16 August 2012


At the royal christening on 14th April 2011 it was revealed that the new Danish prince was in future to be referred to as H.R.H. (His Royal Highness) Prince Vincent. From then on the name Vincent has been exposed in company with Felix and Isabella to the limelight as a kingly or – in Modern Danish – royal name, and it is to be expected that in the coming years the name will become increasingly popular in the charts in comparison with the score or so of boys that had been given the name Vincent each year since 2003.

Where does this name come from? Vincent or Vincentius is the name of a martyr of the early Christian church who, in company with Pope Sixtus II and five other servants of the church – Januarius, Magnus, Stephanus, Felicissimus – was seized and beheaded at the command of the Emperor Valerian in Rome on 6th August in the year 258. In the Catholic calendar of saints St Vincent is celebrated on 5th August.

Like other saints' names, this name became widespread in the Christian world and in Denmark the name was recorded already in the 12th century as that of a chaplain or chantry priest at Ribe cathedral. This man, however, may well have been of German or French origin.

Van Gogh self-portrait

One of the most famous bearers of the name Vincent in more recent times: the Dutch artist Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) in a self-portrait from 1887-88. (Picture taken from Wikimedia Commons via Wikipedia).

Saints and martyrs

It is perhaps more relevant to note that other clerics had assumed this name, originally a byname with the meaning 'the victorious one', from the present participle vincens of the Latin verb vincere 'to conquer, be victorious'. Vincent is thus closely related to the name Victor 'the victor', from the Latin noun with that meaning.

Vincent would seem to have been a suitable name for men who were attempting to spread the glad tidings of the gospel. At all events, there are quite a number of saints and beatified men bearing the name Vincent in the learned German work of reference Lexikon der Namen und Heiligen. Several of the saintly Vincents have their roots in France, and in his popular French Nouveau Dictionnaire des Prénoms Jean-Maurice Barbé lists several Vincents together with the days on which they are to be celebrated. In addition to 5/8 we find 22/1, 5/4, 25/6, 14/7, 27/9 and 13/12.

The most significant of these saints is undoubtedly Vincent of Zaragoza – the first Spanish martyr – who is to be celebrated on 22nd January. He was tortured and killed under the Emperor Diocletian around the year 304, and the French Emperor Childebert took Vincent's stole to Paris in the year 542 in connection with the foundation of the very influential French abbey Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Vincent of Zaragoza has since become the patron saint of wine growers and this, in fact, was the immediate reaction to the name of the wine-growing Prince-Consort Henrik after the christening.

Vincent is a popular name in France and other French-speaking countries but in present-day France the name would seem to have peaked. From a few hundred name-bearers a year just after the Second World War the name became extremely popular. The top-point was reached in 1981, when 7,118 French boys were given the name. Since then the name's popularity has diminished to only 566 new bearers in 2008. In comparison, the name Lucas, the most popular French boys' name that year, scored 7,060, according to this French name website.

National variants

Vincent has like other saints' names numerous national variant forms, e.g. the English hypocoristic form Vince, which can also be spelt with W in Denmark. Then there is the common German form Vinzent, the Italian Vincenzo and the Spanish Vincente. An Italian-American short form was borne by the holder of the title role in the successful American film comedy My Cousin Vinny in 1992. In Denmark the Lithuanian form Vincentas is also to be found on the list of approved names. The feminine form of the name Vincentia/Wincentia is only of very rare occurrence.

As a final, curious item it may be noted that V in Vincent is pronounced as F in German and Dutch and from the medieval occurrences of the name in Denmark it can be seen that immigrants from the south must have brought the form Fincent to this country. The spelling with F- is not at the moment approved for this name in Denmark but the variation between V- and F- exists in names such as Valentin/Falentin and Voss/Fos.