Lilibet is a reference to Queen Elizabeth’s childhood, when she struggled to pronounce her own name. “Lilibet is my pride; Margaret is my joy,” her father, King George VI, reportedly said of his two daughters. However, the late Prince Philip was the only person to use the queen’s nickname in recent times. The queen reportedly left a handwritten note on his coffin at his funeral in April, signed “Lilibet.”
However, her estranged grandson and granddaughter-in-law, Prince Harry and Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, felt the name was fair game when deciding on a name for their daughter, who was born Friday in sunny Santa Barbara, California. Her official name was “named after her great-grandmother, Her Majesty The Queen, whose family nickname is Lilibet,” but she’ll go by “Lili” (with her middle name, Diana, after Harry’s late mother).
Scrolling through the social media feeds of friends and strangers alike in America, you’d think the choice to honor Harry’s beloved grandmother was a good one. But only if the endless controversy surrounding Harry and Meghan’s very public exit from their royal lives and from the United Kingdom as a whole is removed. Their public squabbles include Harry’s disparagement of his father, Charles, with whom he appears to be at odds; his disagreements with his brother, William, the future king of England; the couple’s March interview with Oprah Winfrey, in which they leveled semi-veiled charges of racism against the royal family; and their decision to decamp to the United States and try to make money by branding their lineage.
From where I’m standing, it appears that Harry and Meghan are attempting to treat a gunshot wound with a Band-Aid, with Harry saying, “Hey Grandma, I know you’re upset with me right now, so I thought I’d take your very private nickname and put it in the public domain by giving it to our newborn daughter.” At best, the decision appears to be tone-deaf. At worst, it’s a cynical attempt at reconciliation that doesn’t involve any actual reconciliation work.
To be honest, the queen deserves better. Her late husband — the only person who had the right to call her by her nickname — was barely out of his grave when her grandson shouted across the pond, “Surprise!”
Americans can’t get enough of the royal family’s pomp and circumstance because there isn’t anything like it in the United States. However, they conveniently ignore what goes hand in hand with all of that pomp and circumstance — namely, strict rules and protocols.
While Americans may consider Harry and Meghan’s gesture to be sweet and touching, making their child’s first name the nickname of the country’s official head of state is egregious.
Britons in general are much more private than Americans, and the royal family’s privacy is especially prized given how public a life they must lead. Harry and Meghan have only been in the United States for 15 months, but it appears that in their eagerness to embrace the laid-back American attitude — as well as their desire or need for public visibility — they have chosen to throw royal rules and traditions out the window once more. If Harry and Meghan were serious about healing the family schism, they could have done so in private.
The queen hasn’t said anything specific about the baby’s name, which is telling. “The Queen, The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall, and The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have been informed and are delighted with the news of the birth of a daughter for The Duke and Duchess of Sussex,” says the official Buckingham Palace statement.
Whether you support or oppose the monarchy, whether you believe the establishment should be revered or disbanded, the fact that Queen Elizabeth did not choose her role in life should be respected. It was given to her. A prominent and public life. And she chose to stay in the UK to do her duty rather than “step back” and seek refuge in the United States.
As a result, I believe she has earned the right to whatever level of privacy she can create for herself. Something that doesn’t include her grandson appropriating her childhood nickname, one of her few private possessions.