What’s in a Name?

When on 27 November 2017 His Royal Highness Prince Henry of Wales became engaged, quite a few royalty fans turned out to be confused. Who on earth was Prince Henry? Well, Prince Harry of course. Although he is always called Harry, his official first name is Henry. When he was born his parents even officially announced that he would be called Harry. Most of the time – unless there is some kind of official announcement – you almost forget that his actual name is Henry.

But he certainly is not the only one in royal circles. Nicknames are rather popular – I might well come back to that topic later – but the royals and nobles also don’t always use their first Christian name, so never just pick the first in a series of names as the name that is actually in use if you’re not sure. And sometimes they were given a totally different name when becoming the king or a prince of another country … Harry’s fiancée is a good example as she is Rachel Meghan Markle. However it seems she has been called Meghan since she was born.


Most Belgian royals are being mentioned with the French version of their names in the Walloon media and with the Dutch version in the Flemish media.

Princess Marie-Christine of Belgium as far as I know hasn’t been in touch with her family, or at least hardly since the early 1980s. She used to be named Marie-Christine,  but it seems she later on mainly became known by her next Christian name: Daphné.


  • Both King Frederik VIII and King Frederik IX had Christian as their first Christian name.
  • Prince Christian Frederik Wilhelm Valdemar Gustav (1887-1944).
  • Princess Marie Sophie Frederikke Dagmar of Denmark married Tsar Alexander III of Russia, and like many of the women who married into the Russian imperial family took a new name on her Orthodox baptism. She became Maria Feodorovna.


If you assumed the throne of another country it was not unusual to take another name than your own.

King George I of the Hellenes became King in 1863, but was born as Prince Christian Vilhelm Ferdinand Adolf Georg of Denmark.


Prince Christian Frederik Carl Georg Valdemar Axel of Denmark, or in short Prince Carl of Denmark, was elected King of Norway in 1905 and became King Haakon VII.

The new king’s son  was born as Prince Alexander of Denmark, but at the age of two saw his name changed into the more Norwegian royal name Olav.


Also in Sweden it was quite fashionable for some time in the 19th century not to use the first Christian name of the child.

  • King Gustaf V’s full Christian names were Oscar Gustaf Adolf.
  • King Gustaf VI Adolf was Oscar Fredrik Vilhelm Olaf Gustaf Adolf.
  • Prince Carl Vilhelm Ludvig, whose son was Gustaf Lennart Nicolaus Paul.
  • Prince Oscar Carl Vilhelm.
  • Princess Charlotte Eugenie Auguste Amalia Albertine.
  • Prince Carl Nikolaus August.

The Netherlands

The Dutch have always liked to confuse. Most members in the 19th century didn’t use their first Christian name as their daily name. Already the brother of King Willem I, born in 1774, was called Willem George Frederik.

King Willem I and Queen Wilhelmina of course called their first son Willem. The other children however were Willem Frederik Karel, Wilhelmina Frederika Louise Pauline Charlotte and Wilhelmina Frederika Louise Charlotte Marianne. Three of the four children of Frederiks shared the same faith: Wilhelmina Frederika Alexandrine Anna Louise, Willem Frederik Nicolaas Albert and Wilhelmina Frederika Alexandrine Anna Louise Marie.

The first son of King Willem II and Queen Anna was Willem, as first Christian name. The others were Willem Alexander Frederik Constantijn Nicolaas Michiel, Willem Frederik Hendrik, Willem Alexander Frederik Ernst Casimir and Wilhelmina Maria Sophie Louise.

King Willem III and his wife Sophie called their first son Willem, but also their other two sons had Willem as their first Christian name. They were Willem Frederik Maurits Alexander Hendrik Karel and Willem Alexander Karel Hendrik Frederik. Their little half-sister was Wilhelmina Helena Pauline Maria. In the first months of her life the parents called her Pauline, but then decided to call her Wilhelmina.

When Duke Heinrich zu Mecklenburg-Schwerin married Queen Wilhelmina in 1901 his name was changed in a Dutch one. He became Prince Hendrik. His son-in-law Prince Bernhard was lucky that his name didn’t have to be changed, although all his other Christian names were changed into a Dutch version. The same happened to Prince Claus, who was already happy that they didn’t turn him into Prince Klaas, as Claus wasn’t very Dutch either.

Princess Maria Christina during her youth was called Marijke. In 1963 she decided herself that from then on she would be Christina. And she has always been Christina since. It is however not that unusual that when someone has a name combination starting with Marie or Maria the second Christian name is used.

The present King Willem-Alexander didn’t want to become King Willem IV, as he had always been Willem-Alexander. He could have taken the example of his ancestor King Willem I Frederik and become King Willem IV Alexander, but that was clearly not what he wanted. His family however always calls him Alexander or Alex. Willem-Alexanders eldest daughter’s official name is Catharina-Amalia. The parents however decided to call her Amalia in daily life.

Willem-Alexanders younger brother was Prince Johan Friso officially, but used the name Friso. There is often some confusion about the names of his daughters. They are actually Emma Luana Ninette Sophie and Joanna Zaria Nicoline Milou.


In the British royal family sometimes royals have been using different names also. I hope that Prince Charles will be King Charles III – although the end of the first two Kings called Charles wasn’t exactly great – and that he won’t be George VII. It is however not impossible.

  • Queen Victoria was christened Alexandrina Victoria, and as a child was often called Drina, an abbreviation for Alexandrina. She however herself preferred VIctoria.
  • King Edward VIII used his first name of Edward, but in private was actually always called David, the last of his Christian names.
  • King George VI used the last of his Christian names as reigning name. Until he ascended the throne in 1937 he however was known by his first Christian name Albert. His family and friends called him Bertie.

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