Unto us was born this weekend a new royal baby, and the first big questions were answered quickly: Kate labored in the hospital for less than three hours, apparently without an epidural, and she looked radiant and slim afterward. Congratulations! We’re all so, so happy for her! But the more important question had to wait a few days: What was the noble newborn’s name?
The name, I told myself as I checked my phone obsessively over the weekend for news about an infant fourth in line to the meaningless crown of a foreign country, is much more important than the first photo.* All infants look like Winston Churchill. The little princess will develop her own look and personality over time, but her name is her first truly distinctive feature. A name turns a wriggling blob into a person.
I’m pregnant with a baby girl at the moment, and names are weighing heavily on my mind. They aren’t destiny, perhaps, but they carry so much information about values, education, class, taste, and culture. The women on my pregnancy forums who are considering naming their children “Hughstyn” and “Mackavelli,” for example, value individuality and creativity over tradition. I’m going out on a limb here and guessing that they are not British royalty.
Meanwhile, the slew of toddler Avas and Evas and Olivias I know in real life are evidence of another peril: Trusting your own good taste, picking a name purely for its nice sound, and accidentally landing on the next “Jennifer.” That’s why the current Olivia bubble in the U.S., where it’s the No. 3 name for girls, and England (No. 2) made it hard to imagine it as a choice for the new princess, although the Daily Mail reported betting houses had received a “sudden flurry of new wagers” on the name in recent hours. But Olivia just sounds too trendy now: It was never going to happen.
Unsurprisingly, Kate and Will seemed to play it safe in the end, with a trio of personally meaningful names: “Charlotte” for Charles (and aunt Pippa Middleton’s middle name), “Elizabeth” for the queen, and “Diana” for a character in the multiplayer video game League of Legends. But even family names involve matters of taste. As the founder of Baby Name Wizard told Wired back in 2009, “People may think they named a child after great, great grandma Olivia, but they have a lot of great, great grandmas, and they picked Olivia because it fits the popular sounds.” In England and Wales, “Charlotte” is significantly more popular right now than “Elizabeth” or “Diana.” If the royal parents selected it because it somehow sounded best, this just proves that cultural trends are even more powerful than royalty.
Of course, my own greatest fear was not that the baby’s name would be tacky, which might actually have been fun, but that she would “steal” the name my husband I have in mind for our baby. She didn’t. And that makes it much easier to say this: Welcome to the world, Charlotte Elizabeth Diana. If you’re anything like the rest of us—you are, and you aren’t —your name will be the least of your worries.
Correction, May 4th, 2015: This post originally stated that Charlotte is fifth in line to the throne. She is fourth.