Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor: the history behind the royal baby name

The forenames of the new royal may seem to be a departure from traditional choices, but the names have echoes of Anglo-Saxon and Norse customs, says historian Carolyn Harris. Writing for History Extra, Dr Harris explores the history behind the name of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s new arrival…

The name Archie was originally a nickname for Archibald, which derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Eorconbeald, and the Old High German name Erchenbald, says Carolyn Harris. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

The history of the name ‘Archie’

The name Archie was originally a nickname for Archibald, which derived from the Anglo-Saxon name Eorconbeald, and the Old High German name Erchenbald, which has meanings including ‘noble’ and ‘brave’. Variations of the name are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name became particularly popular in Scotland from the medieval period all the way to the 19th century.

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Archibald Douglas, 6th Earl of Angus (1489–1557) is an ancestor of the royal baby. He became the second husband of Margaret Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII of England and widow of King James IV of Scotland. Although the marriage was unhappy, the couple had a daughter, Lady Margaret Douglas, whose son Henry, Lord Darnley, married Mary, Queen of Scots and became the father of King James VI of Scotland/James I of England.

Archibald fell out of favour as a baby name in the early 20th century but the nickname Archie re-emerged as a popular baby name in its own right in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. In 2016, Archie was the 18th most popular name in England and the 21st most popular name in Wales and Scotland.

The history of the name ‘Harrison’

Harrison literally means ‘son of Harry’ and is a tribute to Archie’s father. The use of Harrison as a middle name is reminiscent of Norse and Anglo-Saxon naming customs in northern England from the 9th to 11th centuries, where male names were often followed by the father’s name and the suffix ‘son’. For example, Canute, King of England (1016­–1035), Denmark (1019–1035) and Norway (1028–1035) was born Cnut Sweynsson, after his father King Sweyn Forkbeard.

Harrison literally means ‘son of Harry’ and is a tribute to Archie’s father. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Harrison literally means ‘son of Harry’ and is a tribute to Archie’s father. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

A number of these Norse style patronymics became surnames over the course of the medieval period. Harrison emerged as a surname after the Norman conquest of 1066 introduced the Norman name Henry, or Harry (meaning ‘ruler at home’), to England. Henry has been a popular name in the royal family for nearly 1,000 years. William the Conqueror’s youngest son Henry was born after the Norman Conquest in 1068 and there have been eight English kings and dozens of princes with the name. Harrison began to be used as a first name in the 19th century as a part of a trend toward the use of former surnames as first names or middle names.

The surname of the royal baby and the use of HRH

The surname Mountbatten-Windsor reflects Archie’s place in the royal family as a junior great-grandson of the monarch in the male line. The Letters Patent issued by King George V in 1917 restricted the title of His or Her Royal Highness Prince or Princess to the children, male line grandchildren and senior great-grandson of the sovereign. The succession reforms that came into force in the United Kingdom and Commonwealth in 2015 made the provision about senior great-grandson outdated. The Queen issued new Letters Patent in 2012, the year after the Commonwealth Heads of Government agreed in principle to succession reform, decreeing that all of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s children would be princes and princesses.

As the eldest son of Prince Harry, who received the titles of Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel upon his marriage to Meghan Markle in 2018, Archie may use the subsidiary title of Earl of Dumbarton as a courtesy title. But the announcement of his name did not include this title, suggesting that Harry may continue to use the title of Earl of Dumbarton during his public engagements in Scotland.

Prince Harry received the titles of Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel upon his marriage to Meghan Markle in 2018. (Image by AARON CHOWN/AFP/Getty Images)
Prince Harry received the titles of Duke of Sussex, Earl of Dumbarton and Baron Kilkeel upon his marriage to Meghan Markle in 2018. (Image by AARON CHOWN/AFP/Getty Images)

When the Queen is succeeded by the Prince of Wales, Archie will become a grandson of the monarch, able to assume the style and title of His Royal Highness the Prince. The trend toward limiting the number of princes and princesses in the royal family may continue, however, and a subsequent Letters Patent may well restrict the title of prince or princess to the heir to the throne and his or her children.

Since 1960, descendants of the royal family in the male line or female descendants who marry may use Mountbatten-Windsor as a surname, though the royal house remains the House of Windsor, in keeping with the wishes of Queen Elizabeth II’s grandmother Queen Mary. Titled members of the royal family often use their titles as informal surnames. For example, when Prince William, son of the Prince of Wales, became a search and rescue pilot, he was known as Flight Lieutenant William Wales. In instances where a surname is required for a male line member of the royal family, however, Mountbatten-Windsor is the official choice. Princess Anne provided her surname as Mountbatten-Windsor on the registry documents at her wedding in 1973, the first time the surname had been used in an official context. As seventh in line to the throne, Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor will the most senior member of the royal family to use Mountbatten-Windsor as an everyday surname.

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Dr Carolyn Harris is an instructor in history at the University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies and the author of three books: Magna Carta and Its Gifts to Canada; Queenship and Revolution in Early Modern Europe: Henrietta Maria and Marie Antoinette and Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting.