The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the name of his son, born on 29 April to his fiancée Carrie Symonds: Wilfred Lawrie Nicholas Johnson.
It is unlikely that the couple drew on their Catholic heritage when choosing the baby’s names (Mr Johnson is the UK’s first prime minister to be baptised as a Catholic). Ms Symonds confirmed on social media that the baby is named after Boris’s paternal grandfather.
Nevertheless, Wilfred is of course a profoundly Catholic name. Saint Wilfred, more often spelt Wilfrid (634-709), is best known for evangelising the people of Sussex in the late 660s. He also did much to establish the use of the Roman method for calculating the date of Easter after his return from Rome in the 650s.
St Wilfred was a pilgrim on the first known Christian pilgrimage to Rome by English natives, where he held an audience with Pope Eugene I. Later, he chose to return to the British Isles and convert Sussex, a mission that was largely successful. His impact was such that he has over 50 churches dedicated to him.
The name derives from Old English Wilfrith and is a compound of “will” and frith, “peace”. Popular in the centuries after St Wilfred’s life, the name fell from favour after the Norman Conquest but was revived by the Tractarians in the nineteenth century. In 2019, it was the 21st most popular name for baby boys in the UK.
The baby’s middle names also have strong Christian roots. Lawrie, after Miss Symonds’ maternal grandfather, is a diminutive of Lawrence, the Roman martyr; St Nicholas was a 4th-century bishop, though the PM’s newborn was named for more recent Nicks – two doctors who, in Ms Symonds’ words, “saved Boris’ life” when he contracted coronavirus last month.
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