British Royal Names
What's in a Name
Henrietta, the feminine form of Henry, was one of the first derivative names established in the British name pool. It first appeared during the rule of the House of Stuart, borne by the daughter of Charles I and Henriette Marie of France.
Plantagenet refers to the ruling family of England from 1154 to 1399, or any member of this family.
A few royal names were once considered unlucky, but none of them are today. If you like a name linked to royalty, you can use it without worry, at least as far as its lucky (or unlucky) charms are concerned.
Anglo-Saxon names weren't the only thing that William the Conqueror displaced when he became ruler of England in 1066; he also booted out the Anglo-Saxon monarchy that had been in place for several hundred years prior to his conquest. For the next 300 years, William and his descendants would sit on the throne of England.
There have been eight ruling houses in England since the Normans, but the names that were added to the name pool during their reigns are the ones recognized most often as belonging to British royalty or as classically British in style. From the earliest rulers of William's time to the end of the Plantagenets, the ruling house that came shortly after, names that reigned supreme include:
- Adela: This modern-sounding name is, in fact, an early variant from the Old German name Adelaide, meaning “noble” or “nobility.” As the only daughter of William and Matilda, she claimed her spot in history by suggesting a compromise that quelled a religious struggle between her brother, Henry I, and the Catholic Church. Adele is the preferred form today.
- Arthur: We usually think of Arthurian legends when this name comes up, but the first Arthur on England's royal family tree was a nephew of the notorious John I, who was supposed to take the throne following Richard I but was unseated by his uncle. In several further twists of fate, John I became Arthur's guardian through the laws of primogeniture, and he also caused his nephew's death.
- Eleanor: This Greek name meaning “light” came to the Plantagenet family tree through the wife of Henry II, who hailed from Aquitaine, a possession of the Frankish Church that eventually became part of France. John I also had a daughter named Eleanor, and several others were added to the family by marriage.
- Elizabeth: The first royal Elizabeth was a great-granddaughter of John I and the daughter of Edward I. Not much is known about this early Elizabeth, but her name would become a royal favorite.
- Geoffrey: Another name with German roots, it may mean “peace,” but no one knows for sure. Geoffrey of Anjou (Plantagenet) was the youngest Matilda's husband; their son, Henry II, succeeded to the throne when Matilda's cousin Stephen died.
- Henry: “Estate ruler.” The name of no less than eight English kings and a fair number of princes, including the youngest son of the current Prince of Wales. Henry II was the first of what is known as the Plantagenet kings. He ruled a hybrid empire, including England, Normandy, Anjou, Maine, and Touraine (all by inheritance); Poitou, Aquitane, and Gascony (by his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine). During his time as king, he also acquired rule over Brittany and of Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Henry's family would go on to establish dynastic marriages with other countries: His daughter Eleanor married the king of Castile, Joan married the king of Sicily, and Matilda married Henry the Lion.
- Margaret: The first royal Margaret was Margaret of France, the second wife of Edward I (grandson of John I and son of Henry III).
- Matilda: This warlike German name—it means “battle-mighty”—was brought to England by the wife of William the Conqueror. It was also the chosen name of the wife of William's son, Henry I, a descendant of Alfred who changed her Anglo-Saxon name, Edith, out of deference to the Norman's difficulty with Saxon names. The daughter of Henry and Matilda was also named Matilda.
- Richard: “Dominant ruler.” Richard I, also known as Richard Coeur de Lion, was a knight who rode with the Third Crusade. He would lose the throne to his brother, John I, whose nicknames of Lackland and Softsword only hint at his weak and cruel nature, as well as his complete lack of ability as a ruler—he had been appointed lord of Ireland but was recalled from that position due to his incompetence.
- Robert: “Bright fame.” The oldest son of William the Conqueror was given Normandy to rule. His younger brother, William II, succeeded his father, while Henry, the third son, got cash.
- Stephen: From the Greek, meaning “crowned.” This name was borne by both Adela's husband, Stephen of Blois, and their son, who would fight with his cousin Matilda over who would rule England. Their battle was settled by a compromise that would allow Matilda's son to succeed to the crown when Stephen died.
More on: Choosing a Name
Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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