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What to Call the Royal Baby: Canute?

Canute-1-072213If you’re betting on the name of the baby boy just born to royals William and Kate, probably best go with James or George – the top favorites with London bookies Ladbrokes and Will Hill. Charles, Philip, Edward and Henry are all high on the list. In fact, British royals tend to have lots of names, so he could be all of the above.

I’d vote for another name altogether: Canute. The famous Danish king ruled England from 1016 to 1035, and was apparently quite a nice chap altogether, uniting Danish and English people with less brute force and more winning friends and influencing people – especially the church.

Canute is best known, however, for his legendary encounter with the ocean, where he commanded the waves to stop advancing. Writing 100 years later, Henry of Huntingdon tells of how Canute had his throne set down on the beach and ordered the tide not to get his feet wet. The tide didn’t pay much attention:

“Continuing to rise as usual, [the tide] dashed over his feet and legs without respect to his royal person. Then the king leapt backwards, saying: ‘Let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but He whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws.'”

The story is often misunderstood to suggest that Canute was an arrogant person, where quite the opposite seems to have been the case – the entire point of the performance being to point out that humans do not rule over the oceans. To this day, a sign a sign on Southampton city center’s Canute Road reads, “Near this spot AD 1028 Canute reproved his courtiers.” Giving the newborn the name Canute would be a great way of turning public attention to what his future has in store

The point would be well borne in mind by those who are still paying little attention to where high tide will be, not only in England but all around the planet, when Will and Kate’s baby assume the throne – maybe around 2070.

By that time, according to most of the available climate projections, the shoreline of Britain will be very different from today. So will the shorelines of every other country. It will be a bit late in the day for a latter-day Canute to point out the arrogance of thinking that we humans can control nature.

But giving the newborn the name Canute right now would be a great way of turning public attention to what his future – and ours – has in store.

Don’t bet on it at Ladbroke’s and William Hill, however.