The royal baby has been born. But how to decide on a suitable name for the heir to the throne? The new Prince will be King for the later decades of the 21st century as successor to Elizabeth II, Charles III and William V. At least, that’s the plan. Let’s not forget that in the 20th century alone, neither George V nor George VI were expected to be King in their early years. Both were second sons. George V’s elder brother Prince Eddy died young while Edward VIII abdicated in favour of his brother George VI in 1936.
Generally, the rule of thumb with naming recent monarchs has been to name it after one of its predecessors. The two most recent Kings to have previously unused monarchical names were George I in 1714 and James I (of England, James VI of Scotland) in 1603. Neither of these two were expected to be future Kings of England at the time of their birth. George was German and only became King of England because the law changed to prevent Catholics from inheriting the throne. James was expected to inherit the Scottish crown alone, not the English one.
However, William and Kate could opt for a brand new name, for example, Philip (after the boy’s great grandfather) or Arthur, after the semi-mythical post-Roman King . Arthur was also the name of Henry VIII’s older brother who died before inheriting the throne. Both of these options are considered unlikely, however.
The royal couple could also name the new baby after Stephen or John. These two medieval Kings remain the only two with their names to have ever ruled. There has never been a Stephen II or a John II, largely because both men had disastrous reigns.
George is a far more likely option. The last bearer of this name, George VI was the present Queen’s father and though he did not enjoy a tremendously happy reign either (George did not want to be King, had a terrible stammer and died in his fifties), he is at least, well regarded.
More Kings have been called Edward and Henry than anything else: eight each. There may well be more Edwards in the future but with the Abdication Crisis of 1936 still within the Queen’s memory, Edward IX is unlikely this time (it would also invite confusion with the Queen’s third son, Prince Edward). Henry VIII’s tyrannical reputation and religious divisiveness probably rule him out too.
James too, is a name, associated with religious division, in this case, the Protestant-Catholic feuding of the 17th century. James I was almost blown up by the Roman Catholic Gunpowder Plot in 1605 while James II was forced to flee the country.
Richard III was probably a better King than his Shakespearian reputation as a “poisonous hunchbacked toad” suggests. But Richard IV (to date, only a character played by Brian Blessed in the first series of Blackadder) would be a bold choice.
In retrospect, Charles was an odd choice for the heir to the throne in 1948. Charles I was, after all, beheaded in 1649 and his son, Charles II had a reputation for promiscuity. The future Charles III is already a controversial figure and it might be better to see how his reign plays out before naming anyone after him.
William remains a good name but again, we do not know what sort of King William V will be. We may not do so until the middle years of this century. It is also less fashionable to name one’s heir after oneself than it once was.
In retrospect, it’s easy to see why the smart money is on the new Prince one day becoming King George VII.
All the other names are gone.