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What’s in a royal baby name?

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With the arrival of Lilibet (Lili) Diana Mountbatten-Windsor, the newest member of the Royal Family has a name that reflects both tradition and an emerging trend.

The daughter of Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, who was born this month in California, has names with deep family ties — something that is a regular occurrence in the Royal Family.

Diana recalls her grandmother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales. But in the case of Lilibet — a nickname for her great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth — there’s also a reflection of a newer trend among the monarch’s great-grandchildren.

“What we’re seeing with the current generation is some instances where the nickname is the formal first name,” said Toronto-based royal historian Carolyn Harris. 

Nicknames have always been popular in the Royal Family, in part because so many royal children have had the same name. Queen Victoria, for example, let it be known she wanted her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to have her name or that of her husband, Albert, in their monikers.

Princess Eugenie and her husband, Jack Brooksbank, pose with their son August Philip Hawke, who was born on Feb. 9, 2021. (Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank via The Associated Press)

“Going back to Queen Victoria’s descendants, she had so many granddaughters who were named Victoria that we see nicknames such as Vicky, Toria, Moretta, Ducky,” said Harris.

Harry and Meghan’s daughter is the Queen’s 11th great-grandchild, and the third born in the past few months. A 12th is expected this fall with the arrival of the first child for Princess Beatrice and her husband, Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi.

Among the 11 great-grandchildren, those higher in the line of succession — Prince William and Kate’s children George (third in line), Charlotte (fourth) and Louis (fifth) — have more traditional royal names.

But further down the line, things change, with great-grandchildren named Savannah, Isla and Lucas appearing on the family tree. The eldest daughter of Zara (Princess Anne’s daughter) and Mike Tindall has the first name Mia.

“Now, that is an accepted name on its own, but in the 18th century, Mia might have been seen as a nickname for Amelia,” said Harris, author of Raising Royalty: 1000 Years of Royal Parenting. “That certainly was a royal name in Georgian times; George the Third’s favourite daughter was named Amelia.”

Prince William and Kate’s children, Prince Louis, left, Princess Charlotte and Prince George, have traditional royal names. (Aaron Chown/The Associated Press)

For Lilibet (Lili) Diana, the announcement of her name two days after her birth sparked considerable reaction on social media. There was much chatter over whether the choice of the nickname was a touching tribute to the Queen or an insensitive decision, particularly given Harry and Meghan’s recent criticisms of the House of Windsor.

“There are those who feel that this is a really sweet gesture and it’s Prince Harry honouring his grandma, who he maintained a personal relationship with even as he and Meghan stepped back from their duties as senior members of the Royal Family,” said Harris.

“But there are others who feel that this is a nickname that is unique to the Queen and that perhaps [Lily or] Elizabeth might have been a better choice.”

Harry and Meghan hold their son Archie as they meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu in Cape Town, South Africa on Sept. 25, 2019. (Toby Melville/Reuters)

Confusion has ensued over to what degree Harry and Meghan consulted the Queen about the use of the family nickname.

“What seems clear is that the Queen and the Royal Family knew about the name before the rest of the world were told, but it is much less clear whether permission to use Lilibet was sought in advance,” wrote ITV royal editor Chris Ship on the network’s website.

Such scrutiny for a royal baby’s name is unusual, although speculation of just what name might be chosen ahead of any royal birth is rampant. Sometimes it’s also names that aren’t chosen that spark considerable interest. 

Before Diana and Charles named their first son William in 1982, Oliver was one of the monikers that Diana liked.

“Diana favoured some of the trendier names of her time,” said Harris.

But a name like Oliver would not have been considered suitable for a future British monarch, Harris said, because there would inevitably be the comments about Oliver Cromwell, a controversial figure in 17th-century English history, and the time period of the interregnum, “whereas Charles was looking to royal history, and both William and Harry have these timeless royal names.”

Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales, leave St. Mary’s Hospital in London with their newborn son Prince William on June 22, 1982. His name was announced several days later. (John Redman/The Associated Press)

In the case of Lilibet (Lili) Diana, the scrutiny is ramped up because of the intense focus on her parents, particularly following their decision to step back from official royal duties.

Even if Harry and Meghan hadn’t chosen a nickname so closely connected to the Queen, it seems likely the name would have attracted attention.

“I think there would have been scrutiny, there would be a conversation about names, whatever the names would have been,” said British PR expert Mark Borkowski. 

And it’s a scrutiny that will likely continue on the child as she grows up.

“That’s the sort of nature of celebrity, the nature of having two of the most famous people in the world as your mother and father,” said Borkowski.

Chatting with the Queen — on the world stage

Queen Elizabeth walks with U.S. President Joe Biden and Jill Biden as they meet at Windsor Castle in Windsor, England on June 13. (Chris Jackson/Reuters)

When Joe Biden told reporters that Queen Elizabeth had asked him the other day about his Russian and Chinese counterparts — Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping — questions arose over whether the U.S. president had somehow spoken out of turn. 

On the CNN website, an opinion writer labelled it a “spectacular breach” of royal protocol. After all, it’s generally considered that such chats with the Queen stay off the record.

“It’s very rare for anyone who meets the Queen to disclose what was said,” said Craig Prescott, a constitutional expert at Bangor University in Wales, via email.

But just how far out of line was Biden? And does it matter?

Any impact of Biden sharing what insight he did about his conversation with the monarch over tea last Sunday at Windsor Castle is likely to be limited, Prescott said.

Queen Elizabeth stands with the Bidens in the Grand Corridor of Windsor Castle during their visit on June 13. (Steve Parsons/Reuters)

“If anything, it confirms that the Queen takes an active interest in international affairs and foreign relations.”

All this is very different from an incident nine years ago, Prescott said, when a BBC journalist disclosed on the radio that Queen Elizabeth had told him she had asked a cabinet minister why Islamist cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri hadn’t been arrested for inciting racial hatred. 

“At the time, this was a question that others were asking,” Prescott said. “However, this was much closer to the bone, and closer to day-to-day politics. The BBC had to issue an apology to the Palace.”

The Queen’s meeting with Biden and his wife, Jill, last Sunday came after the Royals had a high-profile presence at the meeting of G7 leaders in southwestern England. 

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, as well as Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, were on hand in Cornwall as the Queen hosted a reception for the leaders. Kate and Jill Biden also led a roundtable discussion on early childhood issues.

Queen Elizabeth speaks with the Bidens during a reception with the G7 leaders at the Eden Project in Cornwall, England on June 11. (Jack Hill/The Associated Press)

As head of state, the Queen would be expected to meet other heads of state and heads of government at the G7, but more substantive discussions on issues of the day would be left to the political leaders.

“This reflects how the Queen, and the broader Royal Family, fulfil a different role when it comes to foreign policy,” said Prescott. “They represent the U.K. on the international stage, and enjoy a bit more room for manoeuvre than on domestic policy, as seen with the Queen and the Commonwealth.”

Diplomatically, Prescott said, the Royal Family continues to be viewed as an asset. 

“As [Australian Prime Minister] Scott Morrison said to the Queen, ‘You were quite the hit, everyone was talking about you at dinner the next night.'”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also had a virtual audience with the Queen during the G7 summit, where he consulted with her on the selection process for Canada’s next governor general. They spoke about several other issues.

Queen Elizabeth speaks with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a reception on the sidelines of the G7 summit on June 11. (Jack Hill/Reuters)

“Prime Minister Trudeau and the Queen discussed measures being taken to end COVID-19 and support people most impacted by the pandemic,” said a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office

It noted they also spoke about the “tragic killing of the Afzaal family in London, Ontario,” the discovery of what are estimated to be the remains of more than 200 children buried at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C., and “the government’s ongoing work on truth and reconciliation.”

Awaiting further Jubilee details

Queen Elizabeth inspects the guards of honour during Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on July 1, 2010. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

While Buckingham Palace has laid out the broad strokes of how Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee will be marked in the United Kingdom in 2022, there is still little public sense of how her 70 years on the throne might be officially recognized in Canada.

A spokesperson for the Canadian Heritage department said via email that Canada will mark the 70th anniversary of the Queen’s reign next year. But no further information was offered.

“Details about how Canada will honour the Queen’s reign and her service and dedication to this country will be announced in due course,” the spokesperson wrote.

Buckingham Palace has said beacons will be lit in the capitals of Commonwealth countries to mark the Jubilee, but Canadian Heritage did not answer a query about where or how that might take place in Ottawa.

Still, there have been some high-level discussions about what might happen to recognize the Jubilee.

“The prime minister and the Queen also discussed preparations for the celebration of Her Majesty’s upcoming Platinum Jubilee in 2022,” Trudeau’s office said in the readout regarding his time speaking with her during the G7 summit.

Royally quotable

Queen Elizabeth sits with G7 leaders posing for a group photo during a reception on the sidelines of the G7 summit on June 11. (Jack Hill/Reuters)

“Are you supposed to be looking as if you’re enjoying yourselves?” 

— Queen Elizabeth had a quick quip for the G7 leaders as she sat with them for a photo call in Cornwall, England.

Royal reads

  1. A divorce settlement has been finalized for the Queen’s eldest grandson, Peter Philips, and his estranged wife, Canadian-born Autumn Kelly. They were married in 2008 and have two daughters. [Evening Standard]

  2. Queen Elizabeth’s official birthday was marked by a scaled-back Trooping the Colour ceremony at Windsor Castle. [BBC]

  3. Queen Elizabeth was given a rose named after her late husband, Prince Philip, to mark what would have been his 100th birthday. [Reuters]

  4. The Royal Family has been urged to rewild their lands as a public commitment to help tackle Britain’s biodiversity crisis and to show climate leadership. [The Guardian]

  5. The heir to the Dutch throne, Princess Amalia, says she won’t accept a royal allowance she is entitled to collect when she turns 18. [CBC]

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