The tricky politics of naming a baby – and where Harry and Meghan went wrong

Baby names
Baby names

What’s in a name? With recent rumours from the Royal Household suggesting that the late Queen Elizabeth was “infuriated” by Harry and Meghan’s decision to give her sacred pet name Lilibet to their infant daughter, it appears much can go awry in the baby-naming process.

Whether a precious newborn becomes a Charlotte or a Mohammed, a Summer or a Montgomery, a name must convey personality (usually that of the parents, not the child), be individual but not so leftfield it appeals to school bullies, and hopefully not antagonise dear friends and family.

Alas, it seems the Sussexes may have failed on this last count. A senior palace source said that Queen Elizabeth was “as angry as I’d ever seen her” after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex stated that she had given her blessing to name their daughter after her childhood nickname, according to Robert Hardman’s new biography of the King, Charles III.

In this matter, it’s a comfort to know that the House of Windsor evidently shares the same challenges as families from all walks of life.

The Sussexes, pictured her at the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival, are said to have ‘infuriated’ the late Queen Elizabeth
The Sussexes, pictured her at the 2021 Global Citizen Live festival, are said to have ‘infuriated’ the late Queen Elizabeth - Angela Weiss / AFP

For Kitty, 35, a teacher, ‘Rose’ was the perfect choice for her daughter. There was just one problem – it was also a top choice for her identical twin sister. “My sister very generously ‘gave’ us the name Rose, even though it is what she had always wanted – because her boyfriend at the time had an ex called Rose, so the name seemed off the table,” she says.

“But now she is engaged to someone else,” Kitty explains. “She is quite cross, especially as we call our daughter Posy, not Rose.”

This tug-of-war for shared favourites comes as a common issue between friends or siblings having children at a similar age.

When faced with this scenario, one solution could be choosing a similar name to your preferred option. This was the case for sisters Freya, 33, and Claudia, 31, who both started families in their early 30s. “Claudia had always wanted Tim for a boy but I had chosen Tom for my son, who was born earlier,” says Freya. “I was so tired at the time I didn’t think about how similar they were.”

After some “slightly fraught” discussion, Claudia chose Sam for her baby instead, as a compromise. Negotiations have since ensued. “We’ve decided Claudia will get first dibs next time,” says her sister.

Diplomatic concessions are not, however, always possible. In one dramatic family tale, the grandmother of newly-named Tim disliked her grandson’s name. Taking matters into her own hands, she informed the rest of the family he would be known as ‘Edward’, leading to a surprise for the parents when they received baby gifts marked with a name they had not selected. Now 30, Tim uses the name picked out by his parents, a relative confirms.

In other cases, asserting control may be the only way to break the stalemate.

“I didn’t have a name for two weeks because no one could decide, and everyone was butting in with their opinions”, says Olivia, 23. “My mum had enough so drove herself to the registry office and named me without telling anyone.

“She said that she had given birth to me so it was fair.”

Many would be inclined to agree. But, should you find yourself in a baby naming pickle, there are always society rules to fall back on. Liz Wyse, an etiquette adviser at Debrett’s, says several key considerations must be taken into account when planning a baby’s name.

Although she politely declines to comment on the Lilibet question, Wyse suggests it is sensible for expectant parents to mention to a family member that they are planning to use their name.

“It’s a pleasing gesture to tell a friend or relative that you’re thinking of using their name. It is, after all, paying them a compliment and indicates that you have positive associations with the name.”

Indeed, searching the family tree may reap hidden gems. Wyse explains: “It is a great pity when certain names disappear completely from usage, so if you can disinter any unusual names from your family history, which you like, it is a good idea to bring them back into use.” Using these unearthed nuggets as middle names is the “safest option”, she adds.

This up-front approach can also help to diffuse “awkward” situations where friends or relatives want to use the same name as you.

“This should certainly be addressed quickly and succinctly,” says Wyse. “When someone announces they’re thinking of ‘your’ name, you must say something along the lines of ‘What a coincidence – we were thinking of exactly the same name!’.”

Open discussion is important, Wyse adds. “There is nothing to stop you both going for the same name, but it would be better if it was agreed between you beforehand and you have both anticipated any problems it might cause.”

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