06 June 2021

A New Lilibet


Queen Elizabeth II as a toddler, from the cover of Time Magazine in 1029
The original Lilbet: Princess Elizabeth of York on
the cover of Time Magazine in 1929. Today she is
better known as Queen Elizabeth II.

As the original Lilibet enjoys her twilight years, it seemed the royal nickname would soon cease to exist. Indeed, when Prince Philip died earlier this year the name was already declared dead by some media outlets. Following the deaths of her mother, sister, and husband, it was incorrectly assumed that no one remained to call Queen Elizabeth II by her lifelong nickname. The authors and editors of these articles were apparently forgetting or unaware that Her Majesty has nieces, nephews, and first cousins who have always called her Lilibet and that extended members of the family have also used the name, as demonstrated by King Felipe of Spain's published condolence to "Aunt Lilibet" on the death of his "dear Uncle Philip". (Technically, Felipe is second cousin twice removed to Philip and third cousin once removed to Elizabeth.)

Just when it looked like the name would be lost to history, The Queen's grandson Prince Harry and his wife Meghan resurrected it for their baby girl, naming the infant Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor. The announcement, which came two days after the baby's June 4th birth in Santa Barbara, California, also revealed that the Duke and Duchess of Sussex plan to call their daughter Lili. The second name honoring Harry's late mother Diana Princess of Wales surprised no one, but nearly everyone was surprised by Lilibet as a first name. In fact, this may be the first time anyone anywhere has actually used it as a given name. (If you know of anyone else actually named Lilibet, I would love to know about it.)

However, no one should be surprised that they would choose to honor Harry's grandmother. Despite a recent interview in which he indicated that he thought The Queen had been a poor parent to his father, Harry and Meghan have often spoken of their admiration for Her Majesty. The use of a nickname and an untraditional name is also not surprising. After all, the couple named their first child Archie, which is also a nickname and an untraditional royal name. (See my post, Strange Royal Baby Names.)

The name Lilibet emerged when The Queen was first learning to speak. Like all infants, she did not emerge with perfect enunciation and was unable to properly pronounce her own name. The family started calling her Lilibet after hearing her attempts to say Elizabeth. The name quickly stuck, probably because her mother was also named Elizabeth making a nickname something of a necessity in the family. By the time her little sister Margaret was born four years later, her father was writing notes "dictated by Lilibet" back to his wife. Many published examples exist of The Queen signing personal messages as Lilibet, including her condolence card to her mother on the death of her father.

Some have criticized Meghan and Harry for their unconventional name choices but it's important to note that many of The Queen's descendants have un-royal names. Her first granddaughter is named Zara. Her 11 great-grandchildren include Savannah, Isla, Mia, Lena, and Lucas. The Queen herself shook up royal naming conventions. She was the first female descendant of Queen Victoria NOT to have Victoria among her names, which are Elizabeth Alexandra Mary. She stunned many by choosing the "Scottish" name Charles for her firstborn, a child destined to be King when the only Kings named Charles in Britain were from the Scottish House of Stuart. The first King Charles was beheaded in the English Civil War. The second, his son, restored the monarchy, knew how to have raucous good time, and left many children but had no direct heirs. More controversially, "King Charles III" or Bonnie Prince Charlie sparked a rebellion against the Hanoverians to try to regain the throne that was abandoned by (or stolen from, depending on your point of view) his grandfather King James II and VII in the Glorious Revolution. The Queen even introduced a "new" name into the British Royal Family when she named her second son Prince Andrew after her father-in-law, who had been Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark. The name had not been used among British royals before that day in 1960. If The Queen can use surprising and untraditional names for her own children, it is not shocking that her children and grandchildren would, too.

The announcement of Lili's arrival did not include any reference to her title. Brother Archie's announcement specified that he would be known simply as "Master Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor", eschewing his right to use his father's secondary title of Earl of Dumbarton, a long-seated tradition among the Peerage. As the daughter of a Duke and as confirmed by the 1917 Letters Patent, Harry's daughter is entitled to be styled as Lady Lili. It appears, however, that she will simply be called Miss Lili Mountbatten-Windsor.

One last note: Many have incorrectly stated that it was Prince Philip who began calling his wife Lilibet as a pet name. For the record, his romantic pet name for her was Cabbage. 

Long live the Lilibets! (Both Cabbage and Baby Lili!)

As of publication time, no photos of Lili Mountbatten-Windsor have been released.