William and Catherine: Behind the Royal Wedding Names

Filed under: Baby Names, Celeb Parents, Celeb News & Interviews

william and catherine

The royal couple. Credit: Mario Testino, Associated Press

In honor of the royal wedding, we offer an in-depth look at William and Catherine, two of today's most popular classic names that will now go down in history paired together.

Catherine, as the princess formerly known as Kate now reportedly prefers to be called, is Greek for "pure." The early saint and martyr Catherine of Alexandria of the infamous wheel made the name famous.

Catherine has been widely used in England since the Middle Ages. Three of the wives of Henry VIII were named Catherine (sometimes spelled by different sources as Katherine, Kathryn and even Katherina and Katerine.

Katherine has been the most popular spelling of the name in the United States for several years now, currently ranking at No. 60, with Catherine coming in at No. 177 and Kathryn trailing. But the royal bride could flip those numbers.

Kate, the most stylish short form of the name, ranks higher in the popularity standings than Catherine and most forms of Katelyn rank higher still. Counted together, there are 50 percent more baby girls called all the forms of Catherine, Kate and Katelyn than are given the number one name, Isabella.

Besides the new princess, other famous bearers of the name include Russian empress Catherine the Great; actresses Katherine Heigl, Catherine Deneuve and Katharine Hepburn; screen stars Kate Hudson, Holmes, Beckinsale and Winslet; supermodel Kate Moss; writers Katherine Mansfield and Katherine Anne Porter; and literary heroine Cathy of "Wuthering Heights."

Prince William's name was elevated from classic to stylish when parents Charles and Diana chose it for him in 1982. A German name meaning "resolute (or will) protection," William has been an overall second only to John in the English-speaking world for 400 years. After hitting a low of No. 20 in the early 1990s, William now stands at No. 5 in the United States.

Introduced to England by William the Conquerer, who became the first King William of that land and made his son the second King William, William III ruled in the late 17th century with his wife Mary -- thus, William and Mary -- and William IV held the throne in the 1830s. If the bridegroom prince ascends to the throne, he will be William V.

Prince William, who's always been called Will or Wills, started a fashion for those short forms over mid-century favorites Billy and Bill. In the United States, the nickname Willie, as in baseball great Mays and country singer Nelson, is widely used, though in England it's considered a rude word for a part of the male anatomy. Liam is another name that originated as a nickname for William.

Other famous Williams include members of the royal families of France, the Netherlands, Sicily and Cameroon; William Shakespeare; Scottish hero William Wallace; Bill Gates; Will Smith; and rocker will.i.am.

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The Name Babes are Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz, founders of Nameberry.com, innovators of baby-name content on the Web. Got a name craving? Learn more about baby names at Nameberry.com.

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