British oddsmakers are always on the lookout for a good thing, and they have it in the coming royal baby. More than a million pounds’ worth of bets has been laid on the forthcoming name of the baby who, boy or girl, will be heir to the British crown.
It is “The biggest novelty market we have ever seen,” is how Gary Burton of the British betting firm Coral put it to the French news agency AFP.
“We did the Pope, we did reality TV, and this is by far the biggest we’ve had,” he said.
The favorites are Alexandra, for a girl, and George, for a boy. Here’s some background on the likely names, and some outliers; some of these may wind up as the baby’s middle names, too.
Alexandra was the Danish princess who married Queen Victoria's heir, the Prince of Wales. She held the title of Princess of Wales for almost 40 years, until Victoria died and Alexandra became her husband's queen consort.
She was the fashion trendsetter of her day. She had a small scar on her neck from a childhood illness and so the 'dog collar' necklaces she wore to cover it — tight rows of pearls or other jewels — became hugely popular. Even the slight limp she acquired after giving birth was widely copied by society women.
She was sorely tried by her husband's relentless philandering, but he was always scrupulously attentive to her, and she insisted, rightly, that, "He always loved me best." She thoughtfully brought her husband's last mistress, Alice Keppel — great-grandmother of Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall — to her dying husband's bedside for a farewell. Alexandra lived on until 1925, deaf and sweetly bossing her children to the end.
King Harold was the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. He reigned for only about nine months in the year 1066 before he was defeated by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in October of that year – one of the seminal years in British history, as the parody history classic “1066 and All That” points out.
Harold was said to be quite the handsome dude, but legend has it that he was so disfigured in the battle his body had to be identified on the battlefield by his wife, Edith, also called Edith of the Swan-Neck, perhaps one of the loveliest nicknames in history. Another rumor said the “love bites” gave away his identity. We call them “hickeys.”
One Charlotte was King George III's very fecund German-born wife; 13 of her 15 children survived childhood. Helen Mirren portrayed her in the film "The Madness of King George." An event called Queen Charlotte's Ball became the "coming-out" party for well-born British debutantes; when there was no significant member of the royal family present, debutantes sometimes curtsied to a very large cake.
Among the fanciful stories about Queen Charlotte is speculation that among her ancient forebears was a possibly black or Moorish woman who was the lover of a 13th-century Portuguese ruler.
A more personable Charlotte was Princess Charlotte of Wales, who lived from 1796 to 1817. If she had survived, there would have been no Queen Victoria; there would have been a Queen Charlotte, ruler in her own right. Charlotte was the granddaughter of the above Queen Charlotte and King George III. She was the only child of the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV.
She was conceived on her father and mother’s wedding night – the only night the couple ever had sex. The future Charlotte’s father, the Prince of Wales, found his bride so disgustingly unsanitary that he had to get drunk to be able to couple with her. Princess Charlotte of Wales was much beloved by Britons who looked forward to her being their Queen Regnant, given that her grandfather the king was crazy (porphyria) and her father the heir apparent was a vain, spendthrift libertine.
Charlotte herself was quite amorous, as all the members of her family were. But she was only 21 when she died after the most horribly botched delivery of a stillborn son.
So in spite of the fact that her grandparents, the king and queen, having seven living sons, Charlotte of Wales was their only legitimate grandchild at the time she died. So her death set off the “baby sweepstakes” as the sons of King George III raced to beget legitimate children. Queen Victoria, the only child of the fourth son, the Duke of Kent, ultimately won the prize – the throne.
The Duke of Kent’s brother, who was briefly King William IV, had no legitimate children, but he did have ten children by his mistress, an actress, and he is the ancestor of the current British prime minister, David Cameron. Charlotte is also the middle name of Katherine’s sister, Pippa, real name Philippa.
It’s an obvious choice for a secondary name, and some sentimentalists and bookmakers like the sound of “Princess Diana of Cambridge.” But there never was a British royal named Diana until Lady Diana Spencer married the Prince of Wales. Diana is a pagan name in origin, the Roman goddess of the hunt and the moon, which may account in part for its long non-appearance among British royals’ Christian names.
International glamor boy and soccer icon David Beckham has joshingly suggested David would be a good name for the royal baby. Um, no. First, there’s the Old Testament implications of a King David, the legendary Goliath-slaying wife-stealing warrior king. And then there’s King Edward VIII, whose full Christian name – no kidding – was Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David: Edward for his grandfather, King Edward VII; Albert for his great-grandfather, the noble but less-than-robust Prince Albert; Christian for his great-other grandfather, the King of Denmark; George for his father; and Andrew; Patrick; and David respectively to honor the Scotland, Ireland, and Wales he would one day rule.
David became his family name, and his abdication rattled the royal family’s reputation and standing. He and his wife, the American divorcee Wallis Warfield Spencer Simpson, were pariahs for the rest of their lives. Sorry, Mr. Beckham – no King David.
The bad Georges are long enough gone to make the name palatable. The recent Georges are acceptable, even noble. Georges I through IV were princes of Germanic origin who only got the English throne because they were Protestants; the more direct heirs were out of the running because they were Catholic, and not very good breeders, to boot.
George V, the grandfather of the present queen, was a sturdy, unimaginative, gruff old boy given to berating his children. When George Orwell criticized his “alien and uninspiring court,” King George’s retort was, “I may be uninspiring, but I’m damned if I’m alien.”
Even his wife, the redoubtable Queen Mary, kowtowed to him. She lived until 1953, but when she tried shortening her skirts or changing her hairstyle, her royal husband had a fit.
George VI became king only because his elder brother, King Edward VIII (the David above), abdicated after a reign of 11 months. George VI’s birth name was Albert Frederick Arthur George, but his family called him “Bertie.” He wasn’t gifted, but he was decent, honorable and hard-working. He was the stuttering sovereign in “The King’s Speech.”
He steered Britain through World War II and when he died at age 56, the mourning rivaled that for Diana, the former Princess of Wales. He’s the father of the current queen, and the royal baby’s great-great grandfather.
This would be in part homage to the baby’s maternal grandfather, Michael Middleton. Yet there have been royal Michaels before – notably the current one, Prince Michael of Kent, grandson of King George V. There’s also the warrior archangel, St. Michael. He and St. George, the dragon-slayer, share an order of chivalry, the Order of St. Michael and St. George, founded nearly 200 years ago and awarded by the monarch for, curiously enough, outstanding non-military service.
His 'n' Hers Long Shots
No Britneys, Ashleys, Apples, Harpers or Averys. No Trevors or Ians or Seans. Someone’s put money on Waynetta (and Mohammed), but that sounds like a last-call pub bet and the makings of a pub tall tale.
Victoria has a solid British ring to it (try it out – Queen Victoria II), as does Queen Elizabeth III.
Eleanor is a far longer shot; Eleanor of Castile was the wife of King Edward I, who mourned her so much he raised crosses at every place her coffin stopped on its journey to London for burial. Some of these “Eleanor crosses” still exist more than 700 years later. And 100 years before that, Queen Eleanor was Eleanor of Aquitaine, glamorous, bold, an heiress in her own right, the wife of King Henry II and mother of Richard the Lionhearted. Fittingly, Katharine Hepburn won an Oscar playing her in the film “The Lion in Winter.”
Carole? That would be a first. Carole is the Duchess of Cambridge’s mother’s name. This would be a nod to her, and to the contribution of the humbler 50 percent of the baby’s DNA, the Middleton half.
Mary has a long place in the royal family, from Mary I, Henry VIII’s eldest child, “Bloody Mary” for her execution of Protestants, to Mary II, the Protestant daughter of the Catholic King James II and his first wife, who was an English commoner. The most recent Queen Mary was the wife of King George V and the grandmother of the current queen. She was an arch-royalist whose love of jewels, bibelots and anything royal-related supposedly led hostesses to hide their treasures before she came calling so they wouldn’t be pressed to “donate” to the royal collection.
As for the boys’ names, James is the Duchess’ brother’s name, and the name of two British kings. The first James was the son of Mary, Queen of Scots – a witch-hunting, hard-drinking man who commissioned the brilliant King James Bible and wrote a treatise against tobacco. The second King James, Britain’s last Catholic king, got run out of his kingdom by his own Protestant son-in-law, pettishly throwing the Great Seal into the Thames as he fled.
Charles just sounds like a bad idea. King Charles III – the current Prince of Wales, Diana’s ex -- hasn’t come to the throne yet, King Charles I was beheaded for being too high-handed with Parliament, and King Charles II was such a rake and a womanizer that he sired a good number of Britain’s aristocratic titles by his children with his many mistresses, but never had a single legitimate child.
Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets!