Middle Names in France, Germany, England

As double names became commonplace in Italy during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, they remained rare in other regions of Christendom. What examples survive occurred primarily among royalty and nobility, including Bianca Maria of Savoy (b. 1335/6); Joanna Sophia of Bavaria (b. 1373); Charles Martin, Duke of Burgundy (b. 1433); John Albert, King of Poland, (b. 1459); Francis Phoebus, King of Navarre (b. 1469); Henry Algernon Percy, 5th Earl of Northumberland (b. 1477); Yolande Louise of Savoy (b. 1487); Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (b. 1486); Charles John Amadeus, 6th Duke of Savoy (b. 1489); Johann Ludwig von Hagen (b. 1492); and Phillippus Aureolas Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (b. 1493).

During the sixteenth century, multiple baptismal names appeared more frequently among the nobility and royalty of France and Germany. During the seventeenth century, they increased rapidly among all classes across most of Europe so that by the eighteenth century they had become commonplace.


As seen above, at least three members of the House of Savoy bore multiple given names before 1500. But beginning in 1528 with Emmanuel Philibert, the 9th Duke of Savoy, they were given to all Dukes of Savoy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries as well as to the succeeding Kings of Sardinia in the eighteenth century.

Also during the sixteenth century, multiple baptismal names were introduced into the House of Valois by Catherine de Medici who, having been born to the ruling family of Florence in 1519, had received three baptismal names–Caterina Maria Romula. As queen consort of France, she gave double names to two sons, both of whom became kings of France–Charles Maximilian (b. 1550, Charles I), and Alexandre Édouard (b. 1551, who ruled as Henry III).

Multiple baptismal names spread among French nobility in the seventeenth century and among commoners in the eighteenth century. Beginning shortly after the French Revolution, parents’ choice of given names was restricted by law to an approved calendar of names–mostly the names of saints and historic persons, but France did not limit the number of forenames that could be given. At some point it became fashionable to hyphenate two or three given names to create a compound name–a single unit, the whole of which the individual was supposedly called. Remaining in vogue until the beginning of the twentieth century, hyphenating given names was apparently used retroactively by historians and biographers, making it difficult to discern which of the many individuals so identified actually had that construction assigned at birth.

French Middle-Namers

Nevertheless, it is clear that many French people received two or more separate given names, and often the individual’s primary name–that by which he was known and addressed–was not the first. The French aristocratic family de Broglie serves as example. The first two Dukes de Broglie, born in 1671 and 1718, were given two baptismal names and were apparently known by both: François Marie and Victor François. The 3rd Duke de Broglie, Achille Leonce Victor Charles, went by Victor, the third of his four names. The next two Dukes de Broglie–Jacques Victor Albert and Louis Alphonse Victor–were known by the last of three baptismal names– Albert and Victor, respectively. The 6th Duke de Broglie, Louis Cesar Victor Maurice, went by his fourth given name. Louis Victor Pierre Raymond (b. 1892), was the 7th Duke de Broglie and the first in five generations to go by his first name.

Many French Catholics follow the old tradition of naming children after saints and godparents, and sometimes the names Maria and Anne, for the mother and grandmother of Jesus, are still given as a first name for a boy. In these cases, the boy is almost always known by a second or third given name.


Multiple baptismal names also appeared among the nobility of several German states during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and they were increasingly adopted by both nobility and commoners during the sixteenth century. For example, Philip I, Margrave of Baden, gave double names to five of his six children born between 1507 and about 1518, and William I, of the House of Nassau, gave multiple baptismal names to eight of his fifteen children, born between 1554 and 1584. Among commoners who received double names were humanists Johann Alexander Brassicamus (b. ca. 1500) and Johann Albrecht Widmannstetter (b. 1506); musicians Elias Nikolaus Ammerbach (b. 1530) and Hans Leo Hassler (b. 1564) and the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens (b. 1577).

Initially, parents who bestowed two names typically gave a saint’s name and a Germanic vernacular name, but after the Counter-Reformation (1543-1563) some parents rejected the Germanic names as “pagan.” Single names enjoyed a brief popularity during the latter part of the 1700s, but multiple names subsequently returned to favor.

German Middle-Namers

Regardless of how many given names Germans bore, most were known by only one. In the seventeenth century, this Rufname, or “call name,” was often the second or third forename, that closest to the surname. Church resisters of baptisms, marriages, and deaths recorded all baptismal names with the Rufname underlined. Civil authorities, on the other hand, frequently recorded only a person’s Rufname and surname, and thus, first names often do not appear in these records.

The ranks of German composers, artists, writers, physicians, and philosophers reveal many known Middle-Namers of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Just a few examples: composers (Georg) Daniel Speer (b. 1636), (Georg) Frideric Handel (b. 1685), (Carl) Friedrich Abel (b. 1723); novelist (Maria) Sophie von LaRoche (b. 1730); physician (Christian Friedrich) Samuel Hahremann (1755); poets (Johann Christian) Fredrich Holderlin (b. 1770), (Karl Wilhelm) Friedrich von Schlegel (b. 1772), (Johann) Ludwig Tieck (b. 1773), (Bernd) Heinrich (Wilhelm) von Kleist (b. 1777); writer/philophers (Karl) Wilhelm von Humboldt (b. 1767), (Georg) Wilhelm (Friedrich) Hegel (1770); artists (Franz) Gerhard von Klugelen (b. 1772), (Anna) Amalia von Helvig (b. 1776), (Franz Karl) Leopold von Klenz (b. 1784).

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was not uncommon for parents to use the same saint’s name for several, or even all, of their sons or daughters. Composer Johann Sebastian Bach (b. 1685), for example, was given the same saint’s name as three of his brothers: Johann Christoph, Johann Jacob, and Johann Balthasar. Johann was also the first name of their father, Johann Ambrosius; their uncle, Johann Christoph; and great-uncles, Johann Christoph and Johann Michael. Bach gave the name to five of his eleven sons, born between 1713 and 1735): Johann Christoph, Johann Gottfried Bernard, Johann Christoph Friedrich, Johann August Abraham, and Johann Christian. He also gave the female form of the name to one daughter, Johanna Carolina (b. 1737). Because all were known by the name closest to their surname, there was no confusion.

Similarly, the Humboldt brothers after whom Berlin’s Humboldt University was named possessed the same first given names: philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt (b. 1767), called Wilhelm, and naturalist Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander von Humboldt (b. 1769), called Alexander.


Name-giving did not become an actual part of infant baptism in England until 1552 (1), but it had become associated with the rite at least by the late thirteenth century so that the Archbishop of Canterbury could instruct parish clergy not to permit the selection of “wanton names.”(2) Multiple given names appeared as early as 1477, with Henry Algernon Percy, the 5th Earl of Northumberland.

In 1516 Sir Richard Wingfield, ambassador for the court of Henry VII, named his son Thomas Maria Wingfield. Maria had long been a popular second name for both boys and girls on the continent, but it was reportedly given to this child in honor of Princess Mary Tudor, whose marriage Richard had been commissioned to arrange with Archduke Charles of Austria (a mission at which he failed). Thomas Maria Wingfield passed his middle name on to his first-born son, Edward Maria Wingfield (b. 1550), as well as to two younger sons, Thomas Maria II and James Maria, both born before 1577.(3)

About the same time, the widow of Sir Thomas Hoby named her son Thomas Posthumous Hoby (b. 1566), the middle name indicating that he had been born after his father’s death. Hoby and the elder Wingfield are the only English bearers of middle names that the great antiquarian William Camden could cite in his much-quoted work of 1605(4), but he had not undertaken a study survey of names and these were simply examples he could “remember.” Obviously, he had overlooked the not-unknown 5th Earl of Northumberland and younger Wingfields, but there were also others with whom he was not acquainted. For example, the wife of Sir John Calvert was Dorothy Margerie Leonard (b. 1527), whose son, George, married a woman named Alice/Alicia Grace Crossland (b. 1550s). No doubt,  many more examples existed.

Nevertheless, despite overlooked and buried examples, middle names remained rare in England while they steadily gained in popularity on the continent. There is an explanation.

After the Church in England broke with Rome in 1532, there was a great passion among the Protestant population to eschew practices associated with Roman Catholicism. An order regulating baptism in the Church of England’s 1565 “Directory of Church Governance” directed parish clergy to persuade parents not to give their children such names “as savour of paganism or popery.”(5) Along with shunning an array of forenames considered “popish” (names of saints not mentioned in the Bible, of religious festivals and seasons, and of popes, crusaders, and other holy persons from church history), many Protestants also rejected the seemingly “Catholic” practice of giving multiple baptismal names. And Catholics themselves, who were severely persecuted for a century, avoided the practice as well, perhaps not wanting to call attention to their religious leanings.

Middle Names in the House of Stuart

Multiple baptismal names made a new appearance in England when Scotland’s King James IV inherited the English crown and became England’s King James I. The son of Mary Queen of Scots, James had been christened Charles James in 1566. Though not the first Englishman to have two forenames, perhaps he was the country’s first Middle-Namer.

James’s mother had been introduced to the Florentine custom of multiple baptismal names during the thirteen years she spent in the royal court of France,where both her mother-in-law, Catherine de Medici, and two brothers-in-law bore them (mentioned above). After the untimely death of her husband ended Mary’s brief reign as Queen Consort of France, she returned to Scotland and subsequently married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, and adopted the Florentine custom in naming her son.

When James came to the English throne in 1603, he had three children, the first of whom, Henry Frederick (b. 1594), had been given two names. Henry Frederick died young, and upon James’s death the throne passed to his younger son Charles (b. 1600), who ruled as Charles I. Less than two months after ascending the throne, Charles married Henrietta Maria of France, daughter of another member of the Florentine ruling family, Maria de Medici. They gave double names to their eldest son, Charles James (b. 1629, the future Charles II), and eldest daughter, Mary Henreitta (b. 1631). Meanwhile, Charles I’s sister, Elizabeth, married Frederick V, Elector of Palatine, and gave double names to four of her children. King James I thus had six grandchildren with middle names.

The royal family was technically Protestant. James’s mother had, of course, been Catholic and he had been baptized in a Catholic ceremony, but he had been raised as a Protestant after his mother was forced to abdicate in his favor. Nevertheless, the English mistrusted the Stuarts, and suspicion deepened when Charles married a Catholic Princess of Catholic France. So double names among the Stuarts did nothing to recommend them to Anglicans, who continued to shun them in a stance of fidelity to the Church of England.

Following the English Civil Wars (1642-51), the execution of Charles I, the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, and the Restoration of Stuarts to the throne, Charles II was succeeded in 1685 by his younger brother, James. With his Protestant first wife, James II produced eight single-named Anglican children. With his Catholic second wife–Italian princess Maria Beatrice Anna Margherita Isabella–he produced seven Catholic children and gave multiple names to four.

James was unpopular among Protestants even before his conversion to Catholicism was made public in 1673. He was ultimately deposed, and the throne went to his Protestant eldest daughter, Mary, who had become the wife of the Stadtholder of Holland, William of Orange, who,  being the son of Charles I’s late sister, Mary Henrietta, was himself in line for the throne. After William and Mary’s joint rule, the throne passed to Mary’s younger sister, Anne, in 1702, during whose reign England, Ireland, and Scotland were united as Great Britain. None of Anne’s children survived to adulthood, and although she was survived by several close Catholic relatives, Parliament ensured that the Royal family would remain Protestant by bestowing the line of succession on the granddaughter of James I, Sophia of Hanover, and her Protestant descendants.

Middle Names in Seventeenth Century England

Throughout the turbulent century of Stuart rule, prejudice bolstered custom to keep multiple names rare. Of the few seventeenth-century examples, a significant portion repeated the names of Prince Henry Frederick Stuart, who died in 1612 at age twenty, and Henrietta Maria, Queen of England, 1625-49. Citing four examples–Henry Frederick Howard, born in 1608 to Thomas Howard, 21st Earl of Arundel; Henry Frederick Thynne, born in 1614/5 to Sir Thomas Thynne; Henrietta Mary Stanley, born in 1630 to James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby; and Henrietta Maria Ball, born about 1652 to Sir Peter Ball–the nineteenth-century onomastician Charles Bardsley, concluded that the nobility adopted multiple baptismal names “within carefully prescribed limits,” one of which was that “the double name must be one already patronized by royalty.” As expressions of loyalty to the royal family, Bardsley opined, these particular names answered any objections that might be raised against them as multiple baptismal names.(6)

Indeed, these examples most certainly were expressions of loyalty. All of the cited nobles as well as others who bestowed such names–James Hamilton, 1st Duke of Hamilton, whose daughter Henrietta Mary Hamilton was born in 1631; Captain James Neale, whose daughter Henrietta Maria Neale was born in 1647 in Spain while he was on assignment for the Crown; and Thomas Wentworth, 2nd Baron Wentworth, whose daughter Henrietta Maria Wentworth was born in 1660–were supporters of the royal family during the English Civil Wars. Many of these “Royalists” were Catholics or Catholic-sympathizers. But several Royalist daughters not noticed by Bardsley received other double names: Anna Sophia Herbert, born in 1618 to Philip Herbert, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery; Amelia Ann Stanley, another daughter of the Earl of Derby, born in 1633; Anna Margaretta Long, born in 1637 to Sir James Long, Baronet; Mary Anne Boyle, born 1645 to Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Burlington; Penelope Mary Bridgeman, born about 1650 to Sir Orlando Bridgeman; and Catherine Geertrui Davidson, born 1663 to Sir William Davidson of Curriehill. Anna Maria Gill (b. 1625), wife of Captain James Neale, cited above, is another example of a double name in a Royalist family.

The joining of Mary/Maria and Anne/Anna in double names to commemorate the Virgin Mary and her mother Anne was popular in France and Italy, as Bardsley noted. But totally ignoring the Royalist daughters noted above, Bardsley maintained that such double names did not appear in England until after 1700, in honor of the Stuart sister queens, Mary and Anne.(7) But Mary Ann appeared as a double name even before 1600, exemplified by Mary Ann Longworth, who married John Utie in 1616 in Heponstall, York County, and was born around 1595.(8)

Bardsley noted that during the seventeenth century two other names appeared as middle names independent of royalty. Maria was increasingly used as a second name for both male and female infants, as was Posthumus/Posthuma. His last example was Gulielma Maria Posthuma Springett, the daughter of Sir William Springett and Mary Proude, born a few days after her father’s death in 1644. Her mother gave her both Maria and Posthuma as middle names after the Latin form of William, resulting in a rare triple name. It cannot properly be called a baptismal name, though, because as a Quaker, Mary refused to have her infant baptized.(9)

Gulielma Springett married the Quaker William Penn and passed her first two names to their first-born daughter, Gulielma Maria Penn (b. 1671), as well as to a third daughter, born after the death of the first. She and her husband also gave two names to their second daughter, Maria Margaret Penn (b. 1673). Penn’s second, much-younger wife, was also a Quaker with a double given name–Hannah Margaret Collowhill (b. 1671).

That Quakers and other non-Anglicans might have given multiple names to their children seems not to have occurred to Bardsley. When he noted the baptismal name of Elizabeth Mary Allen (b. 1667), it was because it was the first record he found of a multiple name being given to a member of the “lower class.” But the record also shows that Elizabeth Mary was over eighteen when baptized and the daughter of “pro-baptists.” What is remarkable is that her baptism was even recorded, because it predated by more than a decade the Act of Toleration exempting nonconformists from penalties under certain terms.(10)

Despite the clear evidence that some non-Catholics were also bestowing multiple names on their children, it was the 1689 coronation of William III (William Henry of Orange) that introduced most Englishmen to a purely Protestant multiple baptismal name. About this time, many among the Anglican upper crust started giving a particular type of middle name to their children. A century earlier, landed gentry had begun giving family surnames–usually the mother’s surname–as given names. This was especially so if the name indicated the line of an inheritance that would pass to the child. As Camden had noted in 1605, this was a uniquely English practice. Now, as the taboo against multiple baptismal names eroded during the last decade of the seventeenth century, some upper class families added a conventional forename in front of the lineage name and the practice of giving only a surname as a baptismal name virtually disappeared.(11)

Middle Names under the House of Hanover

With the 1714 coronation of George I (George Louis, Elector of Hanover), Englishmen were furnished a panoply of Protestant double and triple baptismal names: George Louis, Sophia Dorthea, George Augustus, Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline, Frederick Augustus, Maximilian Wilhelm, Sophia Charlotte, Karl Philipp, Christian Heinrich, Ernest Augustus, Frederick Louis, and so on.

Suddenly, the old prejudice against multiple baptismal names seemed to vanish. As the eighteenth century progressed, multiple given names became so numerous that examples need not be cited. It might be said that in England, the practice of giving multiple baptismal names derived not so much from Catholic France as from Protestant Germany.

By the middle of the eighteenth century, even triple baptismal names were so prevalent that Conservatives took note. Member of Parliament George Selwyn most likely shared the dismay of his friend, George “Gilly” Williams. Although each man had been born in 1719 and received a second name (Augustus Selwyn and James Williams), to them the idea of a third name was absurd. Williams wrote to Selwyn in 1764:

Downe’s child is to be christened this evening. The sponsors I know not, but his three names made me laugh not a little, John Christopher Burton. I wish to God, when he arrives at the years of puberty, he may marry Mary Josephina Antonietta Bentley.         – George Selwyn and His Contemporaries, 1: 330

Two years later, Oliver Goldsmith mocked the fashion and its German influence by giving the name Caroline Wilhelmina Amelia Skeggs to a pretentious and vulgar young woman in his novel The Vicar of Wakefield.

British Middle-Namers

As more parents gave multiple names to their children, many chose the middle name as a child’s primary name. Examples had been set anciently by James I and now more recently by Queen Caroline (full name, Wilhelmina Charlotte Caroline), wife of George II until her death in 1737. Englishmen most certainly knew of Countess (Petronilla) Melusine von der Schulenburg, illegitimate daughter of George I who in 1733 married a leading Whig politician, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield, and were also familiar with the name of German-born composer (Georg) Frideric Handel, who became a naturalized British subject in 1727.

Although going by a middle name never became as widespread in England as in Germany, by the twentieth century the practice was so prevalent that half of the United Kingdom’s Prime Ministers from 1916 to the present have been Middle-Namers: (David) Lloyd George, (Andrew) Bonar Law, (James) Ramsay McDonald, (Arthur) Neville Chamberlain, (Robert) Anthony Eden, (Maurice) Harold Macmillan, (James) Harold Wilson, (Leonard) James Callaghan, (James) Gordon Brown, and (Alexander) Boris dePfeffel Johnson.

  1. J.D.C. Fisher, Christian Initiation: Baptism in the Medieval West (Hillenbrand Books:2004), 174-175.
  2. Charles W. Bardsley, Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (London: 1880), p. 75.
  3. The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1509-1558; 1558-1603; Bardsley, p. 217.
  4. William Camden, Remains Concerning Britain (London: 1870, first published in 1605), p. 52.
  5. Bardsley, p. 44.
  6. Bardsley, pp. 216-17.
  7. Bardsley, pp. 220-21.
  8. See note 1.  in “Middle Names in the US.”
  9. Bardsley, pp. 218-19.
  10. Bardsley, p. 220.
  11. Bardsley, p. 228.

Comments are closed.