Princess Eugenie and the perilous business of baby names

21 February 2021

7:00 PM

21 February 2021

7:00 PM

Naming a child turns out to be one of the hardest things you can do. The secret to nailing it is to avoid choosing something outlandish or freakish at one extreme – but then sidestep the trap of settling on something profoundly mundane at the other.

Unless you are a rock star or a tech billionaire, for instance, it best to avoid the following: Tree-stump, Treble Clef, or a non-verbal sign that was formerly adopted by the artist Prince when he was still a going concern – these are not the imprimatur available to the majority of us who have to occupy terra firma.

And yet… and yet, you don’t necessarily want to give your bundle of joy a name that has about as much unique appeal as BMW Mini. You want something that your son or daughter can own and make their own. You don’t want five more of them putting their hands up in the class at the same time as yours when the teacher says the name. Nor do you want your child spending the rest of their lives repeating their unique moniker, letter by letter, using the phonetic alphabet whenever they’re asked for it.

As I said, it’s a delicate balance.

Which is why I rather like the choice made by Princess Eugenie and her husband Jack Brooksbank for their son, August Philip Hawke Brooksbank who was born on 9 February.

First of all, there aren’t too many names: above three first and middle names and I think you are straying into the realm of eccentricity – or worse, indecisiveness. You might even be considered to be showing off. Although when you’re 12th in line to the throne that is more permissible than when you’re 12th in line at Sainsbury’s.

Second, there’s roots here: Philip comes from Eugenie’s eminent grandpa, while Hawke is a Brooksbanks family name. So far so good. And what about August? Well, this is reportedly short for Augustus, and is in honour of Prince Albert, Queen Victoria’s consort, who had it as a middle name and in my book remains one of the great, unsung heroes of the 19thcentury.

So August gets my vote. Of course, personally, I would have gone for the full Montgomery – but I suppose in these demotic times, that Augustus might seem a suffix too far. (Certainly it would have been suffix too far for the Sussexes, who plumbed for Archie for their first son). And the fact is that August is, well, August also means that while not being a run of the mill name, it is far from unfamiliar. At worst he is destined to say ‘like the month’ whenever asked, and won’t have to resort to Alpha… Uniform…

So it’s pretty ideal, and while it’s familiar, it’s not quite because it’s used out of place. And that’s what makes it special.

It’s like the way Farrow and Ball name their colours. ‘Elephant’s breath’ is a world away from mid-grey. But it’s not.

In addition to all this Eugenie will have had to bear in mind practical considerations. Several rather solid boys’ names have already been taken by her Windsor cohort: the Cambridges have got a George and a Louis and Archie and I suppose Harrison are off the menu. Meanwhile there are rather a few names closer by in the family pecking order that are also probably out of bounds: Charles, for instance, Edward, William, Henry… Andrew.

Plus some of these names might seem just seem a little bit run of the mill in a Millennial age where anything goes. Also we don’t know what’s been used up by the Brooksbanks and their circle of friends.

Which means that the field of options is narrowed somewhat.

And that can be a big problem. By the time I got round to having children my older brother and six first cousins had all had theirs. Throw in some step siblings and my wife’s family, and then your friends, who in my case had already spawned, then you find yourself treading on toes – or just looking pretty unimaginative. And that forces some additional creativity on you.

Finally, you then have the future in mind: your child’s – the name needs to keep them company on the journey. For me, the golden rule is that whatever you choose must do equally well for a Jazz musician or a High Court Judge, and it should be able carry a knighthood. (Not that I’m a pushy parent).

And I think August fits the bill here rather well. Give him a trumpet and stick him in Ronnie Scott’s? Perfect. Dispatch him with the wig and red robes to the Royal Courts of Justice. No problem. Give him his K. Done.

So it’s a job well done for Eugenie and Jack. That minefield has been navigated. Now the hard work begins. Being a parent.

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