Touching tribute or royally presumptuous after all their barbs? SARAH VINE and KATE WILLIAMS on why Lilibet is the name that’s split Britain
Isn’t this the Lilibet that Harry made out to be a lousy mother?
By Sarah Vine
What’s in a name? Well, if you are eighth in line to the British throne, a great deal indeed. I always felt the Duke and Duchess of Sussex would choose Diana for their first daughter – after all, so much of Prince Harry’s life has been defined by the memory of his mother.
But what I – and I suspect many others – had not anticipated was the choice of the Queen’s childhood nickname, Lilibet.
On the surface of it, I can see the attraction. It is such a very pretty name, despite the fact it’s not a real one.
It conjures up images of a young Princess Elizabeth, of grainy black and white pictures of granny as a bonneted toddler, and of intimate family memories. It has fond connotations for all the royals, even more so perhaps since the Duke of Edinburgh passed away earlier this year – this was a nickname he used for the Queen.
But it is perhaps because Lilibet is such a very rare and special name that no other royal children have thought to use it.
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are joined by her mother, Doria Ragland, when they introduced Archie to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh
Even if they had wanted to, they might well have felt – out of respect for Her Majesty – that it was overstepping an invisible line, presuming rather too much.
Not the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, though. As ever, they are not preoccupied with protocol and propriety, and the gesture has naturally won them plenty of praise from fans.
It is seen as a rapprochement, a ‘reaching out’, an ‘olive branch’ extended across the Atlantic to the folks back home – an emotional act of typical generosity by two people who, as ever, have been harshly judged by a cynical media.
So it is with some trepidation that I venture any criticism – after all, in certain quarters anything other than fawning praise for this pair is tantamount to blasphemy.
But while Harry and Meghan may have had the absolute best intentions in naming their new arrival Lilibet, in the light of their recent uncaring attacks on the Queen part of me worries that it feels like a rather shameless, attention-grabbing attempt to boost their royal brand – a brand on which their future earnings and bankability very much depend.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m delighted at the new arrival. But one can be simultaneously happy for them and Archie, who now has a little sister, and utterly flabbergasted by the absolute cheek of it. Lilibet Diana? Seriously? Quite apart from the strange juxtaposition of the two names – which in itself is an entire psychodrama – isn’t this Lilibet the same person who according to Prince Harry was a lousy mother to Prince Charles, and who passed on her lousy parenting skills to him so he in turn was a lousy father to Harry?
Isn’t this the same Lilibet who, so Harry and Meghan suggested in that Oprah Winfrey interview, presided over a bigoted, dysfunctional family of emotional pygmies?
The same Lilibet who allowed Diana to be frozen out, who failed to ensure Meghan was given the support she needed when she was struggling to cope with her royal role?
Harry and Meghan’s supporters have rushed to point out that the couple reportedly asked the Queen for permission to use Lilibet, and she approved. But she couldn’t exactly have said no, could she? Not without the fear of another TV interview in which she would no doubt be accused of snubbing them.
Given everything that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have said and implied about the Queen over the past few months, you might have thought she was the last person they would want to name their precious baby daughter after.
Indeed if she was to be named after a relative, then surely Meghan’s own mother Doria, who as far as I can tell has been a constant and selfless source of strength to her daughter, might have been more appropriate.
Oprah, too, would have been a possibility given how the queen of interviews has been playing such a dramatic role in the couple’s lives.
But the actual Queen, this supposed villainess, this heart- less matriarch? Doesn’t it seem rather odd, not to mention more than a little opportunistic? Because, let’s be honest, all Harry and Meghan’s criticism of the royals hasn’t actually gone as well as they thought it would.
In fact, it’s fair to say there’s been a bit of a backlash.
Of course, they could have just openly and honestly apologised; but why do that when you can turn your misjudgements to strategic advantage?
Because Lilibet Diana, as a name, certainly has its benefits.
By calling their daughter after the Queen herself, and using the most intimate and private name by which she is known, they have ensured that however frosty and distant relations with the royals back home become, in the eyes of the public the association with the British Royal Family will never be forgotten.
Whatever the future now holds, the Queen will be forever a part of their lives. And, crucially, of Brand Sussex.
It’s true to the baby’s lineage … and not just on the royal side
By Professor Kate Williams
Disrespectful. Rude. Demeaning. These terms have all been used about the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s name for their new daughter since her birth was announced on Sunday.
And all because they had the temerity to christen her Lilibet Diana, in honour of her paternal grandmother, the Princess of Wales, and her paternal great-grandmother, the Queen.
Yes, they have chosen a family nickname rather than ‘Elizabeth’ – but does that matter? As a historian, I am left bemused by this backlash.
Many royals bequeath the names of immediate or distant ancestors on their children. Usually this is seen as a touching tribute to those who have come and gone before.
The kings of yesteryear would often name a child in honour of the reigning monarch – hence the Jameses and Williams with which our royal history is littered.
And the custom of choosing names from the royal canon lives on in the current generation, with Prince William and his wife Kate calling their eldest son George and their daughter Charlotte.
And when Princess Eugenie recently gave her baby the middle name Philip – a reference to the Duke of Edinburgh – it was a decision greeted with praise.
Henrys, Annes, Elizabeths… The royal lineage has them in abundance, underlining the centuries of shared history that lie between past and present, and reaffirming long-held dynastic links.
I cannot help thinking that this is where the problem lies for those naysayers now hurling accusations of impertinence at a couple who are only doing what is appropriate to their daughter’s birthright.
The simple fact with the Sussexes is that they are being criticised for doing what all other royals do – giving a child a royal name
This is a name that signifies firmly that she is a great-grandchild of the Queen and in the line of succession. I believe that the Sussexes would be criticised whichever route they took.
Princess Anne’s daughter Zara and her husband Mike Tindall have given their trio of children the endearing but decidedly non-regal monikers Mia, Lena and Lucas.
Had Harry and Meghan opted for something similarly unique they would have been accused of snubbing tradition in a bid to differentiate themselves.
In short, they can’t win – even though their choice acknowledges Harry’s much-loved mother and grandmother.
The simple fact with the Sussexes is that they are being criticised for doing what all other royals do – giving a child a royal name.
Besides, the name Diana unites Lili with her cousins on two sides of the family: William’s daughter Charlotte, whose middle name is also Diana, and her great-uncle Earl Spencer’s youngest daughter, who is called Charlotte Diana.
Moreover, Meghan has a ‘Lillie’ in her family too. Her great-great-aunt was Lillie Ragland – the first black director of an estate agency in America – whose husband, Bill Evans, was a star baseball player.
Yet it is the choice of the Queen’s nickname Lilibet that has perplexed critics.
Perhaps they feel it is at odds with Harry’s recent criticism of the royal institution.
But, although he and his wife have stepped down from the family business, they are still part of the family.
The couple have always been at pains to emphasise their respect and fondness for the Queen (a monarch whose own name came from her mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon).
Just two months ago, she lost her husband of 73 years and, with his death, it seemed as if that endearing nickname he had used all her life was likely to pass into extinction.
No longer. Instead, it has been given a new life by the latest generation of royals.
It is sad that people cannot see the name as what it is: a touching gesture of respect and love to Britain’s longest reigning monarch.
- Kate Williams is professor of modern history at Reading University and author of Young Elizabeth and Rival Queens
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