Why Do We Name Babies The Names We Name Them?

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for May 9, 2019, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

Shortly before I began writing this column, the news came across the electronic media that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex announced the birth of a son, weighing in at 7 pounds, 3 ounces. Prince Henry Charles Albert David, affectionately known as “Prince Harry” (“Harry” being a nickname for “Henry”), announced the birth from Windsor Castle. When asked by reporters about a name, he replied they were still thinking about names.

            Like many of us, Royals are usually named after family members. For example, we named one of our daughters after my wife, and the other one after me. Throughout the history of the United Kingdom, there were eight “Henry’s” who ruled as king, from Henry I to Henry VIII; not only were there kings named Charles, but Harry’s father is Prince Charles. There was only one British king whose name was “Albert,” – Albert Edward, — but he ruled as “Edward VII.” And there was a king of Scotland, David I, who was a protégé of King Henry I, keeping in mind that one of Prince Charles’ titles is “Prince and Great Steward of Scotland.” From this information, I would conclude that all four of Prince Harry’s names are family names.

            In past years, it was not uncommon in the United Kingdom and even in the United States to name a child after a European king or queen. Once Prince Harry and Meghan choose a name for the new baby, I’m sure there will be many new parents, perhaps all over the world, who will give that name or names to their infant. Naming your child after a royal person to some folks no doubt seems to foretell greatness for the child.

            When I was told many years ago that one of my aunts was named “Isabella” after Queen Isabella II of Spain (born in 1830 and died in 1904), I asked “why,” and my mother replied, “I guess because our mother liked Queen Isabella.” My Aunt Isabella was born in 1918, and Queen Isabella died in 1904, a long time after she had abdicated. Since my grandmother gave her other daughters German names, — Adele, Elda, and Malinda, — I was extremely curious about giving the youngest one a Spanish name.

            Why would Grandma like Queen Isabella II of Spain? It seems that Queen Isabella became Queen of Spain when she was still a baby, — no doubt at the death of her father. From the very beginning there was much opposition to her being Queen, not because she was a baby (a Regent would rule for her until she grew up), but because she was a female. The opposition to having a female monarch continued throughout her reign, so that she finally abdicated in 1870, and her son Alfonse VI became king. She lived for 34 more years. My grandmother never gave any indication of being a feminist, so upholder of women’s rights was not her reason. I guess, as my mother said, Grandma just liked Queen Isabella.

            Because they were avid followers of Elvis Presley, some fans in the 1950’s named their newborn sons “Elvis,” after the King of Rock and Roll. Less understandable are folks who give their babies the name of a hurricane after a major storm plows through their community. After Hurricane Carla in 1961, I recall that quite a few parents chose to name their daughters “Carla.” Likewise when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Did anybody name their son “Harvey” in 2017?

            Sometimes parents give their newborn a particular name for no real reason other than the fact they like the name. I suspect my parents gave me the very British name “Raymond” because they just liked the name; they certainly could not have foreknown that someday I would become an avid Anglophile (lover of all things English or British).

            During each era in history, certain boys’ names and girls’ names are trendy, so folks who like to be trendy often choose those names.

            In the 1930’s when my parents named me “Raymond,” the most commonly chosen names for boys were James, John, William, and Robert; hmmm, although not trendy, I think mine is more distinctive! The most frequently chosen girls’ names for babies in 1918 when my aunt was named “Isabella,” were Mildred, Florence, Irene, Mary, and Margaret. “Mary” shows up as a popular name in just about every era except the 21st Century.

            The ten most popular girls’ names in the United States in 2018 included “Isabella,” ranked as number 5, — can you believe it, after all these years, my aunt’s name is now trendy. The most frequently chosen boys’ names in the United Kingdom in 2018 were Liam, Noah, Aiden, Caden, Grayson, Lucas, and Mason. I’ve come to the end of my column and Prince Harry still has not announced a name for Baby Sussex; I doubt he’ll choose any of the preceding seven.


Ray Spitzenberger is a retired teacher and pastor and author of It Must Be the Noodles.

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