After a bit of a wait, it’s a big congratulations for the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge this week for the birth of their baby boy and I was as anxious as anybody to find out the name of our future King. The bookmakers’ favourite was George with the odds on at 2/1, proving that the old saying that the bookies always win was once again correct. It was officially announced yesterday that the new prince was to be named George Alexander Louis, but what’s in the name?
Firstly, George clearly resonates kingliness for most of us since there have already been six King Georges here to date. In fact, King George VI was known as Prince Albert and Bertie to friends and family, until he chose to take the name George upon his coronation in order to sound more regal. The reigning Georges we’ve had so far have been a bit of a mixed bunch: George III suffered mental illness; George IV was known as a drinker and womaniser; George V declared war on Germany in WWI, against his first cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II, and changed the family name to Windsor. But there’s no doubt that it’s a popular name in the Royal Family.
In terms of etymology, the name originates from Greek Georgos meaning ‘farmer’ which in turn comes from ge, ‘earth’, and ergon, ‘work’. It was introduced to England by the Crusaders although it wasn’t particularly common until the 18th century when the German George I became king.
Of course, St. George is also the patron saint of England and St. George’s Day has been a holiday since 1222. St. George is most famous for his legendary battle with a dragon in order to save the King’s daughter, a story first attested in the ‘Legenda Aurea’ in the 13th century.
Alexander, on the other hand, is more of an unusual choice; no king of England or the United Kingdom has ever had the name. Still, there have been three Scottish King Alexanders and, without a doubt, most of us hear Alexander and add the Great on the end. Well known as a great leader, Alexander the Great conquered a large part of the known world and is often attested as the best general in history. Unsurprising when you consider that the original Greek name Alexandros means ‘defender of men’, from alexein, ‘to protect’ and aner, ‘man’.
Finally, Louis seems like a really odd pick since the first King Louis we think of are the 17 (or 18 or more depending on how you count) King Louis of France. On the contrary, while George respects the Windsor side of the family, Louis respects the Mountbatten side. One of Prince William’s names is Louis and his great-great-grandfather was Prince Louis of Battenberg. His son, Louis Mountbatten and Prince Phillip’s uncle, was the last viceroy of India. His was killed on his yacht by an IRA bomb attack.
The name comes from Old French Loois, probably through Medieval Latin Ludovicus, which was a Latinised version of Hliuodowig in Old High German. It literally means ‘famous in war’ from hlūd, ‘fame’, and wīg, ‘warrior’.
So, in theory, the royal baby will be a farmer who is famous in war and a protector of men. I guess we’ll have to wait and see about that.