Playing the name game

looking back

Playing the name game

‘What’s in a name?’ demanded Shakespeare’s Juliet, well over 400 years ago. Since then, that charming young woman has been proved wrong time and again. There is a great deal in a name. Consider the newborn prince! Once it was announced that Baby Cambridge (as he was fondly christened by the media) was a boy, the world — or TV channels that claim to represent it — was abuzz with speculation. George, they proclaimed, would be his name. George it turned out to be!

It is unlikely that the Georges who ruled Great Britain for much of the 18th century, and the first three decades of the 19th, had anything to do with the choice. They were at best unremarkable, and at worst, prone to adultery, extravagance and instability. The four Georges were not without redeeming qualities (George IV admired Jane Austen!) but the ‘George’ in George Alexander Louis is almost certainly inspired by England’s patron saint (of dragon-slaying fame!) and the two King Georges of the 20th century.

The second of those rulers was Queen Elizabeth II’s father, King George VI. He was held in great affection by his subjects, who were grateful for his leadership during the dark days of World War II. There was more to the man than his stammer (immortalised in The King’s Speech) but it is not inappropriate to focus on it, since George VI’s grappling with that impediment bears witness to his courage and determination.

They were qualities George VI displayed throughout his reign, ever since he donned the mantle of kingship. The shy reticent man had never expected, much less hoped, to be King. The abdication of his brother in1937, to marry the twice-divorced Wallis Simpson, meant that Bertie (as he was known in the family) had to shoulder — albeit reluctantly — the burden of royal responsibility unexpectedly thrust on him.

The father and predecessor of George VI did not share the warm filial bond with his offspring that characterised his son’s loving relationship with his daughters. Indeed, King George V is reported to have said: “My father (Edward VII) was frightened of his mother (Queen Victoria), I was frightened of my father, and I am damned well going to see to it that my children are frightened of me.” George V, however, was deeply devoted to his wife, Queen Mary, and relied on her advice. At the Delhi Durbar, on December 12, 1911, the King and his consort were introduced to a distinguished gathering as ‘Emperor and Empress of India’.

A keen philatelist, George V bequeathed a collection of rare and valuable stamps to his descendants, now owned by Elizabeth II. As a little girl, far from being in awe of her formidable grandfather, she dubbed him ‘Grandpa England’! For his part, George V doted on ‘Lilibet’ (Elizabeth) as much as he disapproved of his eldest son. He made no secret of his hope that Edward, Prince of Wales, would not succeed him. ‘I pray,’ he declared, ‘that nothing will ever come between Bertie and Lilibet and the throne.’

George V’s wish was fulfilled. Edward VIII renounced the crown, George VI wore it in his stead, and Queen Elizabeth inherited it in 1952. Last year, the diamond jubilee of her reign was celebrated with pomp and pageantry. One day, in the distant future, another George will rule; not an empire, but a small nation steeped in tradition: a country that — when it comes to matters monarchical — is at its British best!

Comments (+)