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The Baby Formally Known as Prince

Kate, Wills, George, and tummy

Kate, Wills, George, and tummy

In case you missed it, a British couple had a baby last week. In the words of the Buckingham Palace press release, “Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son at 4.24pm.”

And, of course, there is only one possible reaction to that sentence: delivered of???

Americans would normally say, “delivered a son,” and in fact some U.S. news organizations used exactly that formulation in reporting the birth. But delivered of was no typo. The OED‘s relevant definition is: “To disburden (a woman) of the fœtus, to bring to childbirth; in pass[ive]., to give birth to a child or offspring. Rarely said of beasts. (The active is late and chiefly in obstetrical use.)”  Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale has, “She is, something before her time, deliuer’d.” An early example of the  “of” formulation—structurally comparable to a thief relieving me of my money—is in The Midwives Book of 1671: “A woman delivered of a Boy, must continue in her purification thirty three dayes, and for a girl sixty six days.” And an 1850 edition of Arabian Nights sets a royal precedent, with, “The queen …was in due time safely delivered of a prince.”

As you know, the parents named the child George, disappointing many punters who favor longshots. That ancestral name was the heavy favorite in pre-delivered-of betting, with one bookmaker offering just 2-1 odds. It was followed, according to a report in The Telegraph, by “James, with odds of 5/2, Alexander,” the baby’s second name, “at 8/1, Richard, at, 9/1, Louis,” his third name, “at 11/1, and Henry with odds of 12/1. … Outside bets are for Boris, at 100/1, Simon and Lloyd, both 125/1, and you can get odds of 250/1 on the royal baby being named Wayne.”

Among the English Muggles, George isn’t much of a thing, coming in 68th on a list of the currently most popular names for boy babies, which barely beats out Rhys. (The top choice is Harry—George’s uncle’s name, of course—followed by Jack, Oliver, Alfie, and Charlie.) It’s even less trendy in the United States, despite being the name of two of our last four presidents, our first president, a handsome movie star, the greatest baseball player ever (though he’s more commonly known by his nickname, Babe), and a (admittedly unlikeable) character on the most popular TV sitcom of all time. In 2012, George was number 166 here, after Emmanuel and before Maddox. (Maddox?) Here’s the American top-10, for both sexes:

Boys Girls
1 Jacob Sophia
2 Mason Emma
3 Ethan Isabella
4 Noah Olivia
5 William Ava
6 Liam Emily
7 Jayden Abigail
8 Michael Mia
9 Alexander Madison
10 Aiden Elizabeth

If you’re interested—as how could you not be?—in the issues of self-definition, status, class, and taste, then first-name choices provide fascinating and endlessly rich data. Being free of charge and compulsory, they’re not constricted in the way most other markers are. Moreover, for many if not most people, a baby is a vessel for aspiration and social extrapolation, so the choice carries special meaning. The challenge is in the analysis, of course. It seems safe to observe that contemporary American naming customs suggest a longing for Colonial times. (If you remove outliers like Mia, Jayden and Aiden from the top-10 lists, and switch Madison from first name to last, then the people in a 2013 day care and a 1776 tea party have the same names.)  The Brits, meanwhile, seem to fancy hanging about with the blokes down at the local.

I have a long personal interest in the naming customs of my own group, Jewish Americans. Popular names for girls of my parents’ generation—born between, say, 1905 and 1935—included Estelle, Irene, Faye, Sylvia, and Florence (to name just some of my own relatives), and it makes sense that their parents, first- and second-generation immigrants eager to start climbing the social ladder, would have chosen such upper-crust English names. But the boy names in this cohort have always puzzled me. Sure, there were a few Georges and Louises (including my father), and some biblical Samuels and Jacobs, but they were outnumbered by the Stanleys, Jeromes, Leonards, Arthurs, Howards, Morrises, Bernards, Marvins, Irvings, Herberts, and Seymours—all of which are upper-class English last names. I have never seen an explanation of how this trend started ; if anyone has some information on that score, please share.

By the time my baby-boom generation was arriving on the scene, all bets were off. One surprising trend among my Jewish-American-male cohort was Scottish names, such as Andrew, Bruce, Douglas, Kenneth, Ronald, Scott, and Stuart. When we had our own kids, we went in all sorts of way-back machines, often choosing names more antique than those of anybody in the family not born in the old country: Micahs and Isaacs  and Elis. In my town, there is a father-son combination of Andy and Sam. When I see them approaching me on the street, I always have to rehearse silently to myself, “Andy is the father, Andy is the father. …”

There is one more linguistic feature of the royal birth that needs to be noted. It appears in this headline from an Associated Press article:

KATE APPLAUDED FOR NOT HIDING NEW MOMMY TUMMY

The author wrote:

As Kate and William showed off the royal baby, what caught the eye of many women was not the new heir to the throne but the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-childbirth silhouette: that little bump under her pretty polka-dot dress.

“I love that she came out and there was a mommy tummy. It was there! We all saw it!” said Lyss Stern of New York City, who remembers turning down offers of a girdle and diet pills after her first child was born nine years ago.

Give me a break. First we had “baby bump” to deal with and now this latest bit of goo-goo-gah-gah talk. It brings to mind the immortal words of Dorothy Parker. Reviewing The House at Pooh Corner in her Constant Reader book review column in The New Yorker, she recounted coming across a reference to “a very hummy hum.” At that point, she confided, ”Tonstant Weader fwowed up.”

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