In England the bookies William Hill are giving odds of 4-1 (a tumble from earlier 14-1) on the new royal baby being named “Alice”, unless it is “Arthur, Henry or James” (all at 20-1.) If it’s Alice the pay-out for the bookmakers will be eye-watering. My first reaction to reading this today was to feel dubious about “Alice” and to shudder at “Arthur.” I wondered how they could admire names that made my mouth turn down at the corners.
It’s all about association. My father’s older sister was called Alice. She must have been ancient, in her fifties when I met her as a small child (they lived in the north of England and I in the south). I only met her three or four times in my life yet Aunty Alice is still vivid in my mind’s eye. The journey was long when the A1 road from London to Liverpool in the north was as narrow as a country road in places, and wound through town centers before motorways were built. Aunty Alice was tall, had thick glasses which magnified her pupils, grey hair pulled back in a bun, a booming voice which intimidated me and she rode a bicycle until she was seventy. Her husband Herbert was a diminutive man who only opened his mouth when she paused, which wasn’t often. She lived on the flat street where she was born and her ancient black bike bore her everywhere she wanted to go within her narrow horizons. It had a large basket on the handlebars to carry her shopping. They lived in a two-up-two-down terrace house with an outhouse and a passage along the backs of workers’ brick cottages, dark inside with net curtains, antimacassars and aspidistras.
On the other hand, Alice in Wonderland in my mind cut a very different figure. She was pretty with a blue headband and long smooth blonde tresses that I admired and she slipped down rabbit holes with panache. In the burrow she encountered and could hold her own, unintimidated by exotic characters which were bizarrely entertaining. She had adventures and was a popular literary figure. This is why I am “dubious” about the moniker Princess Alice, rather than repelled by it.
To the Duchess of Cambridge, or Kate Middleton (as she is still inexplicably dubbed in the British press) and Prince William, Alice is no doubt a come-back trendy name for a girl of their generation, much admired by the royal family with entirely different aunts on whom to pin their associations.
Queen Victoria’s second daughter was named Alice. Princess Alice Maud Mary, born 1843 was followed by Princess Alice Mary Victoria Augusta Pauline (1883-1981), later Countess of Athlone of the United Kingdom. I remember her of course, registered on a newsreel in my mind’s eye standing pinched and old on some royal occasion with wispy hair on a cold, gusty day.
Princess Alice of Battenberg (Victoria Alice Elizabeth Julia Marie (1885 –1969), later Princess Andrew of Greece, wore a nun’s garb, and was Prince Philip’s mother. Now Alice makes good sense in this context. But I hope they’ll eschew Maud and Augusta, if it’s a girl.
If it’s a boy, please god let it not be Arthur. I know that Arthur, for many, has lofty connotations as the prehistoric King who burned cakes and had far reaching influence over ancient Britons. King Arthur, according to unreliable medieval histories and romances, led the defense of Britain against Saxon invaders in the early 6th century. In some Welsh and Breton tales and poems, Arthur appears either as a great warrior defending Britain from human and supernatural enemies or as a magical figure of folklore; it’s hard to tell, for lack of evidence.
King Arthur is associated with the castle and court at Camelot. Absent in early Arthurian material, Camelot first appeared in 12th-century French romances and eventually came to be described as the fantastic capital of Arthur’s realm and a symbol of the legendary Arthurian world. The stories locate it somewhere in Great Britain, its precise location not revealed. Most scholars regard it as being entirely fictional, its geography being perfect for romance writers. For Americans, Camelot is associated with the Kennedys. We all have our own associations.
There was also an Arthur, Prince of Wales, around 1500 AD of whom there is a portrait. But to me, Arthur is an uncouth youth I knew sixty years ago with lank hair, mocking eyes and few words: the epitome of uncool, although I did not know that expression then. How many Arthurs do you know who are regal or dashing? “Art” is more acceptable, but you can’t call a Prince “Art.” I fervently hope Kate Middleton’s baby will not be a boy so that won’t be a possibility. When they named their first son George, I found it a dull choice, despite the familiar string of King Georges that give it a regal touch, but take away the title and George is an old fashioned, unprepossessing name.
Ideally it will be Alexandra or James that emerges at the end of April and I will cheer. But I’m not betting on it.
Image: the feature image, “Royal betting: William Hill ran a book on the royal baby” is from news release for Golan Harris PR firm (fair use); the royal portraits are all in the public domain.