What's in a name?

When it comes to family names, no people on Earth are more confusing or downright ridiculous as royalties.

In most present monarchies, dynastic members of royal families typically do not hold any surnames. Their royal houses and dynasties each have their own names, but that does not necessarily mean that is the family's name.

Understanding the reasoning behind this requires an understanding of how surnames came about in general. Most human beings acquired their surnames through various outlets- from the places they lived, the occupations they held, acquiring the first name of a parent or a leading family member, etc. In the cases of kings and queens, throughout history they typically named their own dynasties after their family's initial place of origin. Hence, throughout history most monarchs would sign themselves solely with their first name. This tradition continues to this day, although some monarchs will typically add the initial "R" after their name, which stands for "rex" or "regina", the Latin words for king or queen.

Today, the reigning houses of Europe are:

Bernadotte (Sweden)

Bourbon (Spain, Luxembourg)

Grimaldi (Monaco)

Lietchenstein (Lietchenstein)

Orange-Nassau (The Netherlands)

Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (Belgium)

ücksburg (Denmark, Norway)

Windsor (United Kingdom)

However, there are some discrepancies with some of these.

The grand ducal house of Luxembourg, Bourbon, is sometimes known as Nassau-Weilburg. However, the last male grand duke of Nassau-Weilburg, William IV, was succeeded by his daughter, Marie Adelaide, who in turn was succeeded by her sister Charlotte. Grand Duchess Charlotte married Prince Felix of Bourbon, and their descendants have reigned in Luxembourg ever since. Though some continue to refer to the grand ducal house of Luxembourg as Nassau-Weilburg, agnatically (through the male line), it is the House of Bourbon.

In the Netherlands, the House of Orange-Nassau has reigned for hundreds of years. But the present queen, Beatrix, is an agnatic descendant of the princes of Lippe-Biesterfeld. Therefore, she is actually of the House of Lippe, although the Dutch monarchy officially is named the House of Orange-Nassau. Likewise, the Dutch royal house will technically become the House of Amsberg (after Beatrix's late husband, Claus van Amsberg) when Beatrix's son and heir, Willem-Alexander, ascends the throne. It seems highly unlikely, though, that there will be any official name change.

In the cases of the United Kingdom and Denmark, the heirs-apparent to their thrones will belong to different houses than that of their predecessors. For years, it's been speculated that following Elizabeth II's death, the name of the house will change to Mountbatten or Mountbatten-Windsor, owing to Letters Patent issued by the Queen in 1960 stating that all descendants of Elizabeth II and Prince Philip (in the event that any member of the royal family should require a surname) shall bear the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.

But even that is not entirely accurate.

Before marrying Elizabeth, Prince Philip renounced his titles as a prince of Greece and Denmark, and assumed the style of a British naval lieutenant. He adopted the surname "Mountbatten", which was used by members of his mother's family. This owes itself to a proclamation issued by King George V in 1917, when anti-German sentiments ran high in Britain during the First World War. Not only did this proclamation change the name of the British royal house from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the present Windsor, but it also forced descendants of Queen Victoria who were subjects of the British crown to renounce any and all previously held German titles.

This applied to Prince Philip's maternal grandfather, Prince Louis of Battenberg, who had served in the British navy for over 40 years and was married to a granddaughter of Queen Victoria. He was forced to give up his title of prince, resigned from the navy, and Anglicized his family name from Battenberg to "Mountbatten", which is the name Philip used when he married the future queen.

However, Philip's father was Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. The Greek royal family were an off-branch of the Danish royal family, and both belonged to the House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg. Therefore, if the present Prince of Wales were to choose an accurate dynastic name when he ascends the British throne, it would be Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, though it seems likely he will leave the name as simply Windsor.

One exception to the rule that royalty don't use last names is the Spanish royal family. In keeping with tradition of Spanish names, the members of the House of Bourbon typically incorporate both parents' family names into their own. King Juan Carlos is Juan Carlos de
Borbón y Borbon-Dos Sicilias, Bourbon being his patrilineal name and Bourbon-Dos Sicilias (Two Sicilies) reflecting his mother, Princess Maria Mercedes of Bourbon-Two Sicilies. Likewise, Juan Carlos' children all use de Borbón y Grecia (of Bourbon and Greece), reflecting both their father and their mother, Princess Sophia of Greece.