Surname Issues and British Prime Ministers, 1828-2007

Roughly half the politicians who served as prime minister of the United Kingdom between 1828 and 2007 had some form of surname "issue": the name by which they were known was not the birth surname of their linear male forebears.

Indeed, in a cluster of cases between 1976 and 2007, the surname change had occurred as recently the preceding generation. The reasons for these name changes were varied, and it seems unlikely that some sense of personal insecurity drove the inheritors of altered surnames to validate themselves by occupying Ten Downing Street. Nonetheless, the unusually high rate of uncertainty regarding nomenclature among British prime ministers is intriguing, and merits examination.[1]

Introduction: surname change

Of course, surname change was by no means unusual among the British upper classes. Frequently it was a condition of inheriting property that the beneficiary should perpetuate the surname of a testator, generally a distant relative, who had died without an heir. Thus Sir Philip Lloyd-Graeme re-emerged as Sir Philip Cunliffe-Lister in 1924, to take over Swinton Castle from his wife's grandfather. He enjoyed his new identity for just eleven years, before going to the House of Lords as Viscount (and later Earl of) Swinton. For an earlier lucky legatee, Lord George Sackville, rebranding also helped to re-launch a blighted career. His decision to disobey orders at the battle of Minden in 1759 caused such universal execration that his name was struck from both the Army List and the roll of the Privy Council. When Lady Elizabeth Germain left him her estates in 1769, he was able to change his name and resume his public career. As Lord George Germain, he served in Lord North's cabinet as Secretary of State for the American Department between 1775 and 1781, taking overall charge of military strategy in the war against the rebel American colonists. In this, he was once again notably less than successful, and his second career ended shortly after the British surrender at Yorktown. Nineteenth century examples of name changes include Sir John Somerset Pakington, who served in all three of Lord Derby's cabinets, who changed his name from Russell in 1830 after inheriting the estate of a maternal uncle, and George Sclater, who became Sclater-Booth in 1857, as a condition of inheritance, and served in Disraeli's government in the eighteen-seventies.

Some upper class families simply piled on the surnames, to create three-decker combinations: Stuart-Wortley-Mackenzie (Earls of Wharncliffe), Twisleton-Wykeham-Fiennes, who were mere baronets, and Douglas-Scott-Montagu (Lord Montagu of Beaulieu). An alternative combination, Montagu Douglas Scott, is used by the Dukes of Buccleuch, but without hyphenation. There is at least one quadruple-barrelled surname, Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax, which evolved as late as 1916. Admiral the Honourable Sir Reginald Aylmer Ranfurly Plunkett-Ernle-Erle-Drax was sent to Moscow in August 1939 to seek an alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler. Unfortunately, he had nothing to offer but his name. In these democratic times, scions of such families tend to abbreviate their exotic names: the current representative of one family is Richard Drax, a Conservative MP, while the bearer of the baronetcy of another is the explorer Ranulph Fiennes. However, for the past two centuries, few British prime ministers have been drawn from such elevated levels of British society, and the degree of surname uncertainty among them must be attributed to other causes. Only one holder of the office in that period owed his surname to a condition of inheritance, and Henry Campbell-Bannerman headed one of Britain's most reformist governments.

Marriages and peerages

Two qualifications should be noted at this point. The first is that Britain's two female prime ministers both changed their names through marriage. When Margaret Roberts married Denis Thatcher in 1951, it was virtually automatic that a woman should take her husband's surname. It might be thought that Theresa Brasier's decision to become Mrs May says something about the traditional nature of her own values, since by 1980, the year of her wedding, it was by no means unusual for brides to retain their maiden names for career purposes. However, it is hardly appropriate to emphasise the point.

The second qualification relates to titles, which are (of course) not the same as surnames, although they have functioned as primary identifiers for many politicians over the past centuries. The relationship between surname and title is discussed below specifically in relation to Derby, Salisbury, Rosebery and Douglas-Home. In a small number of instances since 1800, the acquisition of a peerage may cause minor confusion, especially where a political career continued after holding office as prime minister. Thus Henry Addington (PM 1801-4) became Viscount Sidmouth, accepting the peerage as part of a rapprochement with his rival, William Pitt, who wanted him out of the House of Commons. Although Addington notched up a relatively short term as prime minister, Sidmouth holds the record as the longest-serving Home Secretary, and is also notorious as the perhaps most repressive holder of the office. Lord Goderich (PM 1827) had only just been promoted to the peerage from the plebeian surname of Robinson. Perhaps the most noteworthy point about his brief term in office was that his title seems to have been pronounced "good-rich", if we are to judge from his nickname, "Goody". In 1833, he was advanced in the peerage, becoming Earl of Ripon. Although he served both in the Whig cabinet of Lord Grey and the Conservative administration of Sir Robert Peel, he made no great impression on the political world.

Two more notable figures accepted titles while they were still in the prime ministerial phases of their careers. Russell (PM 1846-52, 1865-6) was known by his courtesy title, Lord John Russell, during the first term of office. The designation indicated that he was a younger son of the Duke of Bedford and, as it was merely honorific, was no obstacle to sitting in the Commons. In 1861, he went to the House of Lords, taking the title Earl Russell. Thus, having been Lord John, a commoner, first time around as prime minister, he became Lord Russell, an aristocrat, during his second term. Hailing his elevation, the satirical magazine Punch was under the impression that he was about to become Earl of Ludlow, and subsequent generation of students would have been spared much confusion had that title been adopted.[2] Benjamin Disraeli (PM 1868, 1874-80) took an earldom in 1877, moving to the House of Lords to ease the burden of political leadership. Disraeli's new incarnation as Earl of Beaconsfield was very much a tailpiece to his career: his most authoritative modern biographer, Robert Blake (himself both a Conservative intellectual and a peer), informed his readers that he would "continue ... to call him by the name by which he will always be known to posterity."[3]

The convention was by now established that former prime ministers could claim an earldom, although not all have done so, and by the late twentieth century, life peerages became an alternative.[4] It is an alternative availed of by only four ex-prime ministers, Lord Home of the Hirsel (PM 1963-4), Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (PM 1964-70, 1974-6), Lord Callaghan of Cardiff (PM, 1976-9) and Baroness Thatcher (PM 1979-92). Since most life peerage titles are based on surnames, this form of ennoblement reduces the risks of confusion.

However, most prime-ministerial earldoms have also been surname-based. Arthur Balfour (PM 1902-5) and Clement Attlee (PM 1945-51) both took earldoms derived from their surnames (Balfour with an "of", Attlee without). Asquith (PM 1908-16) wanted to become Earl of Oxford, an elevation that one aristocratic lady likened to calling a suburban villa "Versailles". The 20th Earl of Oxford had died without obvious heirs in 1703, but the title was officially dormant, allowing for the faint possibility that some collateral relative might one day establish a claim. It had been revived, in the form of Earl of Oxford and Earl Mortimer, for Robert Harley, Queen Anne's Tory favourite. The Harleys, heirs to the family name if not the title, objected strongly, and the College of Heralds insisted on Oxford and Asquith.[5] Baldwin (PM 1922-3, 1924-9, 1935-7) became Baldwin of Bewdley, explaining that George V had told him "how he liked the old family names retained".[6] Lloyd George hyphenated his name and added Dwyfor, a Welsh river, to become Earl Lloyd-George of Dwyfor. "Many, who loved and honoured him, will regret that David Lloyd George did not die as he had lived," wrote an admiring biographer.[7] In fact, he did die, within weeks of taking his peerage, so the title never had a chance to take root (although it did pass to his elder son). Attlee (PM 1945-51) simply became Earl Attlee (unlike Balfour, there was no "of"). Perhaps curiously, it was the last two prime ministers to accept hereditary titles who adopted locational titles: Eden (PM 1955-7) as Earl of Avon, and Macmillan (1957-63) as Earl of Stockton. Although Lord Avon enjoyed his title for sixteen years, poor health prevented him from taking any prominent part in public life, and a biographer concludes that he remained "Anthony Eden" to all who knew him.[8] Macmillan's official biographer calls his choice of title "felicitously romantic", but it conveyed something of a fake flourish. He had sat as MP for Stockton-on-Tees from 1924 to 1929, and again from 1931 to 1945, and claimed that his personal brand of "One Nation" Toryism had its roots in this northern industrial town. As with Lloyd George, there were those around him who "regretted" that the politician who had for so long spurned titles and the titles should have ceased to be "plain Harold Macmillan."[9] A couple of high-profile comments on the policies of Margaret Thatcher reminded newspaper readers that Lord Stockton was the Supermac of distant days, but – as with Eden – his title never struck deep roots. Macmillan's earldom was one of the last hereditary creations.

It is also worth noting that the two twentieth-century politicians who held cabinet office after ceasing to be prime minister, Balfour and Home, each adopted a title that was close to their previous incarnation. Thus it may be concluded that, while titles of nobility have added an extra dimension to prime-ministerial nomenclature, they have not created major surname issues as such.

Seventeenth- and eighteenth-century examples

Seventeenth-century Britain provides one major example of surname change connected with political leadership. Oliver Cromwell (Lord Protector, 1653-8) was descended from a Welshman, Morgan ap William, who left Glamorgan around 1500 to become a successful brewer in Putney. He married Katherine Cromwell, sister of Henry VIII's minister, Thomas Cromwell. Morgan's surname was anglicised to Williams, but his son also adopted that of his famous uncle. For the next three generations his heirs called themselves Williams, alias Cromwell: Oliver Cromwell but occasionally used the formula himself, even during his term of office as Lord Protector, effectively Britain's head of state.[10] There is a curious parallel with Winston Churchill, whose great-grandfather revived the surname of the great Duke of Marlborough, inherited through the female line, thus paving the way for his descendants to downgrade and virtually eliminate their own name, Spencer.

Prime ministers before 1828 provide a handful of examples of surname fluidity. Thomas Pelham-Holles, Duke of Newcastle (PM, 1754-6, 1757-62) was the son of Thomas Pelham (Baron Pelham) and his wife, Lady Grace Holles, who was the sister of the Duke of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The duke bequeathed his estates to his nephew, on condition that he tacked on the Holles surname. His brother, Henry Pelham (PM, 1743-54) was not affected by the name change. Thus the only two prime ministers who have been brothers are known by different surnames, a curious complication. Charles Watson-Wentworth, Marquess of Rockingham (PM, 1765-6, 1782), was the grandson of Lewis Watson, first Earl of Rockingham, who was himself grandson, through his mother, of Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford, Charles I's minister who had been executed in 1641. Lewis Watson had incorporated the additional surname. William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland (PM, 1783-4, 1807-9) was the son of William Bentinck, Duke of Portland, whose duchess was born Margaret Cavendish Harley. He unofficially adopted Cavendish as an additional surname in 1755, but did not formally secure a royal licence to use the name until 1801. Portland reinforced his connection with the clan by marrying Lady Dorothy Cavendish, daughter of the Duke of Devonshire, in 1766, but his own use of the name was not a feminist gesture. (Two British prime ministers have married a Lady Dorothy Cavendish, Harold Macmillan being the other.)

Prime Ministers since 1828

**Wellington (Wellesley / Wesley / Colley)

The victor of the Battle of Waterloo is so deeply embedded in the national memory as the Duke of Wellington that it may seem surprising to realise that he even possessed a surname, let alone a doubly disputed one. Arthur Wellesley was born Arthur Wesley. He went through Eton as Arthur Wesley, sat in the Irish House of Commons as Arthur Wesley, served as an army officer as Colonel Wesley. Not until 1798, when he was 29, did "A. Wesley" start signing himself "Arthur Wellesley": the first known example dates from his time in India. In one sense, the switch was a reversion to the original family surname. There had been Wellesleys in Ireland since the thirteenth century. However, in the seventeenth century, a forebear, Gerald Wellesley, became Garret Wesley: ascendancy surnames sometimes generated odd pronunciations, and this was probably one of them. Arthur's father, Garrett Wesley, received a viscountcy in 1760: Irish peerages were not difficult to acquire. He revived the older spelling of the family name, becoming Viscount Wellesley (and later Earl of Mornington), while retaining his Wesley surname. The future Duke of Wellington was a younger son, which, at that time, meant that he was very much a junior member of the family. His elder brother, Richard, favoured the Wellesley version. It was his arrival in India, as governor-general, that marked the moment when Arthur Wesley changed his name. The following year, 1799, Richard became the Marquess Wellesley. No connection has ever been established with John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who had died in 1791. Hence there seems no reason to assume that the surname was changed to avoid what might have seemed to a family of Irish aristocrats an inconvenient and joyless association.

However, the Wesley / Wellesley minuet does not convey the full surname saga. As happened in many land-owning families, the male line had failed here in 1728. Garrett Wesley died without heirs, leaving the family estate to his cousin Richard Colley, who changed his name to Wesley. He was the Duke of Wellington's paternal grandfather. Yet the tale does not end even here, for the Colley surname was sometimes spelt Cowley (and even Cooley). When Wellington's brother Henry, a distinguished diplomat, was raised to the peerage in 1828, he chose the title Baron Cowley of Wellesley.[11]

**Melbourne (Lamb)

A different surname issue arises with William Lamb, second Viscount Melbourne (PM 1834-5, 1835-41). It was widely believed that Peniston Lamb, the first Viscount Melbourne, was not his biological father. The narrative runs thus: Lamb's wife, Elizabeth Milbanke, did her duty by presenting him with an heir, also named Peniston. She then chose her own partners, and her second son, the future prime minister, was fathered by the Earl of Egremont, and there is plenty of evidence that Egremont remained a family friend. Unfortunately, her eldest boy died young, and the estates and title passed to the fruit of her wanderings. Strictly speaking, this does not affect the surname at all: the child of a married woman automatically inherits her husband's name, even if the conception is extra-marital. Visiting Lord Melbourne's country mansion, the artist Landseer naturally accepted his host's invitation to inspect the pictures. He was startled by the portrait of Egremont, turning instinctively to Melbourne to check the resemblance. "Aye, you have heard that story, have you?", was Melbourne's comment. "It's a damned lie for all that!"[12] Damned lie or not, the story was widely believed.


In the family of Melbourne's eventual successor, Sir Robert Peel (PM 1834-5, 1841-6), there had been a minor but recent name change. His great-grandfather was Robert Peele, but by the time of the prime minister's father, "Parsley" Peel (so nicknamed from his most famous textile pattern), the final letter had been dropped.[13] It is curious that three Victorian prime ministers who now seem symbols of stability should each have experienced recent changes in family name – in the cases of Disraeli and Gladstone, discussed below, within their own lifetimes.

** Derby (Smith-Stanley)    

Although his surname was Smith-Stanley, the fourteenth Earl of Derby (PM 1852, 1858-9, 1866-7) preferred to emphasise the second element, which dated back to the Middle Ages. His great-grandfather, James Stanley, known by the courtesy title of Lord Strange, had married the daughter and co-heiress of Hugh Smith of Weald Hall, near Brentwood in Essex. The Dictionary of National Biography states that he "took the additional name of Smith in accordance with the will of his wife's father".[14] Lord Strange secured the passage of a private act of parliament in 1747 to enable him "and his issue by Lucy his wife (late Lucy Smith)" to add the name, but the fourteenth Earl of Derby presumably regarded this as permissive and not obligatory. He was known as Lord Stanley from 1834, but in earlier years he seems to have refused to use the additional name at all. Perhaps an Essex girl called Smith seemed unsuitable for the surname of one of England's oldest and greatest families. It is clear that he did not pass it on to his son, Edward Henry Stanley, fifteenth Earl of Derby, either as a baptismal name or as part of his surname. As noted below, a later prime minister, the Marquess of Salisbury, honoured his father's marriage to another Essex heiress, Frances Mary Gascoyne. She hailed from unfashionable Barking, but her surname conveyed a certain cachet.

**Aberdeen (Hamilton Gordon)     

Born George Gordon, the fourth Earl of Aberdeen (PM 1852-5) secured a royal licence in 1818 "to take and use the surname of Hamilton, immediately before that of Gordon" to show his "respect for the memory of his late father in law", the Marquess of Abercorn.[15] Although the permission included Aberdeen's descendants, his younger son and biographer, the quirky career colonial governor Arthur Gordon, ignored the name change both for himself and did not refer to it in his biography of his father. It was not until the next generation, in the later nineteenth century, that the hyphenated version, Hamilton-Gordon, became standard. In the case of the prime minister, the adoption of the additional name was largely a personal tribute that would have been invisible to the wider world, since he had already inherited the earldom.


Perhaps the best-known example of a prime-ministerial surname discrepancy is that of Benjamin Disraeli (PM 1868, 1874-1880). The son of a successful writer, Isaac D'Israeli, as a young political adventurer he was often referred to in the apostrophe form.[16] In 1873, Disraeli told his private secretary that Isaac had changed the spelling of his name before he was sent to school. Information about Disraeli's education is sketchy, but it is possible that the name-change happened in 1817, when Isaac broke with Judaism, had Benjamin baptised as an Anglican and sent him to a new school. Although hardly an anglicising disguise, the change may have been intended to play down the boy's Jewish heritage, by removing the punctuation emphasis on the patronymic "di". Disraeli's authoritative modern biographer, Robert Blake, slightly muddied the waters by implying that the change was made to identify the boy with a "Huguenot family of that name" which "flourished in London for much of the eighteenth century, and died out in 1814 in the person of one Benjamin Disraeli, a rich Dublin moneylender who had no connexion whatever with his famous namesake."[17] The connection with Dublin was apparently first suggested by the Irish politician and author T.P. O'Connor. Unfortunately, the alleged namesake was actually called Benjamin Disraell. A Dublin lawyer and a promoter of Ireland's national lottery, he made enough money to buy property in County Carlow, dying in 1814 aged 48. It is unlikely that he was sufficiently well known to make his surname, in any form, an attractive model for cultural assimilation. I have traced no Disraeli family in online Huguenot records.[18]


A change in surname by paternal fiat is one of the few elements common to the careers of Benjamin Disraeli and William Ewart Gladstone (PM 1868-74, 1880-5, 1886, 1892-4). The genealogist Sir William Fraser asserted that Gladstone was descended from the family of Gledstanes, based in Lanarkshire; John Morley, the prime minister's official biographer, regarded William Gledstanes, located in Biggar in 1679, as Gladstone's great-great-grandfather. In the intervening generations, Fraser noted, "the letter e in Gled had been changed to an a; and Gladstone is now the prevailing form of using the ancient Scottish name of Gledstanes." Certainly when Gladstone's father acquired a baronetcy in 1846, his coat of arms borrowed heraldic symbols associated with the Gledstanes.[19] But that was not the end of prime-ministerial surname fluidity. Gladstone's father had been born John Gladstones. In 1787, he moved to Liverpool, where he entered the corn trade. His business partner, Edgar Corrie, another Scotsman, argued that the name "Corrie and Gladstones" would confuse clients, who would wonder how many people were in the business. John agreed, and dropped the final letter. It says something for the sparsity of State bureaucracy that this purely unofficial decision caused him no problems for almost half a century. However, in 1835 he decided to take out an annuity, a form of pension arrangement secured by payment of a lump sum through a government office. For this, he was required formally to establish his identity and, in particular – since the rate of return on the annuity involved an actuarial calculation – his date of birth. At this point, he hit a problem, as officials understandably declined to accept John Gladstone on the basis of documentation relating to John Gladstones. He regularised the position by securing Letters Patent that officially changed his name, dropping the final letter.[20] There is no indication from the extensive diaries of his son that the future prime minister was involved in the process, although he must have been aware that the surname under which he had graduated from Oxford and entered parliament was not strictly accurate. The evolution of his surname over several generations probably gave this future idol of the English middle classes the incidental advantage of sounding less Scottish. It also gave him the nickname of "Merry-pebble", although his intimidating earnestness tended to discourage levity.[21]

**Salisbury (Gascoyne-Cecil)

The third Marquess of Salisbury (PM 1885, 1886-92, 1895-1902) was a descendant of Elizabeth I's celebrated minister, William Cecil, first Lord Burghley. The family's fortunes, and their attachment to the Tudor dynasty, had begun with Cecil's grandfather, a Welsh follower of Henry VII. David Seisyllt had had simplified his name, but his descendants maintained its Welsh pronunciation, making their surname rhyme with "whistle".[22] In 1821, the prime minister's father married Frances Mary Gascoyne, a wealthy heiress, tacking on her surname by royal licence. The money came from trade – the Marchioness was the grand-daughter of a brewer – but the name had a reassuringly medieval resonance, invoking the days when Gascony was a wine-producing province of the English Crown. Unlike the Earl of Derby, Salisbury never tried to excise his mother's surname from his lineage. Nonetheless, the Gascoyne element was to some extent played down, possibly in deference to his stepmother, whom his father married in 1837. As will be seen with Lord Randolph Churchill, it was common for younger sons to be known simply by the dominant second element of their surnames.[23] The future prime minister entered public life as Lord Robert Cecil. The death of his elder brother in 1865 made him heir to the family title, and he became known by the Salisbury courtesy title of Viscount Cranborne until he inherited the marquessate three years later. During this brief middle phase of his life, he was appointed to the cabinet but resigned in opposition to the 1867 Second Reform Act. These successive name changes were common enough among the higher echelons of the aristocracy. What was unusual was that these involved somebody who was already active in public life, making his transition from the chrysalis of Lord Robert to the eighteen-stone butterfly of Lord Salisbury a minor challenge for students of history.

**Rosebery (Primrose)        

It is likely that few contemporaries would have realised that the Earl of Rosebery (PM 1894-5) even possessed surname, let alone that it was the delightfully floral Primrose. From the age of three, he was known by the courtesy title of Lord Dalmeny, and he inherited the earldom just short of his twenty-first birthday. The name has its origins in a forgotten language related to Welsh, variously called Pictish or Brittonic, that was spoken across southern Scotland. Although it died out around one thousand years ago, it has left traces in place names. One such location, near Dunfermline, was identified by a tree (pren) on a moor (ros). It must have been a notable landmark: visiting Fife in 1773, Samuel Johnson was assured that there were only two trees in the whole of the 'Kingdom'. By a process known as popular etymology, later English-speaking generations converted the name to "Primrose", which made sense of the syllables but probably not of the location. In due course, the place name became a surname, taking various forms in the wayward orthography of sixteenth-century Scotland. By the time of James Primrose, clerk to the Scottish privy council under James VI, the name had settled to its later form.[24]

To be named after a winsome woodland flower was always likely to be productive of embarrassment, but for Lord Rosebery it came from an unexpected quarter. When Disraeli died in 1881, Queen Victoria sent a wreath of primroses to his funeral, with an enigmatic card describing them as "his favourite flowers". This revealed a gentler, more sensitive side of the Conservative statesman than most contemporaries had observed or suspected: in his 1870 novel Lothair, one unsympathetic character had observed that "primroses make a capital salad". However, his official biographer would later establish that primrose worship had formed one of the elements in his ruthless strategy of flattering the Queen. More to the point, the symbol immediately caught on. On the first anniversary of Disraeli's death in 1882, a strategically placed letter in The Times triggered a run on primroses in London florist shops. The inauguration of his statue in Parliament Square, on the second anniversary in 1883, saw deluges of flowers around the plinth.[25]

The spontaneity with which the primrose symbol caught on aroused the interest of Conservative leaders: even cabmen were seen sporting the floral symbol. The 1883 Corrupt Practices Act placed severe limits on election spending, making it useful to encourage volunteer workers. Since the party had captured Middlesex at the 1868 general election, it had been evident that there was a considerable reservoir of "villa Toryism" waiting to be tapped in the expanding suburbs, a resource that would become even more important when new urban constituencies were created in the 1885 redistribution. The challenge was to create a mass organisation in the service of a socially hierarchical political party. The answer was the Primrose League. Subscriptions (called "tributes") were as little as threepence. Members became knights or dames: the organisation was very modern in accommodating women. Branches were called habitations. Like Masonic lodges whose rituals they aped, they were encouraged to adopt romantic names: one group in Cornwall called themselves King Arthur's Round Table. Squires threw open the grounds of their mansions for Primrose League rallies. Businessmen, shopkeepers and their wives mingled with titled ladies in what one historian has called a "clever, if crude, institutionalization of deference". "Of course it's vulgar," said the Marchioness of Salisbury, an enthusiastic participant, "that's why we are so successful." The Primrose League remained a mainstay of party organisation until well after the First World War, and even staggered on into the twenty-first century, finally disbanding in 2004.[26]

It is unlikely that Rosebery's surname weighed with the founders of the Primrose League in 1883. Although regarded as a promising young aristocrat, he had been reluctant to accept Gladstone's offers of ministerial office at all, and had recently resigned from a junior government appointment. For Rosebery, public protest at the purloining of his name would have been undignified, while private remonstrance – even if he had known what was being planned – impossible since he was touring Australia at the time of its launch. Gladstone, well into his seventies, was surrounded by ambitious and experienced potential successors. Few could have foreseen – although some might have feared – that he would retain the Liberal party leadership for another decade, by which time some of his lieutenants had bolted the party in opposition to Irish Home Rule, while others had passed their political sell-by date. When the Grand Old Man finally stepped down in 1894, Queen Victoria ensured that the leadership – to borrow a modern phrase – leaped a generation, making Rosebery one of the youngest prime ministers on record. Hence there came about the unexpected apposition of a political organisation belonging to one party being known by the surname of the leader of its opponents. Rosebery later recalled that he did once complain at the pirating of his surname to the august personage whose funeral tribute had unwittingly politicised the humble flower. "She did not quite like this, I think."[27]


Henry Campbell-Bannerman (PM 1905-8) was elected to parliament in 1868, for the Stirling Burghs, under the name with which he had been born, Henry Campbell. Three years later, his uncle Henry Bannerman left him property, on condition that he assumed "my surname of Bannerman either alone or in addition to his usual surname, but so that the name of Bannerman shall be the last and principal name." Henry Campbell complied with his uncle's wishes, but he encouraged friends to ignore "my horrid long name", or to use "C.B." as an abbreviation. His wife in particular resented what a biographer has called "[t]his act of posthumous arrogance", continuing to sign herself as Charlotte Campbell. Ironically, the bequest was merely a life interest in an estate in Kent, whereas the name change would presumably have affected subsequent generations – an imposition avoided because, in the event, the couple had no children.[28] In 1906, Campbell-Bannerman led his party to one of the greatest landslide victories in British electoral history, and remains the last politician to lead a Liberal majority government. Although a solidly impressive personality, it is perhaps a pity that he lacked the personality to develop into a political cult figure: in fact, three of his senior associates plotted to shunt him into the House of Lords, where he would become a merely nominal leader. Bannerman is a Scots surname denoting a standard-bearer, and his party might have made something of this in the 1906 election.[29]  [See also 2022 addendum]

** [Lloyd] George

David Lloyd George (PM 1916-22) has challenged the compilers of indexes. Did he possess two forenames, or a double-barrelled surname? If the latter, should it be hyphenated? Although trained as a solicitor, Lloyd George himself never regularised his choice of nomenclature. Many historians have taken him at his own face value, but A.J.P. Taylor was forthright in his assessment. "He disliked his correct surname, 'George', and imposed 'Lloyd George' on contemporaries and on posterity."[30]

The son of William George and Elizabeth Lloyd, the future prime minister was born in Manchester, where his father as a schoolteacher. He was named David Lloyd George after a young cousin, David Lloyd Jones, who was dying of tuberculosis. When his own father died soon after, Elizabeth returned to her native village in North Wales. There, the boy fell under the influence of his uncle, the local shoemaker Richard Lloyd, whose firm principles and rustic wisdom allegedly became the lodestar of his political career. It was in tribute to "Uncle Lloyd" that he subtly transmuted his second forename into an additional (but undefined) surname.[31] It was a gesture that was not emulated by his younger brother, William, so that the law partnership that they formed in Criccieth was known as "Lloyd George and George, solicitors", sometimes with and sometimes without a hyphen.[32] When the senior partner married in 1888, a local newspaper formally named the couple as "Mr David Lloyd George, solicitor, and Miss Maggie Owens", but then referred to the "well known" and "very popular" groom as "Mr George".[33] As late as the 1892 general election, a local newspaper could refer to him both as "Mr Lloyd-George" and as "Mr George".[34] However, from the time when he first appeared on the national stage as victor of the 1890 Carnarvon by-election, "Davy Lloyd" (as he had been called at home) did indeed project himself as "Mr Lloyd George".[35]

Triple-naming was by no means uncommon in Wales. The Welsh-language scholar John Morris Jones was one of a minority who went the whole distance and hyphenated their names. In some cases, the identifier was personal rather than dynastic: the Methodist preacher Hugh Price Hughes was the brother of Elizabeth Phillips Hughes, founder of a Cambridge college. Members of parliament were especially susceptible: Welsh voters happily returned David Brynmore-Jones, Owen Morgan Edwards, Ellis Jones Griffith, William Tudor Howell, Arthur Humphreys-Owen, John Jones Jenkins, John Lloyd Morgan, William Pritchard Morgan, Edward Pryce-Jones, J. Wynford Phillips, William Bowen Rowlands, John Bryn Roberts and Matthew Vaughan-Davies. The pattern extended to the diaspora, such as the ultra-English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams and the Australian prime minister William Morris Hughes.

However, these birth surnames were all widespread in Wales: George was rare. Indeed, the real element of imposition in Lloyd George's self-projection was not so much that he succeeded in projecting a dual surname, but rather that in doing so, the Welsh Wizard avoided being known by the name that is assumed to have been inspired by England's patron saint. In the acrid political atmosphere of 1910, Lloyd George's claims to be a "Celt" were impugned by a correspondent of the Yorkshire Post, who dismissed his surname as "Teutonic". "The Welsh have no soft 'g' in their language, and no silent 'e'."[36] This was unfair: William George came from the predominantly English-speaking enclave of Pembrokeshire, and is thought to have inherited his surname from medieval Flemish colonists. The name can still be traced in west Wales, but around Carnarvon there was little if any need to elaborate upon it. It may seem characteristic that the ever-wily Lloyd George himself never clarified the issue of his surname, leaving it to others to draw their own conclusions. The name "Lloyd" was passed on to his sons, one of whom, Major Gwilym Lloyd George, served as Home Secretary from 1954 to 1957. He hyphenated his name from 1945, following the form adopted that year for his father's earldom. However, at least one daughter, born in 1902, was simply registered as "Megan Arvon George" – although she later became prominent in politics as Megan Lloyd George.[37]

**[Bonar] Law

At first sight, Lloyd George's successor, Andrew Bonar Law (PM 1922-3), might seem like another case of a politician with a monosyllabic surname boosting his dignity by grafting on an additional element. The son of a Presbyterian and Free Church minister, the Reverend James Law, he was born in New Brunswick in 1858.[38] His mother admired a Scots minister called Robert Murray McCheyne, who had died shortly before his thirtieth birthday in 1843. An older brother had already been named in honour of "Saintly" McCheyne, so Elizabeth Law decided to honour an associate of her hero, the Reverend Andrew Bonar, the author of his biography. Years later, Bonar Law described it as "a curious way of getting a name", but insisted that the explanation came from his father.[39] It is possible that his memory had filtered the story to emphasise the absurd. While he remained formally a member of the Free Church – in which he was married in 1891 – there is no indication that he inherited his parents' religious fervour. Andrew Bonar had accompanied McCheyne in 1839 as part of a four-minister mission to Palestine, where they hoped to convert the Jews. He was one of the honoured clergy who abandoned job security in the established Church of Scotland at the time of the Disruption in 1843. In 1856, two years before Law's birth, Bonar was called to lead the congregation at Finnieston in Glasgow. It may be that James Law's account of his son's naming included a homily on the need to emulate the minister's holiness that his young namesake found tedious and embarrassing. However, from the perspective of a surname study, this is of little moment. Andrew Bonar were the boy's given names, and the first was rarely if ever used. He signed himself A.B. Law until he was past the age of thirty, but when he embarked upon an independent business career in Glasgow, he called himself A. Bonar Law. While some assumed that he had a double surname, he did not – unlike Lloyd George – encourage the belief. Nor did he pass the name on his descendants. His son, Richard Law, who became a Conservative MP, was given the middle name Kidston, his grandmother's maiden name, and a tribute – maybe Uncle Lloyd style – to Bonar Law's aunt Janet Kidston, who had reared him in Glasgow.

**Ramsay MacDonald

James Ramsay MacDonald (PM 1924, 1929-35) was born in Morayshire in 1866. The son of farm workers Anne Ramsay and John Macdonald, the boy was born before his parents could carry out their intention to be married. However, Anne Ramsay broke off the engagement after a violent row, and was encouraged by her mother, who thought the intended groom was unworthy of her daughter. Ex-nuptial births were common in Scotland's north-east – roughly one child in seven was born to a single mother: in many cases, parents could not afford to marry. The local Kirk Sessions went through the motions of rebuking the couple for "the evil of the sin they had committed", but a show of repentance "in a becoming manner" closed the formalities, and John Macdonald disappeared from the story. The circumstances of MacDonald's birth would have been well known in the small coastal town of Lossiemouth where he grew up – his mother was "Miss Ramsay" – but, with the backing of a formidable mother and grandmother, he made his way in the world. He became active in the socialist movement, and was elected to parliament in 1906 as part of the first substantial cohort of Labour MPs. In 1911, he became chairman of Labour's parliamentary caucus – de facto party leader.

However, three years later, his upward career path stalled when he opposed Britain's participation in the First World War. His pacifism made him a particular target for Horatio Bottomley, an unscrupulous muckraking journalist whose financial operations placed him – in MacDonald's provocative phrase – permanently "on the threshold of the gaol". In September 1915, Bottomley achieved a new low by publishing in his magazine John Bull a facsimile of MacDonald's birth certificate, which showed him to have been registered as James McDonald Ramsay. Not merely was the so-called MacDonald "the illegitimate son of a Scotch servant girl", Bottomley thundered, but he had also violated electoral law by sitting in parliament under a false name, and should be expelled forthwith. Since John Bull had previously called for MacDonald to be sent to the Tower of London for treason and shot for cowardice, this was a relatively mild attack, but it caused its victim "the most terrible mental pain". MacDonald knew, of course, of the circumstances of his birth, but he had never before seen the registration certificate. (Today, it will seem striking that he could have lived to within a month of his 49th birthday without ever having to produce such basic identity document.) "My mother must have made a simple blunder or the registrar must have made a clerical error," he wrote in his diary. It is perhaps more likely that Calvinistic officialdom decided that the bantling must be branded with the surname of his erring mother.

The episode, although hurtful, may have worked to MacDonald's advantage. He was certainly fortunate in his attacker. The Great £50,000 Patriotic War Skill Competition of 1915 was an example of Bottomley's dubious financial ethics. Ostensibly intended to raise money for wounded warriors, the lottery required punters – at a shilling a ticket – to guess both the date of the end of the War and the amount of reparations that Germany would be forced to pay. He was not well equipped to pronounce moral condemnations. When Bottomley's wayward career predictably culminated in a prison sentence in 1922, MacDonald described him as "one of the greatest scoundrels this country has ever known." The disgruntled associate who supplied the evidence that convicted Bottomley condemned him as "one of the greatest crooks ever born of woman". The perceived irregularity regarding MacDonald's entry into the world surely paled by comparison. In the narrow world of 1915, any allusion to illegitimacy was bound to be damaging, but the attack also generated sympathy. "Broad-minded people make two observations," commented one London journalist. The circumstances of his birth had "nothing whatever to do with the views he has expressed, right or wrong, on disputed questions of public policy" and "he cannot be blamed for his mother's lapse."[40] Perhaps the biggest favour Bottomley conferred upon Ramsay MacDonald was that of timing. The story of his birth and the inconsistency of its registration were always likely to become public knowledge. In the long run, it was convenient that the information appeared, with obviously malicious intention, well before the 1923 general election campaign unexpectedly made MacDonald a plausible candidate for Ten Downing Street.[41]

** Churchill

Winston Churchill (PM 1940-5, 1951-5) is so massive a symbol of indestructible Britishness that it may seem surprising to find him included in a survey of prime-ministerial surname uncertainties. Descendant of the great Duke of Marlborough, the general whose successful campaigns dominated early eighteenth-century Europe, Churchill took office at a moment of national crisis in 1940, and his name carried symbolism of British defiance and eventual victory. The complication in his descent was that the first duke was survived by four daughters, and complicated succession rules were adopted to keep the title extant. The details are confusing, but in 1733 the dukedom passed to the Earl of Sunderland, whose surname was Spencer. "Spencer remained the family name of the Dukes of Marlborough until 1817". The fifth duke, who succeeded that year, secured a royal licence to "take and use the name of Churchill, in addition and after that of Spencer". His motive, officially stated, was "to perpetuate in his Family a Surname to which his illustrious ancestor ... by a long series of transcendent & heroic Achievements added such imperishable Lustre". It may also be that the name-change was in some obscure way a riposte to the cult around Britain's latest ducal military hero, Wellington. A.L. Rowse claimed that, "curiously enough", the revival of the first duke's surname "coincided with a resumed dominance of Churchill over Spencer characteristics in the family." Rowse denied that this was "a fanciful suggestion, for a family's conception of itself exerts a constant influence upon its members", but he was a historian given to romantic constructions. The most that can be said is that nineteenth-century financial management of the Blenheim estate hardly qualified either Lord Randolph or his son to hold the office of chancellor of the exchequer. A visitor in 1825 regarded them as "a disgrace to the illustrious name of Churchill, which they have chosen this moment to revive."[42]

However, subsequent generations not only embraced the name change, but tended to excise the original element, their own lineal surname. "In more recent times," wrote Churchill's son and biographer, "the Churchills have tended to drop the Spencer from their surname."[43] Churchill's father, Lord Randolph, certainly made little or no use of the name. It was in the spirit of his pursuit of "Tory democracy" that he crushed one of Disraeli's ministers, George Sclater-Booth, with the comment that it was "remarkable how often we find mediocrity dowered with a double-barrelled name".[44] Biographers have generally abstained from speculation on the motives behind his choice of name: Winston Churchill himself, in his massive and devotedly filial Life, simply identified his father as "Randolph Henry Spencer-Churchill, commonly called Lord Randolph Churchill".[45]

However, there are indications that Winston Churchill himself was ambivalent towards this simplification. He signed himself "Winston S. Churchill", and that was the name that appeared on the title page of his books. It was unusual for members of the English elite to use middle initials, a practice that was tacitly regarded as American and therefore vulgar.[46] The official explanation, narrated by Churchill himself, was that he became aware in 1899 that he had an American namesake, who was also a prolific author. There ensued a tongue-in-cheek exchange, beginning "Mr Winston Churchill presents his compliments to Mr Winston Churchill", during which the young Englishman offered to publish under the name of Winston Spencer Churchill in the hope of avoiding confusion between them. "He trusts that this arrangement will commend itself to Mr Winston Churchill". Indeed it did. "Mr Winston Churchill makes haste to add that, had he possessed any other names, he would certainly have adopted one of them," came the approving reply.[47] The two men met in Boston the following year, when the visitor announced that he planned to become prime minister, and urged his host to aim for the Presidency, on the very reasonable plea that it would be "a great lark" if they could hold office simultaneously.[48]

However, we should be placed on our guard from the fact that the tale of the two Winston Churchills comes from My Early Life, which he published in 1930: Churchill used autobiography for self-projection, not self-revelation. Simply to distinguish himself from his namesake, he could equally well have used his second given name, Leonard, a tribute to his maternal grandfather Leonard Jerome. He had resented being called Spencer Churchill during his schooldays, but that was because boys at Harrow were required not simply to answer a daily roll call, but to present themselves before a master in alphabetical order. Churchill found himself last in the line of his class, and he was never content to be at the back of any queue. "I never write myself Spencer Churchill, but always Winston S. Churchill," he reported to his father in 1888 "Is it your wish that I should be so called?" But Lord Randolph's commitment to parenting was so superficial that he would probably have been unmoved had his heir signed himself Jack the Ripper, and Churchill remained double-barrelled until he escaped from school.[49] However, it is clear that he used the Spencer name as a middle initial a decade before his exchange with the American Winston.

Indeed, he had good reason to associate himself with the name. For two years from the death of his father in 1895, Churchill was heir presumptive to the Marlborough dukedom. Even after his cousin, "Sunny", became the father of a son in 1897, Churchill's prospects of inheritance were by no means invisible. Sunny's mercenary and loveless marriage to the American heiress Consuelo Vanderbilt did not last. On her arrival, she was bluntly informed by her mother-in-law that her duty was to produce a son "because it would be intolerable to have that little upstart Winston become Duke."[50] Having produced two boys, she decamped in 1906, although the couple did not divorce for another fifteen years. Given the high rates of attrition among the British aristocracy, there was no certainty that "the heir and the spare", as their mother delightfully termed them, would survive: both were still single when they served in the First World War. It was not until the elder of the two, the Marquess of Blandford, fathered a son in 1926 – after two daughters – that Winston Churchill began to slip down the order of succession. It may not be coincidence that the memorably knockabout exchange with the American Winston Churchill appeared four years later in My Early Life: he now needed a cover story to distance himself from his ducal cousins.[51] Churchill's surname strategy was the antithesis of that adopted by Lloyd George. The Welsh adventurer polished a second forename and allowed the world to think it was an additional surname. The ambitious young aristocrat effectively demoted his patrilineal surname, presumably leaving millions of admirers around the world to assume that he had a profusion of forenames, and happened to choose just one of them for his signature and authorship. The prime minister of 1940 will long be remembered for the bold associations of that one word – Churchill. But the scion of the Blenheim dynasty continued deftly to associate himself with the Spencer Churchill succession. In 1965, shortly after Churchill's death, his widow accepted a life peerage. Her title, Baroness Spencer-Churchill, had the advantage of avoiding confusion with an established peerage, but it also suggests that she was loyal to her husband's real identity.


The possibility that Anthony Eden (PM 1955-57) was the son of Conservative politician George Wyndham is mentioned in Endnote 12. His mother, Sybil Eden, was associated with a louche Society group nicknamed "The Souls", among whom George Wyndham was a prominent and romantic figure. Her marriage was not happy. Eden certainly resembled the debonaire Wyndham. The major, and virtually compelling, argument against irregular paternity is the awkward fact that Wyndham left England in mid-August 1896 for a tour of South Africa, and did not return until well into November.  Anthony Eden was born on 12 June 1897, and there is no indication that he was spectacularly premature. It would indeed have been a curious coincidence if two British prime ministers had been irregularly fathered by members of the same family, but no proof exists either in the case of Lord Melbourne or that of Anthony Eden. Rumours about Eden's paternity were current in his lifetime, but did not impede his career. I include him in this survey simply for the sake of completeness.


On 23 October 1963, the British people found themselves with a prime minister whose name was totally unknown to them: guidance was required even on its pronunciation. By a series of arcane manoeuvres, the fourteenth Earl of Home (pronounced to rhyme with "fume") emerged from the internal consultations of the Conservative party as successor to Harold Macmillan. One key element in the process was a recent change in the law that allowed hereditary peers to disclaim their titles, and hence become eligible to leave the House of Lords and seek election to the Commons. Alexander Frederick Douglas-Home, known as Alec in his family, had acquired the courtesy title Lord Dunglass at the age of fifteen, when his father had succeeded to the earldom. It was as Lord Dunglass that he played cricket for Middlesex, entered parliament and served as parliamentary private secretary to Neville Chamberlain. He even accompanied Chamberlain to Munich in 1938, where – understandably enough – he had little to do but hang about outside the conference chamber, listening to the Germans insulting the Italians. Inheritance of the family earldom in 1951 transferred him to the House of Lords, where a series of junior ministerial jobs led to his appointment as secretary of state for Commonwealth relations in 1955. His combination of aristocratic rank and genial informality helped rebuild bridges with India and the new Commonwealth countries after the debacle of Suez. Macmillan, whose attitude to aristocracy was always ambivalent, made him foreign secretary in 1960, arguing that absence of responsibilities in the House of Commons made it easier to undertake the negotiations and travel required by the job. Although denying that he wanted a "stooge", Macmillan almost certainly preferred to have a foreign minister who would not overshadow his own pretensions as a world statesman, and enjoyed bestowing patronage upon Scotland's ancient nobility.

The upshot was that, when the Earl of Home emerged as the compromise candidate who might heal the clash of personalities among Macmillan's more prominent lieutenants, he was almost entirely unknown to the public. In plain English, he resigned from the House of Lords, disclaiming no fewer than six peerages in the process. As the tide of hereditary titles fell away, so there re-emerged the Alec Douglas-Home who had given place to Lord Dunglass forty-five years earlier. But there had been one major change since the age of fifteen: he had received Scotland's highest honour, the Order of the Thistle, the personal gift of the Queen, so that the instant commoner came with a built-in knighthood. He served as prime minister for just under a year before his government was defeated at the 1964 general election. Even so, it was remarkable that a prime minister nobody could ever have heard of twelve months earlier came unexpectedly close to victory. Sir Alec Douglas-Home's second incarnation as a commoner ended after eleven years, when a life peerage – his seventh title – took him back to the Lords.[52]


James Callaghan (PM 1976-9) had no idea that he had any surname issue until the Sun newspaper decided to mark his arrival at Ten Downing Street by digging into his background. Their scoop was that his father had been born James Garoghan, but had run away from home to join the Royal Navy, enlisting under the name of Callaghan to prevent his parents from tracking him down. Since Callaghan himself accepted the story, it must be believed, but some aspects are mysterious. Presumably the Sun identified a "smoking gun", clinching evidence that the two men were one and the same person, but neither James Callaghan in his memoirs nor subsequent biographers have cited it. (As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography put it, Garoghan changed his name "without recourse to deed polls".) Callaghan had few memories of his father, who died when he was nine. Not surprisingly, his mother had never had contact with any in-laws. More puzzling was the fact that the story of the name-change also came as a "revelation" to an elderly relative on his father's side, still alive in 1976, and apparently tracked down by the Sun investigation. James Garoghan had been born in January 1877, but Callaghan senior gave his date of birth on enlistment as June 1878. Runaways often gave false information because they were too young, so in this case, the deception was in reverse. His naval career was a success: he even served on the royal yacht, Victoria and Albert. In an era when Fenians infiltrated the British Army, it is striking that a seaman of Irish extraction living under an assumed name could have been posted so close to the royal family.[53]

The casual statement in The Times obituary to Callaghan that "his father was Irish" prompts one to wonder how many generations it is necessary to live in England before being accepted as belonging. Callaghan senior's grandparents moved from Ireland to the Midlands, where their son – Callaghan's grandfather -- was born in 1851. John Garoghan had been born in 1806, his wife Winifred in 1820, which suggests that they left Ireland at the time of the famine of the eighteen-forties.[54] John Garoghan was a weaver, which suggests that he came from the north of Ireland, although this cannot be conclusive: traditional crafts were still practised throughout the country in his youth. The surname is rare to the point of extinction: it cannot be traced in the reasonably comprehensive Ireland census for either 1901 or 1911. Possibly it is a variant of Grogan, a name widely distributed but thought to have originated in County Roscommon. Overall, one point stands out from the whole story: since James Callaghan himself was totally unaware of his father's change of name, surname insecurity cannot be said to have driven his career.


By contrast, John Major (PM 1991-7) is the one occupant of Ten Downing Street who may have been driven by surname insecurity, although arguably it merely formed the symbolic focus of a financially insecure childhood. His father, Tom Ball, joined a circus as a trapeze artist, before becoming a music-hall comedian and song-and-dance man. His first wife, also an entertainer, adopted the stage-name "Drum", and they later formed a partnership in which Tom Ball became "Major". Although there was no legal basis to the change of surname, he retained it for his later business activities, such as Major's Garden Ornaments. This venture unluckily overestimated the public appetite for garden gnomes, and its failure pushed the household into poverty. Tom had been sixty-three when the future prime minister was born, and he was in his mid-seventies when Major won a place at a South London grammar school, Rutlish in Merton. The boy resented his father's insistence that he should enrol as John Major-Ball, which he called "sailing under false colours". Like Churchill, he found the imposition of a double-barrelled name particularly galling at roll-calls. Rutlish boys were required to stand and identify themselves, presumably because an unidentified "yes" or "present" might disguise truancy. Major masked his embarrassment by shouting his name, leading one master to issue a jovial threat that he would make Major bawl. Yet it is likely that wider family insecurity rather than simple dislike of his surname explained his unsuccessful school experience: he left at sixteen with just three O-levels.

There is an element of complexity too in Major's political allegiance. Like many small businessmen, Tom was a fervent Tory. It would have not been surprising had his son rebelled, asserting his identity by embracing the Labour party. Instead, he joined the Brixton Young Conservatives. At the age of 21, he stood for the Council as John R. Major. The middle initial – he had been baptised but not registered as John Roy – soon disappeared. He realised that banking was a career in which success depended upon acquiring professional qualifications, which made up for his failure in school examinations and lack of a university degree.[55] As something of an outsider to the traditional Conservative establishment, Major was the target for not always disguised ribaldry, and his inheritance of a comedian's stage-name was one of the disadvantages with which he had to co-exist. A half-brother, christened Terry Major Ball, hyphenated his name and became a minor celebrity on the back of John Major's fame. Although discreet and supportive of his famous relative, Terry became a surrogate target for the snobbery of John Major's detractors. One highlight of Terry's brief career was a visit to New Zealand where he performed the opening ceremony at a garden gnome festival.


In the carefully managed story of Tony Blair (PM 1997-2007), his father Leo was cast as the lifelong Tory who joined New Labour, making him an emblem of the political revolution his son had masterminded. In fact, Leo Blair's own story was both interesting and unexpected. His parents were – shades of John Major – on the stage. His mother, Celia Bridson, was a dancer who was estranged from her second husband but not yet divorced when she had a child by Charles Parsons, a Pierrot who used the professional name Jimmy Lynton. When the boy was three months old, the couple handed him over to foster-parents, a childless Glasgow couple called William and Mary Blair. He was a shipyard worker in Govan, she was a fervent Communist: far from being a lifelong Conservative, young Leo was in fact active in the Young Communist League and had a job with the Daily Worker. The arrangement between the two couples was entirely informal, and its outcome was unpleasant. In time, Leo's biological parents were able to marry, and they attempted to reclaim their son. Mary Blair was distraught at the prospect of losing him, and Leo – now twelve – refused to leave the grim but loving environment of the Glasgow tenement. Later, Mary intercepted letters from Charles and Celia Parsons, before writing to tell them that Leo had been killed in the War. This led Leo to conclude that his birth parents must have lost interest in him, and he changed his name by deed poll to Blair. He also graduated as a mature student from Edinburgh University, and became an academic lawyer, sufficiently successful to send his son to Fettes, the Edinburgh public school. Interestingly, he passed on his father's stage-name, Lynton, as one of Tony Blair's given names.[56]

The Blair project was based upon a high level of image management. Leo Blair's background was perhaps unhelpful: it was too close to the John Major story and, in any case, the showbiz element was effectively supplied by the fact that Tony Blair's wife, successful barrister Cherie Booth, was the daughter of a co-star of Till Death Us Do Part. Blair referred to his father's childhood in December 2000, when he met a group of adopted children and their parents, as part of the stage-management of a white paper on adoption. The subject, he said, was "close to my heart", a statement that was no doubt sincere, but a classic example of a politician establishing empathy with the people he was meeting. He disclosed that his father had been born out of wedlock, and informally fostered. "In those days, there weren't any rules at all. I don't think my grandmother would have passed any tests at all." With John Major safely off the political stage, he could safely identify Leo's parents as "travelling entertainers".[57] He was less willing to risk the mockery of detractors by acknowledging that he was the grandson of a clown. As late as 2006, a biography described Blair's grandparents as "touring variety actors".[58]

All accounts indicate that Anthony Charles Lynton Blair was a questing and challenging child. It seems likely that he would have discovered early in life the story behind his exotic forename, Lynton, but it is not clear when he discovered that his own surname was a recent acquisition. Did it imbue him with some sense of destiny, some determination to impose his own sense of reality upon the world around him? Alas, these are questions that must be left to future biographers.

Concluding ruminations

Back in the days when readers of quality newspapers were assumed to know some Latin, the Guardian headed a paragraph on surname changes "Roamin' in the Nomen."[59] This essay is offered in the same spirit: it is intended as an entertainment, not as an analysis. Nonetheless, it is intriguing that so many British prime ministers have had surnames that had been recently altered, or raised questions of accuracy. Since 1976, five of the seven holders of the office – Callaghan, Thatcher, Major, Blair and May – might equally have been called Garoghan, Roberts, Ball, Parsons and Brasier. Of course, it may seem unfair to include in this list the advent of married women to Ten Downing Street. However, it is worth noting that in France women legally retain their birth surname after marriage, and surnames are much closely controlled than in Britain, where the absence of identity cards gives the State less scope to involve itself in basic issues of identity.[60]

Nonetheless, this study of the byways of nomenclature is forced to conclude that the absence of overall patterns makes the subject one of curiosity rather than of meaning. Prime-ministerial surnames have been changed or manipulated for many different reasons. Aberdeen's desire to honour his father-in-law and Lloyd George's veneration for his uncle were examples of simply family piety. Gladstone and Major inherited business or professional names. Derby and Salisbury owed their double-barrelled surnames to family alliances with heiresses, an infusion of cash which Derby disregarded but Salisbury dutifully carried forward. From the eighteenth century, it was common for surnames to be changed as a condition of inheritance, but Campbell-Bannerman was the only prime minister among them – although the same thing had happened to Wellington's forebears. Illegitimacy and adoption are standard reasons for surname change, but Blair is the only prime minister to have been affected. An earlier Labour leader, MacDonald, managed to retain his father's name, despite the absence of the parent and the unhelpfulness of local bureaucrats. Many young men joined the armed forces under assumed names to escape from parents, wives or the Law, but only Callaghan owes his surname to the dodge. In some cases, such as Wellington (Wellesley) and Disraeli, it is difficult to understand why the change was made at all.

While the number of British prime ministers with insecure surnames seems high, it is important to note that many other holders of the office could trace their paternal ancestry back centuries. Like Rosebery and Gordon Brown, Balfour's ancestry was firmly rooted in Fife (with a no doubt obligatory claim to kinship with Robert the Bruce), although little seems known of them before his grandfather made big money in India.[61] Baldwin hailed from a line of Shropshire farmers stretching back at least to the seventeenth century, a heritage that enabled him to project himself as the embodiment of English solidity and security. Both Chamberlain and Attlee could trace their lineage to the eighteenth century. Anthony Eden, the first prime minister to be commissioned by Elizabeth II, was descended from Robert Eden, who had rebelled against Elizabeth I.[62] Goaded by Labour claims that it was absurd that the Britain of 1963 should be governed by a fourteenth earl, Douglas-Home memorably replied: "I suppose Mr Wilson is really, when you come to think of it, the 14th Mr Wilson." Wilson was rattled by this memorable put-down: his claims to be working class were subtly undermined by the imputation that he had so lengthy a pedigree. Even so, Wilson's authorised biographer reckons his Yorkshire lineage can be traced to around eight generations, although not much is known of them before the prime minister's great-grandfather, who was (rather unhelpfully, one feels) a workhouse master in York.[63]

While surnames are patrilineal, it does not follow that the culture that shaped Britain's prime ministers was entirely patriarchal. Although he was the leader of the predominantly Nonconformist Liberals, Asquith was indifferent to a Puritan namesake – "my ancestor (if such he was)" – who attempted to overthrow Charles II in 1664. His real hero and role model was his maternal grandfather, William Willans, a prosperous Huddersfield businessman and campaigner for Free Trade who, as Asquith put it, "narrowly escaped being returned to the House of Commons".[64] Harold Macmillan honoured his crofter forebears but the real influence in his life was revealed by a single chilling sentence in his memoirs: "No one who has not experienced it can realise the determination of an American mother defending one of her children."[65] The death of Balfour's father when the future prime minister was just seven meant that he was entirely shaped by the "dominating personality and powerful mind" of his mother. After her death, it was an aunt who insisted that Balfour, after two silent years as an MP, should actually make a speech.[66] Harold Wilson lived in lifelong awe of his intimidating sister Marjorie. "She treated Harold as a treasured possession; to be looked after, cosseted, but subjected to rigid discipline."[67] Yet, here again, no single pattern can be discerned in the shaping of Britain's prime ministers. Lord Blake identified the failure of Disraeli's relationship with his mother as the key to understanding his flamboyant personality. "All his life he seems to be searching for a substitute for the mother who was somehow missing."[68] Gladstone's mother played a similarly invisible role in her son's life, so much so that two formative biographers, Morley and Magnus, ignored her altogether. Richard Shannon argues that her own children reduced her to "feeble nullity", and that "ill-health became a way of coping with pressures she could not otherwise deal with." Like Harold Wilson, Gladstone was shaped by a domineering older sister.[69]

The uncertainty surrounding so many prime-ministerial surnames throws oblique light on the question of their forenames. It might have been expected that such predominantly ambitious and self-assured personalities would have been assertive in defining the names by which they which they wished to be known to family and friends. Yet this does not seem to have been the case. Several prime ministers, all of them male, have used their middle name: only in the case of Andrew Bonar Law has this practice caused some surname confusion. Using a middle name is hardly an uncommon practice, and raises no "issues" in relation to James Harold Wilson, Leonard James Callaghan or James Gordon Brown. (Four of Britain's six Labour prime ministers have chosen to be known by their middle names.) There are biographies of Arthur Neville Chamberlain and  Robert Anthony Eden which do not even mention that they each had a redundant forename, let alone explain why it was either bestowed or discarded. Maurice Harold Macmillan owed his first forename to his grandfather's enthusiasm for the Christian Socialist, F.D. Maurice. However, there is one case where a switch in emphasis was indicative of a change of gear in political image. H.H. Asquith was Bertie in childhood and Herbert to his friends, and to his first wife. At the age of 42, he took, as his second wife (or was taken by) the assertive and wayward Margot Tennant. On their engagement, she stopped addressing him as "Mr Asquith", but could not bring herself to call him Herbert, a name that she dismissed as common. In effect, she rebranded him by adopting his middle name, Henry, creating a much more worldly and bibulously cynical personality. As a public figure, Asquith was generally known by his initials, while contemporaries addressed one another by surnames unless they were very close friends. Hence Asquith's transmutation from Herbert to Henry was not widely known, but, as Roy Jenkins put it, by the time he moved into Ten Downing Street, any mention of his first forename "came as a faint echo from a distant past".[70] Two prime ministers, Alec Douglas-Home and Tony Blair, have chosen to be known by informal versions of their baptismal names. Callaghan was indiscriminately both James and Jim, having apparently rejected his first name because Len lacked dignity. Baldwin was Stan to his wife, and very occasionally signed himself thus to trusted friends, although he preferred to be informally known as "S.B.". Unlike Campbell-Bannerman's "C-B", this identifier never became public currency.[71] Attlee was Clem within the Labour movement.[72] Only one prime minister seems actively to have hankered for a forename other those supplied at birth. Harold Wilson wished he had been called "Frank": even his ferociously loyal sister felt that this would not have sat well with his evasive (some would say, devious) character.[73]

By contrast with Britain's prime ministers, only two of the 44 Presidents of the United States have experienced major name changes.[74] Gerald Rudolph Ford (President 1974-77) was born Leslie Lynch King Junior, but his mother walked out on Leslie Senior sixteen days after the child's birth to escape from domestic violence. At the age of two, the boy acquired a stepfather, Gerald Rudolff Ford, and acquired his name, with one minor change. The future President took legal steps to regularise the situation in 1936, when was 22, streamlining his middle name in the process. It can hardly be argued that hijacking of his birth identity made Gerald Ford determined to reach the White House, since he is unique in having become President without winning a single vote: he was appointed Vice-President through a new constitutional procedure when Spiro T. Agnew was forced to resign, and succeeded the discredited Nixon soon afterwards.[75] A politician notably hungrier for election, Bill Clinton was born William Jefferson Blythe III, a tribute to a father who had been killed in a car crash shortly before his birth. His mother later married Roger Clinton, and her son formally took his surname in his mid-teens. Their relationship was complex: Bill Clinton regarded Roger as his father, but the second husband could sometimes be violent. No British prime-ministerial name change has been anything like so explosive, either emotionally or physically.[76]

One final comparison may point up the unusual nature of British prime-ministerial name changes over the past two hundred years. As noted earlier, it was not unknown for politicians to change their names from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries, if only as a condition of inheritance. However, it seems to have become a relatively unusual practice in the past half century. One prominent exception is Michael Howard, leader of the Conservative party between 2003 and 2005. Born in Wales in 1941, he is the son of Jewish parents, his father, Bernat Hecht, having escaped from Romania shortly before the outbreak of war. The family acquired British nationality in 1948, and their surname changed to Howard. Howard himself chose not to publicise his background.[77] One figure in contemporary front-line British politics has justifiably called himself "a one-man melting pot". The great-grandfather in the male line of Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson was a Turkish journalist and reformer called Ali Kemal, who had lived in England and was married to an Anglo-Swiss wife. In 1919, Ali Kemal became a minister in a postwar revolutionary government, advocating that the Turkish rump of the Ottoman Empire should become a British protectorate. This made him a target for nationalists: in 1922, he was kidnapped and brutally murdered. A son, Osman, who lived in England, adopted the surname of his maternal grandmother, Margaret Johnson, also changing his first name to Wilfred. His son, Stanley Johnson, is well known as Boris Johnson's father. At the time of writing, April 2019, it is impossible to say whether he will achieve his ambition of becoming prime minister, thereby adding a new and exotic chapter to the saga of the surnames of Britain's leaders.

[Addendum, 10 June 2019: Launching his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party in June 2019, Michael Gove drew attention to the fact that he had been born Graeme Logan, "to a mother I never knew", and adopted after a period in care. This information had been in the public domain since at least 2014, but was not emphasised in standard biographical accounts.

Addendum, 28 December 2022: Henry Campbell-Bannerman not only possessed a dual (or "double-barrelled") surname, but derived both of them from Scottish Clan identities. As a Clan name, Campbell was very widespread and distinctive local variants were sometimes adopted. In the Perthshire district of Menteith, C-B's forebears adopted the name McOran: it was said "there was never a Campbell in Menteith nor a McOran out of it". His grandfather moved to Glasgow where he established a grocer's shop in 1805, changing his surname back to Campbell, perhaps to attract trade by appealing to Clan solidarity. The legend is related, with some romantic embellishment, in J.A. Spender's biography of Campbell-Bannerman (i, 1-2).]

ENDNOTES   Websites were consulted in April 2019.

[1] To simplify referencing, endnotes are not supplied for well-established episodes, nor for information taken from standard reference works.

[2] Punch, 27 July 1861, 36.

[3] Robert Blake, Disraeli (London, 1969 ed.), 566n.

[4] When Eden applied for his earldom, his successor Harold Macmillan initially offered him a viscountcy, which caused some friction. R.R. James, Anthony Eden: A Biography (London, 1986), 610.

[5] Roy Jenkins, Asquith (rev. ed., London, 1978), 505-9.

[6] K. Middlemas and J. Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (London, 1969), 1037.

[7] F. Owen, Tempestuous Journey.... (London, 1954), 715.

[8] James, Anthony Eden: A Biography, 610.

[9] A. Horne, Macmillan 1957-1986 (ii) (London, 1989), 622.

[10] J. Morrill, "Cromwell, Oliver (1599–1658)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography

[11] E. Longford, Wellington: The Years of the Sword (London, 1971 ed.), 28-30, 86, 249-50. The Iron Duke acquired the title by which he became known in a haphazard manner. The government bestowed a viscountcy upon him in 1809, in recognition of his successes in the Peninsular campaign. It was left to family members to select the actual title, with the College of Heralds insisting on a quick decision. Arthur's elder brother discovered that there was place called Welleslie or Wellesley in Somerset, and assumed that this was the family's ultimate origin. A nearby town was called Wellington, and the rest, as they say, is history. The new Lady Wellington did not like the name "for it recalls nothing." It certainly resonates now.

[12] P. Ziegler, Melbourne (London, 1976), 14-17. Egremont's surname was Wyndham, not a promising name for Australia's second city. The Earl of Egremont did acknowledge a son born out of wedlock, and left him a wealthy man. It has been suggested that his grandson, Conservative politician George Wyndham, was the biological father of Anthony Eden. Although cautious, one of Eden's biographers regarded the story as "far from being impossible". James, Anthony Eden: A Biography, 14-18. However, D.R. Thorpe's 2003 biography of Eden points out that Wyndham visited South Africa for 3 months around the most likely dates for Eden's conception: J.W. Mackail and G. Wyndham, Life and Letters of George Wyndham (2 vols, London, n.d.), i, 297-306.

[13] N. Gash, Mr Secretary Peel.... (London, 1985 ed.), 18-19.

[14]   J.A. Hamilton, "Stanley, Edward Smith, thirteenth Earl of Derby (1775-1851)", Dictionary of National Biography, liv, 66-7. He was "James Smith Stanley, commonly called Lord Strange" by the time of his election as MP for Lancashire in 1747. London Gazette, 11 August 1747, 2. Hugh Smith's father, a London merchant, appears to have adopted the name as an alternative to "Heriz". It is not clear whether this was a Spanish surname, or an alternative spelling of "Herries". Victoria County History of Essex, viii, 74-90.

[15] London Gazette, 12 December, 1818, 2225-6.

[16] He was "D'Israeli the Younger" in The Times, 2 January 1835, "Mr D'Israeli, jun.", 24 April 1835. The Times seems to have used both forms until about 1841. Letters published on 6 May, 28 December and 31 December 1835 are all given as signed "B. D'Israeli", although Disraeli does not seem to have been using his father's version of the name.

[17] R. Blake, Disraeli (London, 1969 ed.), 4-5, 10-11.

[18] Benjamin Disraell left no family, but made extensive charitable bequests, one of which was to establish a charity school, at Rathvilly in County Carlow, where he had acquired property. The school opened in 1826, twelve years after his death, presumably by trustees who had not known the testator well. Since Isaac D'Israeli was a well-known literary figure, they adopted his name for the school. It operated until 1977. When the Carlow property was put up for sale in 2007, it was widely reported to be the former home of Disraeli's uncle. B. Shillman, "Benjamin Disraell", Dublin Historical Record, iii (1941), 116-18; T.P. O'Connor, Lord Beaconsfield: A Biography was first published in 1879. I quote from the 6th ed. (London, 1905), 5.

[19] W. Fraser, The Douglas Book (4 vols, Edinburgh, 1885), i, xlviii-ix; J. Morley, The Life of William Ewart Gladstone (3 vols, London, 1903) i, 8n. "Gled" is a Scots word for a red kite, "stane" is easily identified through the vowel shift as "stone".

[20] S.G. Checkland, The Gladstones: A Family Biography, 1764-1851 (Cambridge, 1971), 16, 283. The change of name cost £64 and 18 shillings. It does not appear to have been published in the London Gazette.

[21] R. Shannon, Gladstone: Heroic Minister, 1865-1898 (London, 2000 ed.), 55.

[22] G. Williams, Renewal and Reformation in Wales, c. 1415-1642 (Oxford, 1993 ed.), 239; A. Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan (London, 2000 ed.), 5. The Welsh name is thought to derive from the Latin "Sixtus", meaning "sixth son". David Seisylt came from the frontier area between Wales and Herefordshire, a permeable zone in which Welsh and English cultures were mixed. This probably explains how he came to have a recognisable surname at all: most Welshmen were identified by lineage, repeating the link-word "ap" (son of). This explains why so many distinctively Welsh surnames (such as Evans, Jones, Roberts and Williams) are derived from forenames. Other characteristic names, such as Pryce and Probert, represent "son of Rhys" and "son of Robert". One of Seisyllt's contemporaries, Richard ap Meryk (son of Meurig), was a merchant and official in Bristol at the time of John Cabot's voyages to Newfoundland, and was charged with responsibility to pay the explorer a pension out of customs revenues. It is strongly believed (in Bristol at least) that Cabot showed his gratitude to ap Meryk (also known as aMeryk), by naming the new continent in his honour. Sad to say, the story cannot be proved.

[23] There are exceptions. The younger son of the Marquess of Bute, Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart, was MP for Cardiff 1910-15, and helped Cardiff City football club to acquire its ground, Ninian Park.

[24] W.F.H. Nicolaisen, Scottish Place-Names: Their Study and Significance (London, 1986 ed.), 165-6; Marquess of Crewe, Lord Rosebery (2 vols, London, 1931), i, 1-3.

[25] G.E. Buckle, The Life of Benjamin Disraeli: Earl of Beaconsfield, vi, 1876-1881 (London, 1920), 628-32; B. Disraeli, Lothair (3 vols, London, 1870 ed.), i, 116. It was suggested at the time that the Queen had intended to indicate that primroses were Prince Albert's favourite flower. 

[26] Roberts, Salisbury: Victorian Titan, 276-8; R.F. Foster, Lord Randolph Churchill: A Political Life (Oxford, 1988 ed.), 132-5; D. Steele, Lord Salisbury: A Political Biography (London, 1999), 194; D.E. Sheets, "British Conservatism and the Primrose League: the changing character of popular politics, 1883-1901" (PhD thesis, Columbia University, 1986):

[27] Crewe, Lord Rosebery, ii, 411.

[28] J. Wilson, CB: A Life of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (London, 1973), 46-7. David Campbell Bannerman, in 2019 a Conservative member of the European Parliament, is understood to be a distant relative.

[29] Campbell derives from the Gaelic "crooked mouth": Cambridge's river Cam contains the same Celtic element ("winding"). The derivation adds piquancy to one of the most distasteful episodes in modern Canadian politics. In 1993, Kim Campbell took over the leadership of the country's unpopular Conservative government. In the ensuing election campaign, her party ran an attack ad featuring close-ups of the face of her Liberal opponent, Jean Chrétien, implying that he would be an embarrassment if he became prime minister. The ad was astonishingly stupid: Chrétien was a popular figure and, as a former finance minister, obviously experienced in government. More to the point, he had suffered from Bell's palsy in his youth, which had left him partially paralyzed on the left side of his face. He hit back very effectively: "They tried to make fun of the way I look. God gave me a physical defect. I have accepted that since I was a kid. It is true I speak on one side of my mouth. I am not a Tory, I don't speak on both sides of my mouth." Kim Campbell withdrew the ads, and it seems unlikely that she was fully informed of them in advance. The irony of her own surname was not noticed at the time. Her party went down to landslide defeat, holding just two seats.

[30] A.J.P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945 (Oxford, 1965), 5n.

[31] B.B. Gilbert, David Lloyd George: A Political Life, i: The Architect of Change 1863-1912 (Columbus, Ohio, 1987), 23-4.

[32] Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 7 March 1890, 4 September 1890. Welsh newspapers are taken from the National Library of Wales website.

[33] Cambrian News and Merionethshire Standard, 27 January 1888.

[34] Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald, 1 July 1892.

[35] The Times, 28 March 1890. Hansard and Whitaker's Almanack soon added a hyphen.

[36] Yorkshire Post, n.d., quoted Evening Express (Cardiff), 9 December 1910. It is assumed that the surname is associated with St George. It may have been bestowed as a nickname for someone who acted the part of England's patron saint in some medieval play. The rarity of the surname Georgeson suggests that it was not much used as a forename before the Hanoverian period.

[37] Lloyd George's clever conjuring with his surname was paralleled at the same period in Canada by William Lyon Mackenzie King, who became prime minister of the Dominion in 1921. In his case, the family piety latched on to his maternal grandfather, William Lyon Mackenzie, leader of an unsuccessful rebellion in 1837. An aloof and self-absorbed bachelor, the politician who had been known as Willie King left the wider world to assume that he had some form of double surname. It is an odd thought that George V might have found himself advised by prime ministers called George and King.

[38] Bonar Law is often described as Britain's only Canadian-born prime minister. This is geographically correct but not precisely so historically: in 1858, New Brunswick was an autonomous colony, which joined the new Dominion of Canada nine years later. Law was also the first (and, for a long time, the only) prime minister whose father was a clergyman. It is curious that in 21st-century Britain, a secular and multi-faith society, there have been two prime ministers who are offspring of clergy of the established churches, Gordon Brown and Theresa May.

[39] R. Blake, The Unknown Prime Minister: The Life and Times of Andrew Bonar Law 1858-1923 (London, 1955), 17-18; R.T.Q. Adams, Bonar Law (London, 1999), 4. "Bonar" was pronounced to rhyme with "honour", not with "loner".

[40] D. Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald (London, 1997), 4-6, 189-91; S.T. Felstead, Horatio Bottomley: A Biography of an Outstanding Personality (London, 1936), 215-17, 246; London Correspondent of Truth (Brisbane), 24 October 1915. One of Bottomley's schemes was initially called Premium Bonds.

[41] Macdonald's marriage to Margaret Gladstone (no relation to the prime minister) in 1896 provides a curious sidelight on the culture of naming. She wrote to introduce herself to her fiancé's mother (whom she tactfully addressed as "Mrs MacDonald"), and posed a curious question. "There is one thing that I should be very glad if you would tell me, and that is by what name I am to call your son. I only know him as Mr MacDonald & really don't know what Christian name he uses." "My dear Gural," replied "Mrs A. Ramsay", "you ask me for my Young Mans christian name it is Jamie Ramsay Macdonald we call him Ramsay". Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald, 48-9. It is curious that Margaret did not think it appropriate to ask her future husband how he should be addressed. It will be noted that the prime minister called himself MacDonald, his birth certificate identified him as McDonald and his mother used Macdonald. There was some fluidity in the spelling of Mac- surnames in 19th-century Scotland, possibly linked to an earlier form, M', going out of fashion around 1850, and the inconsistency was not very important. Macdonald, in variant spellings, is the only surname to have been shared between a British prime minister and a prime minister of Canada.

[42] A.L. Rowse, The Later Churchills (Harmondsworth, 1971 ed.), 3-4, 208. The Churchills, according to Rowse, were soldiers and politicians, while the Spencers were artistic. Winston Churchill inherited from both strains.

[43] R.S. Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, i: Youth, 1874-1900 (London, 1966), 13-14.

[44] R.R. James, Lord Randolph Churchill (London, 1994 ed.), 66. George Sclater owed his additional surname not to mediocrity but to the familiar constraint of a condition of inheritance.

[45] W.S. Churchill, Lord Randolph Churchill (London, 1951 ed.), 16.

[46] This was observed by an American student at Cambridge in the 1840s. "The practice of writing, or printing the first name in full with the middle initial, 'John J. Brown', as with us, is not common." C.A. Bristed, Five Years in an English University (3rd ed, New York, 1873), 408.

[47] W.S. Churchill, My Early Life: A Roving Commission. This autobiography has appeared in so many editions that it seems simplest to locate the quotations to the opening pages of ch. 17. Churchill's defeat at Oldham in July 1899 triggered a wire service report describing him as "a United States author": South Australian Register (Adelaide), 8 July 1899.

[48] Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, i: Youth, 1874-1900, 353-4.                             

[49] Churchill, Winston S. Churchill, i: Youth, 1874-1900, i, 112.

[50] Rowse, The Later Churchills, 286.

[51] "Sunny" owed his nickname to the Earldom of Sunderland, which became the courtesy title of the eldest grandson of the Duke of Marlborough. He died in 1934. Blandford fathered a second son, but not until 1940.

[52] K. Young, Sir Alec Douglas-Home (London, 1970) provides a friendly outline of his career. A. Howard and R. West, The Making of the Prime Minister (London, 1965) is useful for the 1963 Conservative leadership succession, but treats Douglas-Home essentially as the prelude to Harold Wilson; R.S. Churchill, The Fight for the Tory Leadership: A Contemporary Chronicle (London, 1964) is good on Douglas-Home's unforeseen emergence. It was difficult not to discount Douglas-Home, partly because his selection was so obviously the result of the Conservative party's need to secure internal unity, and partly because, by privileged background and open personality, he contrasted with the middle-class, technocratic and essentially wily Wilson: the satirist David Frost delivered the memorable line that Britain faced a choice between smart Aleck and dull Alec. Eden unenthusiastically hoped that the new prime minister "may do better than anyone expects, as he did at the Dominions Office [it had been the Commonwealth Relations Office since 1947] and has done, on the whole, at the Foreign Office." Macmillan, who masterminded Douglas-Home's appointment, later called him "an Edward Grey, not an Asquith", an allusion to the foreign secretary of 1914. Nevertheless, for all his drawbacks, Douglas-Home came very close to success in the 1964 general election, the Conservatives holding just 13 seats fewer than the winning Labour party – a better electoral record than Asquith achieved on the two occasions he faced the voters, the two general elections of 1910. Rumours of the ousting of Khrushchev began to be reported shortly before polls closed, and the following day Communist China tested its first atomic bomb. There was a much greater sense of Britain as a world power in 1964 than is the case now. Had either event happened a few days before the election, Douglas-Home might well have capitalised on his foreign policy experience (and hammered home Labour's divisions over nuclear weapons), thus possibly securing a narrow victory. D.E. Butler and A. King, The British General Election of 1964 (London, 1965), 121n, 289; James, Anthony Eden: A Biography, 611; A. Horne, Macmillan, 1957-1986: ii (London, 1989), 582 (and 242 for the "stooge" quotation).

[53] J. Callaghan, Time and Chance (London, 1987), 22, 31-2; R. Hattersley, "Callaghan, Leonard James [Jim], Baron Callaghan of Cardiff (1912–2005)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, The story was accepted as fact by the Guardian, 6 August 1976 and Spectator, 5 May 1979. An Internet search suggests that most books referring to Callaghan repeat the same statement without examination.

[54] I owe this information to, and rely upon a fellow surnames enthusiast.

[55] A. Seldon, with L. Baston, John Major: A Political Life (London, 1998 ed.), 7-21; Robert Taylor, Major (London, 2006), 5-7.

[56] For obituaries of Leo Blair: Daily Telegraph, 16 November and Guardian, 17 November 2012, and

[57] Guardian, 21 December 2000:

[58] M. Temple, Blair (London, 2006), 6-7.

[59] Guardian, 6 August 1976.

[60] This is also the case in other jurisdictions, e.g. since 1981, women in Quebec have been barred from taking their husbands' surnames upon marriage.

[61] B.E.C. Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour: First Earl of Balfour ... (2 vols, London, 1936), i, 13-14. For Gordon Brown's ancestry, see Brown's great-great-grandfather was a ploughman in Fife. It seems somehow appropriate that his grandfather was called Ebenezer Brown. Despite his resplendent surname, David Cameron's paternal ancestors were farmers near Inverness five generations back.

[62] K. Middlemas and J. Barnes, Baldwin: A Biography (London, 1969), 4; D. Dilks, Neville Chamberlain: i, Pioneering and Reform, 1869-1929 (Cambridge, 1984), 6; F. Beckett, Clem Attlee (London, 1997), 5; James, Anthony Eden: A Biography, 5-6. The Chamberlains became comfortably middle class thanks to a successful Wiltshire maltster around 1700; Attlee's grandfather made money as a Surrey miller.

[63] Howard and West, The Making of the Prime Minister, 94-5; P. Ziegler, Wilson: The Authorised Life of Lord Wilson of Rievaulx (London, 1995 ed.), 1. Douglas-Home's "14th Mr Wilson" putdown is given in slightly different wording in Randolph Churchill's The Fight for the Tory Leadership, 147.

Edward Heath's ancestry in the male line has been traced back three generations, all living close to his birthplace at Broadstairs in Kent.

[64] Earl of Oxford and Asquith, Memories and Reflections, 1852-1927 (2 vols, London, 1928), i, 1-2. Willans was narrowly defeated at Huddersfield in 1852, and did not contest the by-election after the result was invalidated for bribery. Asquith's veneration was slightly undermined by giving the wrong date.

[65] H. Macmillan, Winds of Change, 1914-1964 (London, 1966), 57. His mother, Helen Belles (widowed as Helen Hill), came from Indianapolis.

[66] Dugdale, Arthur James Balfour, i, 15-19, 42. One of Lady Blanche Balfour's grandchildren, born after her death, once asked an aunt what she would have thought of the latest generation. "If any of you had known her you would have all been so different from what you are that I really cannot say," was the reply.

[67] Ziegler, Wilson, 4.

[68] Blake, Disraeli, 15-16.

[69] R. Shannon, Gladstone: i, 1809-1865 (London, 1984 ed.), 5-7.

[70] D. Bennett, Margot: The Life of the Countess of Oxford and Asquith (London, 1984), 117; Jenkins, Asquith, 13n.

[71] Middlemass and Barnes, Baldwin, 653; P. Williamson and E. Baldwin, eds, Baldwin Papers: A Conservative Statesman , 1908-1947 (Cambridge, 2004), 11-12, passim; R.R. James, Memoirs of a Conservative: J.C.C. Davidson's Memoirs and Papers, 1910-1937 (London, 1969), 83, 195. Tony Blair was known as "T.B." to political insiders.

[72] e.g. Beckett, Clem Attlee, 306-7.

[73] Ziegler, Wilson, 4.

[74] There have been two other minor presidential name changes. The surname of James Knox Polk (President, 1845-9) was probably a truncated form of Pollock or Pollack, while Dwight D. Eisenhower (President 1953-61) was descended from German immigrants originally called Eisenhauer (iron miner). The name change seems to have occurred several generations earlier.

[75] As the only man to have been born King and become President, Gerald R. Ford is surely a gift to quiz compilers.

[76] Some dominant leaders have adopted sloganised superhuman names: Mustapha Kemal in Turkey, became Atatürk, the father of his people, and the Georgian Marxist, Ioseb Dzughashvili (various spellings), adopted the alias Stalin (man of steel). His Bolshevik rival, Lev Bronstein, became Leon Trotsky, claimed by some to have been borrowed from a prison warder Bronstein had encountered while serving a sentence for political activities. Hitler's father, Alois Hitler, had been born out of wedlock, and was known in childhood by the surname of his mother, Maria Schicklgruber. When Alois was five, his mother married Johann Georg Hiedler, and it became Nazi orthodoxy that this was a retrospective regularisation of their relationship. By some bureaucratic error, Alois was renamed Hitler, a surname which he passed to his unsavoury son. An alternative theory, that Maria's lover was Jewish, would provide a very convenient psychological explanation for Hitler, but lacks foundation. During the Second World War, mocking British propaganda claimed that Adolf Hitler's surname was really Schicklgruber, but much of this was aimed at making the German leader a figure of fun in order to maintain domestic morale.

The Irish leader Eamon de Valera was known as Eddie Coll during his boyhood in County Limerick. His mother Kate Coll had sent him home from New York to be reared by relatives, and there was either scepticism about her tale of a tragically short marriage to a Spanish immigrant Juan de Valera, or a wish to avoid an exotic name.

[77] Another British Conservative politician, still active in 2019, Dominic Raab, is also the son of a Jewish refugee from Eastern Europe, who arrived from Czechoslovakia in 1938. In his case, there has been no surname change.