oak.” An old form was Calder.

Elidor — We stayed in the marvelously named Stackpole Elidor (a name which would have been right at home in Harry Potter!). Elidor is actually an Old Welsh name, and Stackpole is named in honor of a very shadowy saint of the name. As Elidurus, it occurs as the name of a legendary king of Britain in Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae (c. 1136). Its meaning isn’t all that clear; while the second element is almost certainly the Welsh dur “steel,” the first is fuzzier. It died out as a name in the Middle Ages, but was revived in the 19th. Other medieval variants include Elidyr and Elidir, as borne by the medieval Welsh poet Elidir Sais (c. 1190–c. 1240). It’s probably best known today, however, from Alan Garner’s 1965 fantasy novel of the name.

Gwri — Gwri Wallt Euryn “Gwri of the Golden Hair” is the name Lord Teyrnon gives to Pwyll and Rhiannon’s son Pryderi when he finds the child in his stables and adopts him as his own. It probably derives from the same source as Welsh gŵr “man.”

Lyd, Lud  — The intriguingly named Lydstep was just down the coast from our cottage.  An earlier form was Ludsopp, meaning “Lud’s refuge.”

Merrion — A  tiny hamlet near Stackpole, with a very pretty name. It may derive from the same source as the Welsh boy’s name Meirion, i.e. the Latin Marianus “belonging to Marius” or Marinus “of the sea.” Given its location, it’s tempting to lean towards the latter, and it is perfectly possible that actually, at its heart, is Welsh môr “sea.”

Middleton — I can’t help wondering if the National Botanic Garden of Wales is rather kicking itself now for changing its name from Middleton, now that the name has been made so famous by the new Duchess of Cambridge. Its original name was in honor of the Middleton family of Oswestry, who built the first mansion on the site that was to become the gardens. It’s meaning is straightforward;  “middle” + tūn “enclosure,” “farmstead,” “estate,” “manor,” “village.” We had a rather wet day at the gardens, on this occasion, sadly, though Small Child thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition on mushrooms :).

Myrddin — The Welsh name for Merlin, and the name behind the town of Carmarthen and its Welsh form, Caerfyrddin. We didn’t do much there this time, except pop into Morrison’s on the way to the Botanic Gardens. I’m going to feature Merlin as a pick of the week in the not too dim and distant, so I’ll say no more for now.

Oriel — Orielton is another little Pembrokeshire village near Stackpole Elidor. I don’t know its etymology, but the “Oriel” part lept out. Oriel was found as a girl’s name in medieval times, a vernacular form of the Germanic Aurildis, meaning “fire battle.” It was unrelated to the word “oriel” used of a large, projecting recess with window, often found in a lord of the manor’s solar (private sitting room). It was this type of Oriel that gave it’s name to the Oxford College.

Pryderi — The birth name of Pwyll and Rhiannon’s son, born at Narberth (see Arawn above). He is generally considered to be one and the same as the Mabon — the “divine son” of Welsh mythology, who gives his name to the Mabinogion. It is generally derived from the Welsh pryderu “to take pains” and “to be anxious.”

Pwyll — Another Narberth inspiration; the name of the noble Lord of Dyfed, who had his palace at Narberth. Not the easiest of names to say, sadly, but it does have such rich association and meaning; in Middle Welsh, this was “spirit” and “reason,” while in Modern Welsh it now carries the meanings of “discretion” and “steadiness.”

Rhiannon — Pwyll’s wife (and later the wife of Manawydan). She is perhaps the most significant of the figures associated with Narberth; in the Mabinogion, she is an otherworldly maid, who rides a white horse… many equate her with the Gaulish Goddess Epona, and her Brythonic name has been reconstructed as Rigantona from Common Celtic: *r-gan- “queen.” Like Merlin, she’s on the cards for a post of her own…

Tudor — One of the highlights of our trip was a revisit to Pembroke Castle, birthplace of the founder of the Tudor dynasty, Henry VII. His surname is the Anglicized form of the Welsh Anglicized form Tudur, an ancient name, deriving from the Common Celtic *towtƒ “people” and “tribe” (this became tut in Middle Welsh and also acquired the meaning “country”) + *r-g- “king.” It was found in Gaul in the Roman period as Teutorix, and is cognate with the Germanic Theodoric.

Twynnell — St Twynnell was another local village, named after its shadowy saint.  At the heart of this beauty almost certainly lies the Great Welsh Goddess Dôn, with Twynnell a combination of Dwyn (a variant of Dôn) and gell, literally “yellow,” but also “bright” and “shining.”

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Did you know that earlier this year was the 2500 anniversary of the Battle of Marathon?

It took place on 12th September, 490 BCE.

I had planned to commemmorate the event on the day, but personal events overtook me.

Still, this is still the anniversary year, and it would be a shame to let it pass unmarked. Better late than never, and all that.

The Battle of Marathon is probably most famous today for giving its name to the long-distance running race. This use dates to 1896, and the first ever Olympics, when the legendary run of the Athenian messenger Pheidippides to Sparta to announce the Athenian victory over the Persians.

But while there is no doubt that the battle took place, a question mark hangs over whether Pheidippides ever really did make that “marathon” run.

The battle witnessed the Greeks first successful repulsion of an invasion by the then all-but invincible Persians, led by King Darius I. The victory by the Greeks was something of a miracle; the bulk of the force was made up of Athenians, noted for their prowess at sea, not land.

In the lead-up to the battle, the Athenians begged the Spartans — Greece’s crackest troops — to join them. But the Spartans were celebrating a festival at the time; Athens must hold the Persians until they’d finished, and they’d potter over to help them then.

So when, against all the odds, the Athenians were victorious, they felt entitled to gloat; hence Pheidippides’s run to tell the Spartans that they’d won — without Sparta — and their help was no longer required.

It’s a great tale, but it is notable in its absence from Herodotus’s account of the battle, written within the lifetimes of those who fought at it, appearing only in the work of the first centuryhistorian Plutarch.

The 2007 film 300, which dramatized another battle between the Greeks and Persians — Thermopylae — in 480 BCE, saw Leonidas, the name of the Spartan general, enter America’s top 1000 in 2008. To commemmorate Marathon, I thought I’d take a look at some of the names of its heroes.

First, of course, is the legendary Pheidippides himself.  His name combines the Greek pheidos “sparing,” “thrifty,” with hippos “horse” and the suffix –idês, which originally carried the sense of “son of,” but as time went on came to be used pretty indiscriminately just as a popular name suffix. The name is occasionally turned into English as Phidippides, and a shorter form, in use in the Greek world, was Pheidias/Phidias, most famously borne by the fifth century BCE sculptor who made the statue of Zeus at Olympia, ranked one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Hero of the battle itself was Miltiades, an Athenian general. His name combines the suffix -iadês (essentially a variant of –idês) with miltos “red earth,” “red ochre,” and “red lead.” It is an interesting word, which in some contexts has magical connotations, being used as a magical term for “blood.” Sadly, following a failed expedition to Paros the year after Marathon, he was imprisoned, where he died.

Themistocles, later an important Athenian politician, commanded one of the “tribes” that made up the Athenian troops. His name combines themis “that which is laid down,” i.e. “law,” “custom,” etc. with klês an archaic form of kleos “glory,” “reknown.” Themis, however, is also the name of a Goddess, one of the Titans, so the name could also be interpreted as “glory of Themis.”

Aristides, another Athenian statesman as well as a soldier. He commanded another of the Athenian tribes. His name combines aristos “best” + –idês.

Aeschylus, one of the most famous of all Greek literary figures, author of The Oresteia, also fought at Marathon as a young man. His is an interesting name, deriving from aiskhos “shame” and “disgrace,” combined with a diminutive ending, thus “little disgrace.” It seems at first glance to be an odd name, but may be indicative that the Greeks, like many cultures past and present sometimes used names with “undesirable” meanings to persuade malevolent supernatural beings that the bearer was worthless, and thus not worth taking from this world.

Aeschylus’s brother Cynaegirus also fought at Marathon. His name is even more peculiar, seeming to combine kuôn “dog” with egeirô “to waken,” and “to stir up.”

And while I’m on the subject of writers, I ought to include Herodotus. He was born the year after Marathon, but his account of the war is regared as the first “history” in history, earning him the sobriquet, “the Father of History.” His name means “gift of Hera.”

And lastly, there is the one the Greeks were fighting, King Darius I. Darius is actually the Latin form of the king’s name in Greek, which is Dareios. And this, unsurprisingly, is the way the Greeks rendered the king’s real name — Dārayavahush, from the Old Persian dāraya “to hold” and “to possess” + vahu “good.” This is still a popular name in modern Iran, in the form Dariush.

Although Marathon is now so firmly associated with the race that the battle is neglected, it was not always so. It long captured the imagination of writers, poets and artists, most famously Lord Byron, and it is with a snippet of his famous, rousing poem, The Isles of Greece, I’ll end today, in homage to those who fought and died at Marathon, two and a half thousand years ago — give or take a month or two:

The Mountains look on Marathon–

And Marathon looks on the sea;

And musing there an hour alone,

I dream’d that Greece might still be free;

For standing on the Persians’ grave

I could not deem myself a slave.

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Last Friday, I speculated on the names of the first child of William and Kate, and, inevitably, Victoria was high on the list.

It is a little ironic that Victoria would now be considered a very traditional and conventional choice for a royal baby.

That wasn’t true when Victoria was named; Victoria — Latin for “victory” — was a rare name in Britain at the time, although it had been in use since the sixteenth century, one of the names plucked from Classical Antiquity. For to the Romans, Victoria was the personification of victory, and worshipped as a Goddess.

Why did Victoria receive such a name? Because that’s what her mother was called. She was Marie Louise Viktoria of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfield.

It wasn’t actually Queen Victoria’s first name, either. That was Alexandrina, after Tsar Alexander I of Russia.

Something else that is mildly ironic is the fact that since Victoria died, only one member of the royal family has received a name which had not been previously borne by a prince or princess of England or the United Kingdom — and that is Andrew. Yet Victoria herself actually made quite a point of breaking with tradition in the naming of her own children.

And her family makes a most interesting sibset.

Oldest of Queen Vicky’s children, born in 1840, was the Princess Royal, Victoria Adelaide Mary Louisa. Victoria was not just in honor of the Queen, but also the Queen’s mother, who was one of the little princess’s godmothers — the others being Adelaide, the wife of Victoria’s uncle, King William IV, and Mary, Duchess of Gloucester, one of the daughters of King George III. Louisa was the name of Prince Albert’s mother. Princess Victoria married Kaiser Friedrich III in 1858, and was the mother of Kaiser Wilhelm II. She died aged only 48, in 1888.

Second was Albert Edward, born in 1841, who ruled as King Edward VII. In naming the heir to the throne such, Victoria caused quite a stir at the prospect of a future King Albert. That had, indeed, been Victoria’s wish; Edward himself chose to rule as Edward upon his succession. He was named after his father, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Victoria’s father, Edward, Duke of Kent, who had died when she was only a baby.

The third child was the tragic Princess Alice, later Grand Duchess of Hesse, whose full name was Alice Maud Mary. Alice, like Albert, had never been borne by a member of the Royal Family before. It is said it was suggested by the Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne, who was close to Victoria. Likewise Maud was also a break with tradition, demonstrating Victoria’s medieval tastes, though it was a nod to one of Princess Alice’s godparents, Princess Sophia Matilda of Gloucester (Maud, as most folk know, being a medieval form of Matilda). She was born in 1843, and died in 1878, aged just 35, of diptheria, a month after her four year old daughter had also died of the disease.

Her family was particularly ill-fated; her two-year-old son had died a few years earlier after a fall from a window, while two of her daughters died in the Russian Revolution. Alix (later the Tsarina Alexandra) was famously shot with her family in a basement in 1917. Elizabeth, who married Grand Duke Sergei of Russia, was brutally murdered in 1918 along with other members of the imperial family. They were thrown down a mineshaft, grenades thrown in after them, and left to die.

Fourth of Queen Victoria’s children was Alfred Ernest Albert, later Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. Known as Affie, he was the second British prince to be called Alfred since the time of King Alfred; the first was one of the younger sons of King George III. He had died in infancy. Ernest was another new name in the British royal family — an import from Germany. It was the name of Prince Albert’s brother. Alfred was born in 1844, and died in 1900.

Queen Victoria’s fifth child was Princess Helena, later Princess Christian of Schleswig-Holstein. Born in 1846, her full name was Helena Augusta Victoria. Helena was another new name for the royal family; she was named after one of her godparents, Hélène, Duchess of Orleans. Augusta was likewise in honor of a godparent, Augusta, Duchess of Cambridge. Princess Helena lived to quite a good age, dying in 1923 at the age of 77.

Sixth of Queen Victoria’s progeny was Princess Louise, later Duchess of Argyll. Born in 1848, her full, correct name was Louisa Caroline Alberta. Though baptised Louisa, she was always known as Louise. Caroline had been the name of King George IV’s estranged wife, and Alberta was, of course, in honor of her father. She lived to the ripe old age of 91, dying in Kensington Palace in 1939.

The Seventh child was Prince Arthur, later Duke of Connaught and Strathearn. He was born in 1850, and also lived to be 91, dying in 1942. His full name was Arthur William Patrick Albert. Arthur was very much a choice in line with Victorian fashion, and its love of all things Arthurian. He wasn’t the first prince to bear the name — but it had been a long time since the last: Arthur, Prince of Wales, the oldest son of King Henry VII, who died aged 15 in 1502. One of the Duke of Connaught’s godparents, however, was the Duke of Wellington, whose name was, surprise surprise — Arthur. He also shared the prince’s birthday. The choice of William was in honor of both King William IV and another of Prince Arthur’s godparents, Wilhelm, then Crown Prince of Prussia, and later Kaiser Wilhelm I (he later became the Princess Royal’s father-in-law). No British prince had ever been called Patrick before, and its choice was in homage to Ireland — it was no coincidence Prince Arthur was made Duke of Connaught.

Prince Leopold was the penultimate child; later made Duke of Albany, his full name was Leopold George Duncan Albert. Leopold, another new name in the royal family tree, was in honor of the King of Belgium, whose first wife was Princess Charlotte of Wales, daughter and heiress of King George IV, whose death in childbirth led to King George’s unmarried sons scrambling to marry and produce a new heir to the throne (which led to Queen Victoria’s birth). Leopold also happened to be the uncle of both Victoria and Albert; Victoria’s mother was his sister, and Albert’s father was his brother.  George was actually in honor of his godfather, King George V of Hanover, grandson of King George III. Leopold received the name Duncan in the same way Arthur acquired Patrick; the Dukedom of Albany had once been borne by heirs to the throne of Scotland. Leopold had the shortest life of all Victoria’s children; he was a haemophiliac and may also have epilepsy. He died in 1884, aged 30.

The youngest of Queen Victoria’s children was Beatrice Mary Victoria Feodore, later Princess Henry of Battenberg. Beatrice was yet another name new to the royal family — as was Feodore. Mary was once more in honor of Mary, Duchess of Cambridge, and Feodore was after Victoria’s older half-sister, Anna Feodora of Leiningen. Feodore is one way in which the Russian form of Theodora is transliterated into the Latin alphabet from the Cyrillic. Beatrice was born in 1859, and lived to be 87. She was the last of Victoria’s children to die, passing on in 1944.

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Speculation is mounting in Britain that the Duchess of Cambridge is expecting.

And a recent change to the rules of royal succession means that their first child will be first in line to the throne, regardless of whether it is a girl or a boy.

Which means the choice of name takes on extra special importance.

It’s not  true to say that since Queen Victoria, all heirs presumptive to the throne have borne the names of former kings or queens – but it’s almost true.

The exceptions are King Edward VII, whose full name was Albert Edward, his oldest son Albert Victor, Duke of Clarence, and King George VI, whose actual name was Albert Frederick Arthur George,

And Victoria herself, of course, who was Alexandrina Victoria.

And so, it is probably safe to say that, even if the child has a first name which has not been borne by a ruling monarch, its second name will be, and that will be its eventual throne name.

However, Kate is clearly a traditionalist through and through, so even if the throne name is a middle name instead of a first, it is very unlikely indeed any and all names the child will bear won’t feature somewhere in the royal family tree.

Which will be?

Well, it’s certainly noticeable that none of the Queen’s granddaughters have been called Victoria, which, given the fact a baby girl would one day be queen, has to be top of the list of names for Kate and Wills’ baby if it’s a girl.

Another likely contender is Mary. There has been a royal princess of the name virtually continually since the time of the fourteenth-century Mary of Woodstock, daughter of King Edward I – until the death of Queen Mary in 1953. It is another name notable for being ‘reserved’ since, prevented from use by more minor royals. It’s not remotely fashionable at present (nor is Victoria in Britain) – but that’s never bothered the royals before, and is unlikely to trouble them now. It might even be considered in the name’s favour.

Elizabeth must also a pretty major contender. That it might to be on the ‘reserved’ list was in evidence in 2003, when Prince Edward picked Louise for his daughter. Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother had died not long before and if Elizabeth wasn’t on the list of names ‘put aside’ for royals higher up the pecking order, it would have, perhaps, been a rather more likely choice.

Then there are the names of the three ‘almost queens’, which might, possibly, be judged acceptable for a future Queen of the Realm, namely Jane, Charlotte and Matilda. Lady Jane Grey was ‘Queen for Nine Days’ in 1553; she was never crowned, and ended up with her head on the block, but, nevertheless, she was declared Queen of England after the death of her cousin, King Edward VI.

Meanwhile, we would have had a Queen Charlotte, had Princess Charlotte of Wales not died in childbirth in 1817. Her death sparked a national crisis, as King George III had prevented all his other children from marrying. That all changed; the princes all set about marrying and reproducing – and Queen Victoria was one of the results.

Lastly, Matilda, daughter of King Henry I and mother of King Henry II was de facto queen in 1141; and she and her cousin Stephen, the man formally considered king during the period, were embroiled for many years in a messy civil war. Peace finally came when Stephen promised to make Matilda’s son his heir.

And while it would be unlikely as a first name, I’ll eat my crane bag if Diana doesn’t feature amongst her likely four given names.

As for boys, there is one name which is screaming out as top contender for Wills and Kate’s first son – George. Like Victoria and Mary, it has had a distinctly ‘reserved’ sign on it for the last fifty years. George is also one of the most popular names amongst the British Upper Class – half of Wills’ Old Etonian friends will be Georges.

Are there others? Well, most of the names of other kings are currently ‘occupied’, which is likely to rule them out: Charles, by Will’s dad, Henry by his brother, Edward by his uncle, James by his cousin, Richard by a second cousin, William by Wills himself. Those which are not are limited to John and Stephen.

John is a no-no; it is regarded as the royal family’s unlucky name, and is unlikely to see use again for centuries.

Stephen is an interesting one; since King Stephen’s time, it has never been used again. The fact that it is ‘unfashionable’ at the moment, however, is perhaps more likely to count in its favour; the royals have never particularly concerned themselves about such things. I would be surprised, though; after all, look what happened when John got resurrected from the medieval scrolls…

There are also the names of the ‘almost-rans’, which widen the choice a bit. Probably the most likely of this bunch for Kate and Wills is Arthur. King Henry VII’s eldest son was called Arthur, and would have been king had he not died before his father, while, a few centuries earlier, Arthur, Duke of Brittany had been the intended heir of King Richard I. It is also one of both Prince Charles’ given names and Wills’. It’s also another name which has seen most use in the last thirty years in the British upper class.

Other sometime heirs presumptive of British Kings, who never made the throne because they died before their fathers were Eustace, Count of Bologne (son of King Stephen), Alphonso, Earl of Chester (son of King Edward I), Frederick, Prince of Wales (son of King George II), and the already mentioned Albert, Duke of Clarence (son of King Edward VII). Frederick might have been a distinct possibility – but it is already borne by another of Will’s second cousins, Lord Frederick Windsor.

Really, of the others, only Albert is a serious contender, although it is telling that neither King Edward VII, nor King George VI ruled as King Albert I. And it is also worth bearing in mind that when King George was born, he was not expected to inherit the throne – he had an older brother, Edward (later King Edward VIII).

But Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, would have been King Albert I.

Still, it would be seen as a break in convention for a baby born to be king or queen to bear a name other than one of the names of its predecessors on the throne – and I think Kate (if not Wills) is rather too conventional for that…

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Continuing my series on little used surnames of English, Anglo-French and Norse origins, here are my picks from G:


  • Gache — Old French gache ‘lock’; originally used for a locksmith.
  • Gardner — from Norman-French gardinier ‘gardener’. Gerald Gardner introduced Wicca to the world, and is often called ‘the Father of Wicca.’ Saw a bit of on and off use in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
  • Garle — from Middle English girle ‘child of either sex.’
  • Garman — from the Old English name Garmundgār ‘spear’ + mund ‘protection.’
  • Garner — a name with a number of sources. 1, from the Old German personal name Warinhari, a combination of the ethnonym Warin + hari ‘army’ and ‘folk.’ 2, from Old French gerner ‘granary.’ 3, variant of Gardner. Popped up now and again in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
  • Garrick — a Huguenot surname from French carrigue ‘place covered with oaks’. Floated around between the 1960s and 90s, but never really gained a foothold.
  • Garson — from Old French garcon ‘valet’.
  • Garvin, Garfin — from the Old English personal name Garwinegār ‘spear’ + wine ‘friend’. Made an appearance in the top 1000 a grand total of 3 times in the early 20th Century.
  • Gaydon — from Gaydon, Warwickshire. Old English personal name Gæda + dūn ‘hill.’
  • Gayne — from the Old French engaigne ‘ingenuity’ and ‘trickery.’
  • Gazeley — from Gazeley, Suffolk. Old English personal name Gægi + lēah ‘wood,’ ‘woodland clearing.’ ‘glade.’ ‘pasture’ and ‘meadow’.
  • Geare, Geer — from Middle English gere ‘wild,’ ‘sudden fit of passion.’
  • Gellan — originated as a pet-form of Julian/Juliana.
  • Gellion — from Gillian.
  • Gellner — from Old French gelinier ‘poulterer.’
  • Gidney — from Gedney, Leicestershire.  Old English personal name Gæda or Gydda (gæd ‘fellowship’) + ēg ‘island,’ ‘dry land surrounded by water/marsh.’ ‘well-watered land.’
  • Gildon — from Old English gylden ‘golden.’
  • Gillam — from Guillaume, the French form of William.
  • Gilliver — from Old French gilofre ‘clove.’
  • Glaston — from Glaston, Rutland. Old Norse personal name Glathr  (glaðr ‘glad’) + tūn ‘enclosure,’ ‘village,’ ‘manor’, ‘estate.’
  • Gleave — from Old French gleive ‘lance.’
  • Godby — from Goadby, Leicestershire. Old Norse personal name Gautí (gauta ‘to brag) + ‘farmstead,’ ‘village,’ ‘settlement.’
  • Godin — originated as a pet-form of Old English names beginning with God- such as Godric.
  • Gorley — from Gorley, Hampshire. Old English: gāra ‘triangular shaped piece of land’ + lēah ‘wood,’ ‘woodland clearing,’ ‘glade,’ ‘pasture’ and ‘meadow.’
  • Graley, Grayley — from Old French greslet ‘marked as though by hail’ — i.e. pock-marked.
  • Granger — from Old French grangier ‘farm-bailiff.’
  • Graylan, Grayland — from the Norman-French personal name Graelent. Probably originally Norse — grár ‘grey’ + land ‘land’ — though it could also be from a Germanic cognate.
  • Gresham — from Gresham, Norfolk. Old English gærs ‘grass’ + hām ‘homestead,’ ‘village,’ ‘estate,’ ‘manor.’
  • Gretham — from one of the places called Greetham. Old English grēot ‘gravel’ + hām ‘homestead,’ ‘village,’ ‘estate,’ ‘manor.’
  • Grissom — from Old French grison ‘grey.’
  • Grosvenor — from Old French gros veneur ‘chief huntsman.’
  • Grove, Groves — from Old English grāf ‘grove.’
  • Gulliver — from Old French goulafre ‘glutton.’
  • Guthrum — from the Old Norse name Guðormr ‘battle-snake.’
  • Guyen — from Guienne, an archaic name for Aquitaine in France.
  • Guyer — from Old French guyour ‘guide.’
  • Guymer — from the Old German name Wigmar ‘battle-famous.’

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