It has been a historic week in the UK, as Catherine the Duchess of Cambridge gave birth to a son who is third in line to the throne. Three days after his birth, the Duke and Duchess revealed to the world they have named their son George Alexander Louis.

Language Insight takes a look at the historical significance of the young prince’s name, and the roots of the name itself.

King George

The baby who will one day be King George will be the seventh British monarch to take this name. The first ruled Great Britain and Ireland from 1714 to 1727.

George I was born in Hanover (part of modern-day Germany). He ascended to the throne following the death of Queen Anne, who left no heir, despite the Queen having other blood relations who were closer to her than him. It was as a result of the 1701 Act of Settlement, which prohibited a Catholic from taking the British throne, that meant the Protestant George was crowned.

So began the Georgian era, from 1714 to 1830, during which four Hanoverian kings named George sat on the throne. They were followed by the last Hanoverian king, William IV, and the period concluded with the ascension of Victoria, which marked the start of the Victorian period.

King Bertie

Many commentators speculate that the new Prince George has been named after Queen Elizabeth II’s father George VI, who was known as Bertie to his loved ones. In fact, he grew up never believing he would be king.

The son of Queen Victoria’s grandson George V, Albert Frederick Arthur George was second in line to the throne, after his brother Edward. However, one of the greatest scandals in the history of the British monarchy occurred in 1936, when Edward – who had only been king for 11 months – made the decision to abdicate so he could marry divorcée Wallis Simpson.

His younger brother Albert had never expected to become king, despite many claims that he was his father’s favourite. He was forced to take the throne at a time when faith in the monarchy had been rocked. The outbreak of the Second World War only added to his country’s hardship, but his legacy is that of a popular king who cherished his wife and two daughters.

Although his name was Albert, George VI chose his regnal name to mirror his father’s. Thanks to the fondness with which he is remembered, it remains a popular name, not just within the Royal family but across the UK as a whole. In the last 20 years the name George has seen a particular peak in popularity.

Alexander and Louis

Had the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge given their son the first name of Alexander or Louis – which are actually the young prince’s middle names – he would have been the first British king to rule under either of these titles, with one possible exception. In 1216 there was a Louis on the throne – who was known by the nickname ‘The Lion’ – but his claim to the monarchy was disputed. Louis was also the name of the current Prince of Wales’ favourite uncle, Lord Mountbatten.

However, Prince George may still choose to take either of his middle names when he becomes king. Such a title is known as a ‘regnal name’ and is used by both monarchs and the Pope as the name under which they reign. George VI, for example, was the regnal name of Elizabeth II’s father Albert.

St George

Of course, the name George has a longer-standing connection with all things English than just the monarchy. After all, St George is England’s patron saint.

According to the legend, George was a knight returning from the Crusades when he passed through a village terrorised by a dragon that had built its nest on the spring the locals’ water came from. In exchange for access to the water, the villagers would attempt to distract the beast with a sheep, but if this proved unsuccessful the women would draw lots and one would be selected for sacrifice. On this occasion, the chosen woman was a princess who caught the eye of George as he passed by on his white horse. Using the red cross of the Crusades as his protection, he fought the dragon and killed it. The grateful villagers all honoured him by converting to Christianity. This tale is known across the UK, and so the name has connotations with strength and courage.

What’s in a name?

George is one of the oldest names still in popular use today. Its roots are Greek and the name means farmer, having been formed from the Greek words for ‘earth’, ‘soil’ and ‘worker’. The name was also used as a description of the Greek god Zeus, as he had power over crops and the harvest.

No surname

While Prince George has plenty of names, he doesn’t have a surname. In fact, it is a tradition that any member of the family with a royal title does not have a surname.

As children, Princes William and Harry attended school using the names William and Harry Wales, because their father is the Prince of Wales. Meanwhile, the Queen and Prince Philip are known to use Windsor as a surname, which could also be an option. Alternatively, Prince William and Catherine Middleton may choose for their new son to go by the name George Cambridge.

Whether or not he becomes King George remains to be seen, as he may choose a regnal name like his great-great-grandfather King George VI. One thing’s for sure though, Prince George’s place in British history is already sealed.

What do you think of the baby prince’s new name?