Harry has his year, too!

January 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

(c) Apr. 27, 2011 – Chris Jackson/Getty Images: Prince Harry’s name was top of the charts in Britain this year. Can he take all the credit for this name’s popularity?

News out of Britain to close out 2011 seems to be that Harry has had his day, just like William – perhaps not at all surprising considering the way in which the British royal family was at the forefront of many a headline this year. While William claimed a perhaps surprising top spot in Canada and raised it’s profile Down Under, Harry is the nom du jour in Britain. Reports suggest that, while Olivia retained top spot for girls in the UK, Harry has overtaken Oliver as the most popular boys’ name in Britain.

Prince Harry notwithstanding, there’s been a few celebrity baby Harrys born in Britain (and Australia!) over the past few years: two-year-old Harry James Baldwin, son of morning TV host Holly Willoughby, and Harry James MacDonald, born to Aussie Rules Footballer James MacDonald. There’s six-month-old Harry James O’Hara, son of Danielle Lloyd – whose other son, Archie, was given an equally trendy old-fashioned boy’s name, Harry James Vince, son of Olympic badminton star Gail Emms, nearly two, five-year-old Harry Alexander Jack Beck, son of Coronation Street‘s Jane Danson. Former Atomic Kitten pop star Natasha Hamilton’s son, seven-year-old Harry Hatcher-Hamilton, is yet another.

All of that is nice, but there’s one British Harry that has proven far more universally endearing over the past decade, to have inspired such a bump in the proud, enamoured home country of his creator – and the affection seems to be spreading beyond British shores. JK Rowling’s boy wizard, Harry Potter, is this name’s sincerest idol today, embodying the spirit of goodness, bravery, and heroism that are divine qualities to wish for in a son. You don’t need to be naming your child after the character itself, but we’ve certainly seen a jump in baby Hermiones since Potter Mania broke out, too – a recent post at Appellation Mountain cited parents being inspired to use it after seeing it in the books, and embodied by Emma Watson on screen.

Harry Potter could actually, probably, claim the lion’s share of the credit for the name’s popularity today.

Harry (and Henry) is a name with full support in Britain and among the royal set, just like William. It belonged to eight British kings – though all christened, recorded, and remembered as Henry, they were known as Harry in their day – but the name has also appeared on six Holy Roman emperors, five kings of France, and one king of Portugal. Just as with Prince Harry – who was christened Henry Charles Albert David – many baby Henrys in Britain are likely to go by Harry, where the nickname is both commonplace and modern. Britain, especially, has long respected the tradition of using names from the past, but throughout the English speaking world the name Henry has never been unpopular, and it’s hard to say that Harry has either. Both Henry and Harry were popular in North America through the 18th and 19th Centuries, heavily used by the British – and French – who settled the New World.

Other Henrys to inspire: explorer Henry Hudson, for whom the Hudson River in New York City is named after he landed there in the 17th Century and laid the foundations for Dutch colonization of New Netherland. He continued north, searching for the Northwest Passage to India, but his ship, the Discovery, became trapped in the ice so they were forced to come ashore on James Bay – situated between what is now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec – where he waited out a cold northern winter. The following spring he was anxious to continue on in hopes of finding India, but his crew mutinied. Hudson, his sons, and all other personal supporters were sent adrift into the sea, and never seen or heard from again. It’s believed they died in what has since been named Hudson (also known as Hudson’s) Bay. That (or colloquially, The Bay, is also the name of Canada’s oldest company, which began, and thrived on the fur trade that Canada’s economy was built upon. Today, the heritage company, which was named for the tragic explorer, is the official Olympic outfitter of Team Canada. American industrialist Henry Ford invented the automobile, and both these men have seen their surnames trend just as often as Henry these days. As for other notable Henrys, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s surname seems unlikely to catch on as a given name, but fellow 19th Century American writer Henry David Thoreau‘s surname probably could.

These days in North America, it’s unlikely that a baby Henry (like Emily Deschanel’s sweetly named Henry Hornsby, born in October) would go by Harry, where colloquial use is dated at best – or simply too “hairy.” Others may simply go by Hank, like Henry “Hank” Randall Baskett IV, son of former Playmate and reality TV star Kendra Wilkinson, or baseball great Henry “Hank” Aaron. Or he might be named Harrison, like Australian cricketer Adam Gilchrist’s oldest son or the son of once-troubled American celebrity publicist Lizzie Grubman – best known for driving her Range Rover into a cafe in the Hamptons – if the ultimate goal is Harry (her son, Harrison “Harry” Irving, was born in 2006, Gilchrist’s son was born in 2001). However, simply named Harry Joseph Letterman is an American Harry that comes to mind, and there was at least one very notable baby Harry born in Vancouver within the past few years – the son of Vancouver Canucks’ team captain Henrik Sedin. His son, also named Henrik (the Nordic version of this Norman name), was born in March 2010 and is better known as Harry. Generally speaking, while Henry is within the Top 100 in both the US and Canada, Harry is outside the Top 500.

Neither Britain, nor Australia, nor Canada, or even the United States, is lately embracing another name for which Harry is a nickname for – Harold. Of Old English, Frankish, and Scandinavian origins, it means “leader of an army.” There were also two English kings named Harald, which was borrowed from the Danes who made up the origins of the Anglo-Saxons who predated Britain’s Norman rulers. Five Danish kings have been named Harald, and England’s King Harold II (Godwinson), killed Norway’s Harald III (Hardrata) just weeks before he’s said to have been shot through the eye with an arrow and murdered in the Battle of Hastings. But though Harold enjoyed a resurgence in the early 20th Century, it hasn’t come back with other trendy old-fashioned choices from the era.

Unlike Harold, the name Henry is, like William, a popular, enduring moniker from the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066. I touched on it briefly in my last post – but some of the most popular names in the English language – Roger, Hugh, William, Henry, Richard, and Robert – arrived with the Normans. Interestingly, Norman name Henry (later Henri in French) became anglicized as Harry, in use until the 17th Century when alternative Henry became popular, and Harry was relegated to nickname status. Henry was from the German Heimerich, which seems to have derived from the Old High German Haganrih, from the elements hag (enclosure, hedge) + rihhi (ruler). Hag may have developed to heim (home), and so Haganrih may have indicated someone who was the head of a family or clan. For primitive people, especially in tree-covered central Europe in the early Dark Ages following the fall of Rome, a home may have in fact been built out of the earth, deep into the forest. Modern Heinrich is derived from heim (home) + rik (ruler, king). Like William, Henry and Harry have many recognized forms throughout Europe apart from aforementioned Henrik, like Enrique in Spain, diminutive Rico in Italy, Finnish Henrikki/Heikki, or Hungarian Imre – the middle name of Canadian singer-songwriter Alanis Morrisette’s son Ever, who turned one on Christmas Day.

Feminine Henrietta has lately seen a little play in England and Australia. I think Henrietta suits anyone enamoured of Matilda, or any of the more playful traditional choices. And there’s Harriet. As Lou at Mer de Noms shared with me the other day, hot nickname-name Hattie is nothing new in Britain, and she knows at least three Harriets. I don’t know any. Over here, Harriet is generally deemed too unattractive a name for a girl. The perception that this name is too “hairy” over here is amplified on a girl – girls, of course, are not supposed to be hairy, under the common stereotype. Both names are decidedly old-fashioned by today’s standards.

No one has ever had to sell me on the benefits of Henry, but I’m still not partial to Harry. Maybe it’s the way we say it, where our North American accent encourages us to put more emphasis on the two r’s in the middle, as opposed to accentuating the ha sound at the beginning – which sounds admittedly less nasal and lets the name sound fairly more refined. Either way, I’ll probably always be partial to Henry, which has shaken the sense it had in North America through the 80s and 90s that it was really better suited to grandfathers – or great-grandfathers.


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§ 2 Responses to Harry has his year, too!

  • Yes poor Harry and Harriet suffer badly in North American accents … I adore Harriet; it’s so spunky.

    Here I’m sure that Harry Potter led to Harry’s success, because as soon as the first book came out it started climbing determinedly up the charts. I wonder what will happen now the last movie has been released? Maybe the Prince will give it another kiss of life?

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