The Great Kate Debate: Is it Kate Middleton or HRH The Duchess of Cambridge?

Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images

There are two camps in the Great Kate Debate – those that know and love her as Kate Middleton and those who hate those who call her Kate Middleton. OK, there is a third camp, those who don’t really care.

But many people do care (and passionately) and find it rude the media is still calling her Kate. After all, Kate Middleton has not actually been Kate Middleton for years. Even though she got married to Prince William (whose official royal title is HRH The Duke of Cambridge) more than four years ago many people still call her by her maiden name.

When it comes to the media, the reason news outlets (especially online) often still refer to her as Kate Middleton is simple: SEO. A quick Google search reveals about 37 million hits for "The Duchess of Cambridge," but 61 million hits for "Kate Middleton." It's cause and effect -- people search for Kate Middleton, so writers make sure to surface that key term.

So is it really that bad to call her Kate Middleton?

For the record, her official name now is: HRH The Duchess of Cambridge. But she is rarely addressed that way in the media, notes Alexandra Messervy, the chief executive of The English Manner in an email interview with Yahoo Canada.

If anyone would be a stickler for rules you’d think it would be Messervy. She began her career in the Royal Household of Her Majesty The Queen before founding a protocol, etiquette, communication and cross-cultural integration consultancy firm based in London in 2001.

While the Brits (or, um, British) are famous for being quite fond of proper protocol, Messervy is fairly relaxed about HRH The Duchess of Cambridge being called Kate.

“Whilst protocol dictates that the Royal Duchesses are afforded the titles of HRH and are technically Princesses of the Realm, affection shows that we look to those such as ‘Kate’ as a young, pretty, and new mother who has captured hearts and minds with a fairy-tale of happy endings,” said the royal expert.

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Cindy Stockman, the editor-in-chief of Royal Central in London echoes this surprisingly laidback mentality to proper protocol.

“She no longer has a surname and often people wish to use alternative forms other than “the Duchess of Cambridge” to refer to her, hence “Kate” and “Catherine,” which are names she has always been known by,” noted Stockman.

“Even many ardent traditionalists accept this as merely a sign of public affection for her, certainly not to be taken as a sign of disrespect.”

Not always respectful

But, royal historian Carolyn Harris, points out that sometimes calling Catherine "Kate" is indeed a sign of disrespect.

“There have been times when a nickname has been used as a criticism rather than as a term of endearment. For example, when Kate was called "Waity Katie" by certain members of the British press because she appeared to be waiting years for a marriage proposal from William,” noted Harris, who teaches history at the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies.

Over the years many royals have been well known by their nicknames, pointed out the historian who just released her book Magna Carta and its Gifts to Canada.

Queen Victoria had a daughter and a number of granddaughters who shared her name. Her daughter was known to the family as "Vicky." One granddaughter was "Toria" another was "Moretta" and another was "Ducky." These nicknames were used within the family, said Harris.

An early example of a royal nickname being adopted by the press is "Princess Pat" for Princess Patricia of Connaught. When she married in 1919, Canadian newspapers wrote about the wedding of "Canada's Princess Pat." Princess Pat had lived in Canada during World War I and was very popular in Canada so the nickname was a term of endearment, she says.

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Terms of endearment

A more modern example is Prince Harry. His full official royal name is actually HRH Prince Henry of Wales, but no one ever calls him that. His late mother, Diana, princess of Wales, was best known as Princess Di and Harry’s brother is often called Will or Willis, noted Stockman.

The nicknames are seen as terms of endearment for the popular royals, said the editor. But, there are still rules some rules made not to be broken – no one seems daring enough to start calling Her Majesty The Queen by “Liz,” for example.

“There is a sense … that for older members of the Royal Family such as The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh, a different kind of respect is needed -- hence the general lack of public nicknames for them,” said Stockman.

And while many might call HRH The Duchess of Cambridge Kate if you were to ever meet her in person or write her a letter one should address her by her actual royal title, Harris said.

In this case an English Rose by any other name clearly smells as sweet. Whether you call her Kate Middleton, Catherine, or HRH The Duchess of Cambridge many members of the public are clearly very sweet on one of the most popular members of the royal family these days.

Do you think it's offensive to call The Duchess of Cambridge by her maiden name? Let us know in the comments.