The other day I heard Prince Harry refer to his daughter as “Lily,” the nickname for her legal name, Lilibet, which is itself a nickname for her namesake, Queen Elizabeth II. The origins of the word Lily refer to a flower, while the origins of Elizabeth refer to “oath” and “God” in Hebrew. Interesting, isn’t it, how one name leads to another?
Lily’s grandfather, Charles, is known as Carlos in Spanish-language countries and Karl in German and Russian-language countries. Prince William is Guillermo in Spanish, Guillaume in French, and Wilhelm in German, but William in Russian since there is no translation of William into Russian.
Many European countries refer to the British family members by their English names even if there is an easy translation.
Prince Harry is usually called Harry in the European press, even though his formal name, Henry, can be translated into Henrique in Spanish, Enrico in Italian and Henri in French. His wife, Meghan, has no equivalent for her English name in most other languages. Camilla is a tough one to translate, too.
In my own family there was a quandary about what to call me. My mother wanted to name me after her mother, Catherine, but she wanted to honor my father’s Irish heritage. So I was named Kathleen. If I made the news, would I be called Catalina in Spanish, Caterina in Italian, Ekaterina in Russian, or Catherine in French? Happily, a moot point.
Writers should be aware of names we choose for our characters. J. K. Rowling certainly thought about Harry Potter’s name: both Harry and Potter are common, under-the-radar long-time English names perfect for a boy who lives in a closet under the stairs. Snape, a sinister character, has a name sounding like “snake.” Malfoy means bad (mal) faith (foy), ideal for the student who tries to thwart Harry. And Valdemort, derived from vol (flight) de (from) mort (death), perfectly fits an evil wizard fighting to stay alive.
Jane Austen chose solid English names for most of her major characters (Charles appears over and over, as do Jane and Elizabeth). Shakespeare chose Mercurcio for his hot-headed, walk-away-lover in Romeo and Juliet.
Sometimes editors choose names when authors’ choices seem off. Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind was originally called “Violet,” too sweet and timid a name for the firey heroine in Margaret Mitchell’s classic. Mitchell named her male lead character aptly though: Rhett brings to mind “rat.”