BBC News

Royal baby: Why George Alexander Louis?

By Finlo Rohrer
BBC News Magazine

image captionA familiar name among British kings... George III, George V and George VI

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's first baby has been named George Alexander Louis. But what's in the name?

It is a partial victory for the old maxim, "the bookmakers are never wrong". George was the rock-solid favourite for boys' names for a while, backed all the way down to 2/1. Alexander and Louis were both not far behind.

A cynic might point out that before we knew it was a boy, Alexandra - the Queen's first middle name - had been the favourite.

Of the three names, it is the significance of the third that is most obvious. Louis immediately makes one think of Louis Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Philip and last viceroy of India, who was killed by the IRA in a bomb attack on his yacht.

image captionThe boy called George

His father Prince Louis of Battenberg was Prince William's great-great-grandfather. Louis is also one of William's middle names. And, of course, the name of 17 kings of France (or 18 or 19, depending how you count).

If Louis honours one side of the Royal Family, George clearly resonates with the other.

Despite St George being the patron saint of England, it took the arrival of a German king, George I, to cement the name's place in England. Long a popular name in Germany, it has Greek roots.

There have since been five other Georges to sit on the throne. George III, king during the loss of the American colonies, is perhaps now best known for his mental illness thanks to Alan Bennett's play and the subsequent film adaptation.

His son George was a figure who certainly attracted more than his share of criticism. Arguably the best-known portrayal of him was by Hugh Laurie in the third series of Blackadder. In that comedy, he is a drunken, philandering fool of spectacularly limited grace and intelligence.

The real George was certainly both a drinker and womaniser who ate too much - the Times labelled him an "inveterate voluptuary" - but also an imaginative town planner, an ambitious patron of the arts and, most probably, not an idiot.

The most recent Georges reigned through two world wars. It was George V who declared war on Germany in 1914, pitting him against his first cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II.

George V recognised the strength of anti-German feeling and changed the Royal Family's name from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the more English sounding Windsor.

image captionThe name George plays a part in British life in many ways

It was his son George VI whose struggles with his stutter are so movingly depicted in The King's Speech. Christened Albert and known to his family as Bertie, but crowned as George, he's a reminder that the monarch has the final say on their regnal name.

On the other hand, Alexander has never been the name of a king of England or the UK, but was borne by three kings of Scotland.

And yet for any parent naming their child Alexander, it must be hard not to hear the phrase "the Great" sotto voce immediately afterwards.

Alexander famously conquered much of the known world and is often described as the best general ever to live. But he was not a well-rounded individual. An epic binge drinker who once killed a friend with a spear in a drunken rage, he only made it to the age of 32 before either ill health or well-disguised murder did for him.

image captionGreatness follows the name Alexander

The two later rulers of Macedon called Alexander - one of them his son - were both murdered but that has not stopped the name being popular with rulers down the ages.

Perhaps the least successful Alexander was the sole Byzantine emperor to bear that name.

Of him, historian Viscount Norwich said: "The only good thing that can be said of the reign of the Emperor Alexander is that it was mercifully short."

This Alexander supposedly died after an ill-advised game of polo in very hot weather. Modern Alexanders might want to heed his example.

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