Solving the Royal Baby Name Puzzle: What Works, What Doesn't and Why Prince Harry and Meghan Markle Have More Choices

The palace has denied accidentally sharing Baby Sussex's name, but while this incoming royal baby could be called something more unique, a few choices are already off the table

By Natalie Finn May 01, 2019 10:00 AMTags
Prince Harry, Meghan Markle, Royal BabyFacundo Arrizabalaga/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Most members of the royal family have at least three names these days, so even if someone's preferred name doesn't win first place, it doesn't have to be abandoned entirely.

Prince Charles (or Charles Philip Arthur George) wanted his firstborn son to be named Arthur—as in the medieval hero King Arthur of storybook legend, as well as one of his grandfather King George VI's (Albert Frederick Arthur George) multitude of names, not to mention one of his own.

But Princess Diana thought Arthur a bit stodgy and favored William, also a kingly name but from only 150 years beforehand, and the Princess of Wales got her way. The couple compromised with William Arthur Philip Louis. And, Buckingham Palace instructed, William should never be shortened to Will, Willie or Bill.

Oops. The same probably went for Wills, too.

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After the fact, Charles—who also had a cousin Prince William who had been killed in a plane crash at 30 in 1972—said that they picked William "because it is not a name that now exists in the immediate family." Meanwhile, should Prince William choose to hang onto his first name when he ascends the throne, he'll be King William V.

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In 1984, Charles wanted the name Albert for a second son, after his maternal grandfather, but Diana found that to be too old-sounding, too. So Henry Charles Albert David it was—lest we forget that Prince Harry is just a nickname, albeit one that was officially announced as the name people should use after his christening. Charles once said that they only called him Henry when he had been "very, very naughty."

In tapes given to biographer Andrew Morton, talking about her husband's preference for Arthur and Albert, Diana recalled saying, "'No thank you.' There weren't fights over it. It was just a fait accompli."

Not yet a fait accompli—at least for the rest of the world—is the name Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are planning to give to their baby, though speculation is so great that people are trying to figure it out themselves by hand-typing Royal Website URLs (as in the active "") using different name combinations. That will get you nowhere, the palace assured on Tuesday.  

Ultimately, everyone's just going to have to wait to see just how traditional, or how different, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to go.

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Occasionally someone close to the queen on the family tree steps outside the royal box—Princess Anne's daughter Zara, which means "princess" in Russian, easily has the most exotic-sounding name, along with no title. But if it seems as though for the most part there's a relatively small list of names in rotation for all of these people, and that they're from the same pool of names that the royals have been fishing in for generations...

That's because that is exactly what's happening.  

George, Louis, Arthur, Charles, Philip, Elizabeth, Anne, Edward, Henry, James, Victoria and Mary have made up the bulk of the royal family's lengthy names for centuries. Even when an outlier seemed to appear in the 20th century—Alexandra, Christian, Richard, Eugenie—chances are it, or the opposite-sex version, showed up somewhere first in a previous generation.

For instance, Alexandra is one of Queen Elizabeth II's names—Elizabeth Alexandra Mary—and was said to be a personal favorite of Kate Middleton's, so Prince George ended up George Alexander Louis. Princess Eugenie and sister Princess Beatrice have less common names among the royals, but they're very British names, and both come from Queen Victoria's lineage, daughter Princess Beatrice and her daughter Victoria Eugenie. (Queen Victoria's name was actually the Russian-inspired Alexandrina Victoria, which evolved into Alexandra/Alexander down the line.)

Meanwhile, 1-year-old Prince Louis, full name Louis Arthur Charles, may sound like a very French name, but the thinking there is that Prince Charles, in adding Louis to William's name in 1982, was honoring his beloved great uncle Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten—or Dickie Mountbatten, as he was also known to his admiring nephew Prince Philip. Mountbatten was assassinated by an IRA bomb in 1979. Prince William, in turn, kept it going in George's name and then went full-on when his third child was born.


Meanwhile, Beatrice and Eugenie's father, Prince Andrew (or Andrew Albert Christian Edward), was named after Prince Philip's father, also Prince Andrew (of Greece and Denmark).

A name has been known to make its debut as a nod to a trend, such as Theo in James Alexander Philip Theo Mountbatten-Windsor, son of Prince Edward and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, but that's not the norm.

Then there was the Duke of Windsor, the queen's uncle and for a short time King Edward VIII, who was given all the names: Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David.

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Of course it matters how close one is, not just to the queen, but to the actual throne when choosing a name. Queen Elizabeth II has eight grandchildren, but only one, George, is poised to be king in the next couple decades. Naturally, more leeway is extended the further you go down the ladder.

Princess Anne's son, Peter Phillips, doesn't have a name ripped from the royal canon—though "Peter" is of Greek origin, and his grandfather Prince Philip was originally Prince Philip of Greece and Denmark. More so, Peter's full name, Peter Mark Andrew Phillips, borrows from his own father, Anne's ex-husband, Mark Anthony Peter Phillips.

The royals do generally seem to be fine with the repetition of names from people who marry into the family.

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Prince Edward's son James is one of a litany of Jameses, including King James I, who succeeded Queen Elizabeth I, the current queen's namesake, back in 1603. (To add to the confusion, James I was already King James VI of Scotland, then ruled over both after the queen died.) But 11-year-old James, Viscount Severn (which is what you call the eldest son of an earl, Edward also being Earl of Wessex), is 11th in line. 

James, a common English name, would seem like a go-to choice for this crowd, but when William and Kate were expecting their first child and royal-baby fever was at its peak, it was pointed out that the kid—a future king at a solid third in line to the throne—almost certainly wouldn't be named James. Long story short, James I's son King James II of England (and VII of Scotland) secretly converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1660s, before he was king, causing such a stir among the Protestant crowd that Parliament tried to get him booted from the line of succession. His big brother King Charles II dissolved Parliament instead and when he died without an heir, brother James II became king.

Down the road, James III tried to claim the throne as his father James II's successor, but he too was a Catholic and the people were expecting his Protestant older half-sister Mary to succeed James II—which she did, co-reigning as Queen Mary II with her husband King William III. There was even a rumor that James III was an impostor baby, smuggled into his mother's bedchamber to make it look as if she'd delivered him herself to insert another Catholic in line. 

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Then again, Princess Diana also had an affair with a James, so maybe the aversion to that name among Prince Charles' descendants is much simpler, and more recent. (The Prince of Wales' predecessors, King Charles I and Charles II, historically did the name no favors while they sat on the throne, either, so he'll have a pattern to break. William, too, will need to do better than his predecessor, King William IV, who left behind no surviving heirs, but was survived by eight of the 10 children he had with his mistress, actress Dorothea Jordan.)

So, as far as Harry and Meghan's baby goes, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex benefit from Harry's increasing distance from the throne when it comes to picking baby names.

Just as when Kate was pregnant, British betting house Ladbrokes stated in early April that Elizabeth was the odds-on favorite at 6-to-1 should Meghan have a girl (oddsmakers are also pretty convinced she's having a girl, though the sex is a closely kept secret), with Diana tied with Victoria for second at 8-to-1—even though there's the slimmest of chances, really, that Harry and Meghan will choose Diana for her first name.

Obviously the desire to honor their late mother is strong, hence Princess Charlotte's full name, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana—Charlotte also being the female side of the Charles coin. But there is simply too much complicated weight behind that name for the royal family to have a whole new Diana walking around. 

No matter how much someone is hailed as "the next Diana" or "the new Diana" upon arrival in the royal orbit, as was the case for Kate and Meghan.

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Grace is also in the running at 12-to-1, used so far by Zara Tindall in naming her daughter Mia Grace, "mia" meaning "mine" in Spanish or Italian and, as derived from the Slavic "Mila," "dear" or "darling." (They brought tradition halfway back home with baby No. 2, daughter Lena Elizabeth.) Tied at the same odds as Grace is Alice, which was Prince Philip's mother's name. Princess Anne's full name is Anne Elizabeth Alice Louise, and Prince Edward's daughter, Lady Louise, is Louise Alice Elizabeth Mary. 

Zara's brother, Peter Phillips, also took the opportunity of not having a title to venture outside the realm for baby names: He and wife Autumn Phillips, who is Canadian, named their daughters Savannah and Isla.

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While they'll have three or four slots to fill to get what's important to them in there, a new report suggests that Meghan is leaning so far outside the box she's not in England anymore, and likes the name Allegra—"joyful" or "lively" in Italian—for a girl.


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Spurred on by the idea that Diana had loved the name for a daughter, if she had had one, Ladbrokes has seen a surge in betting on what would be a big twist for the royals.

"It's probably the most bizarre eleventh hour move we could've seen, but the money is coming in thick and fast for Allegra," Ladbrokes spokesman Alex Apati told the Mirror. "We wouldn't be surprised to see the name right up there with the frontrunners by the time the birth gets announced."

With her marriage on the rocks in the early '90s, Diana said, per the Morton tapes, that she saw herself leading a hopefully more peaceful life abroad one day. "I don't know why I think that, and I think of either Italy or France, which is rather unnerving," she mused. "Not yet."

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Meanwhile, with all those first and middle names, no one is exactly missing a last name, but there is a reason why the titled royal family doesn't generally use them.

The British royals have had a last name since 1917, when King George V decided to change their house name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor, and also deemed Windsor his family's surname. When the future Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip, their family's optional last name became Mountbatten-Windsor, and has been there for the using for their male-line descendants ever since.

The reason they don't usually use it, basically, is that none of them have to present a last name for means of identification. The surname didn't see much use at all until Edward and Sophie's kids were born in 2003 and 2007; not given the moniker of his or her royal highness, Lady Louise and Viscount Severn James have the surname as part of their legal full names, and they usually shorten it to Windsor.

Occasional surnames also vary by territorial designation: the Prince of Wales' sons, for instance, went by the more "relatable" William Wales and Harry Wales during their military service. And that's why Harry and Meghan's little one, the child of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, has been casually designated Baby Sussex while we wait to see which direction his or her parents take.

They don't have to get the queen's approval per se, though she'd surely communicate some displeasure if their choice really went off the rails for her—but it won't. Because though they'll have considerably more leeway than William and Kate did when coming up with (all those) names for their kids, Harry and Meghan do know that the queen signs off before the name is revealed to the public. Why make it awkward, for her or for them?