What’s In A Name: Decoding The Royal-But-Not Moniker Of Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor
What with all the televised volleys fired pretty much weekly from the Windsors of Montecito at the Windsors of Windsor, and with several more to come, it’s been difficult to remember that there was an altogether happier event in the offing for the larger family in the birth of Prince Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s second child, whom we know since the June 5 announcement on the Archewell Foundation website as Lilibet “Lili” Diana Mountbatten-Windsor. Hewing to form, in naming the child, the couple are formalizing a nickname, exactly as they did with “Archie,” and as we all know, “Lilibet” is not just any old nickname pulled from a hat.
The royal families of Europe are habitually braiding and re-braiding old family names back into the lineage in an almost tidal rhythm, over hundreds of years. It’s part of their charm, none more so than that of the British royal family. It was this brand-spanking new California-born Lilibet’s great-great grandfather, King George VI, who braided the name “Elizabeth” back into the family fold after an absence of some 323 years, since the death of Elizabeth I in 1603. “Lilibet” was Elizabeth II’s childhood nickname, very likely given en passant by Princess Margaret since it’s famously difficult for children to articulate a sibilant “z.” However the nickname arrived, its charm and aptness caused its instant adoption by the family, including by her famously formal father, who’s quoted as saying: “Lilibet is my pride. Margaret is my joy.” Later, of course, Prince Philip would bring the childhood nickname forward and elevate it with much currency in the family until the very end of his life.
The statement on the Archewell website read, in part:
“On June 4th, we were blessed with the arrival of our daughter, Lili. She is more than we could have ever imagined, and we remain grateful for the love and prayers we’ve felt from across the globe. Thank you for your continued kindness and support during this very special time for our family.”
All good, thus far, for the Californian Windsors, a tribute, of sorts, to the grand old dame of Britain and of Europe and to the longest-serving monarch in British history. But. The Mountbatten-Windsors of Montecito are nothing if not tetchy in matters of tradition, and, as we know directly from the CBS and Apple TV television events as produced by their friend Oprah Winfrey, not much in their new lives is ever done without some, or even several, levels of consideration as to how that move will figure into their larger plan of kicking away from, or at, the British monarchy and Harry’s family within it.
So it is with the parental obligation of delivering this name to this child. Clearly, it was an especially fraught exercise for the royal-yet-not Prince Harry and Meghan Markle because they very much do not like being perceived (by the press) as kowtowing to the monarchy, and/or to its traditions. At the same time, they do seem to want to pay homage to certain aspects of all those trappings that Harry left behind. Although Harry has characterized his father and brother as “trapped,” the irony seems to be that Harry and Ms. Markle are themselves curiously trapped by their long-running and occasionally inexplicable enmity to the institution of the British monarchy. Bottom line: A porcupine is a porcupine. When cornered, it will let loose quills.
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So: While the affectionate diminutive “Lilibet” does formalize an affectionate childhood diminutive of the Queen’s, and while that is a form of tribute, it remains a diminution, however sweetly it may have been intended or read. Put another way, it was somehow beyond the parents’ capabilities to do a clean, stand-up-and-say-it tribute to Harry’s grandmother — whom he famously during the “Megxit” process called his “commander-in-chief” — by using her full, history-rich given name.
Given that, as the close students of Prince Harry in the British press inevitably will ask, it does beg the question of what might be wrong with the full name. Un-diminished by childhood slang, the name “Elizabeth” bears many long tons of glorious royal freight precisely because of Harry’s grandmother’s long, successful reign, arguably too many tons of freight for this couple to touch, much less resign themselves to uttering in addressing their daughter for the rest of their lives.
Short and not-so-sweet: The codification of the Queen’s childhood nickname reaches back to a point in time before Harry’s world-famous grandmother became the head of the — in the Montecito Windsors’ super-quirky cosmos — reviled institution of the British monarchy. Conferring “Lilibet” was an attempt to de-politicize “Elizabeth.” The irony is, we won’t know for a while whether any of this actually worked, or whether it carries the opposite effect of highlighting the political tensions within the family.
Whenever the jury re-convenes on that, this nickname is immediately and formally followed by a great, careening dollop of Spencer lineage with “Diana.” Harry’s prima facie allegiance to his mother and his herculean labors to hold her memorial standard high — as opposed to exhibiting any such loyalty to his father — will, obviously, be at work in everything Harry does for the foreseeable future. His mother is central to his core businesses of mental health, philanthropic championing of various underdogs and so forth, and she’s present in his cast of his role as a content producer. Coming up next month will be William’s and Harry’s commemorative tribute upon the installation of the hotly-contested statue of their mother in the Sunken Garden of Kensington Palace, which meet, if it occurs, will be the first time since the excruciatingly awkward encounter at their grandfather’s funeral that the brothers will have come together. It would have been unusual for Harry and Ms. Markle not to have exercised some sort of tribute to his mother in naming this child.
In the context of the ongoing debate between the Windsors of Montecito and those of England, the use of the name, Diana, is, in Harry’s hands, a far more pointed, weaponly tribute than that. There are three core royals below the Queen: Charles, William, and Harry. Harry’s attempt at taking himself out of the equation over the last two years has been more or less accomplished, but any decision about Harry is taken at the highest levels. Famously, post-divorce, Diana was stripped of her HRH style and title, a landmark decision presided over by the Queen and Charles. And, it’s fair to say, generally, that the Crown’s treatment of Diana, post-divorce, is something that courtiers charged with such delicate arrangements will be pondering as a severe tactical object lesson for the next few generations, much as students at military schools study the tactical failures of Xerxes or Napoleon. All of that is in the name “Diana.”
Bottom line: At this unresolved point in the history of the British royal family, Harry’s and Meghan Markle’s braiding Diana Spencer’s given name back into that grand royal tapestry is, in essence, giving Harry’s family a script. The script is that, attached to this child, Harry’s family will be forced to read and to say that name for many years to come.