Do not wear hats after 6:30 p.m., don’t even think about snapping a selfie — and whatever you do, do not call the duchess “Kate.”
Those were just three of the ground rules issued to the public by the Canadian government this week as Kate Middleton, Prince William, and their two children, Prince George, 3, and Princess Charlotte, 16 months, arrived in the country as part of their eight-day royal tour.
But getting the duchess’s title right is a challenge for more than just those who may get to meet her face-to-face — who should address her, by the way, as “Your Royal Highness,” initially, and “Ma’am” thereafter — according to the Department of Canadian Heritage’s code of conduct, issued Monday before the family landed. There’s also confusion among much of the public, in general, as seen on social media, in the general media, and in our own Yahoo story comments section, with such sentiments as “Princess Kate is so beautiful that she looks great in whatever she wears!”
The problem? Kate Middleton will never be “Princess Kate.”
“While Catherine is absolutely a princess, her correct title is ‘Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cambridge,’” CNN royal expert Victoria Arbiter tells Yahoo Style. “She wasn’t born a blood princess, so she is not a princess in her own right. When she married William, she took on the rank of her husband, a royal prince. However, referring to her as ‘Princess Kate’ is simply incorrect.” Ditto for William’s mom, the late Diana, Princess of Wales, who despite being dubbed “Princess Di” by the public, didn’t hold rights to that title.
And while we’re on the topic, the duchess’s nickname is not Kate — at least at home. “William calls her Catherine [as opposed to ‘duchess’] because she’s his wife and he doesn’t need to stand on ceremony while referring to her,” adds Arbiter. “And Catherine is more regal and appropriate than Kate.”
Complicating matters further are two impending name changes: When Will’s father, Charles, becomes the king, his daughter-in-law will become “Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales.” And the day William is crowned king, Catherine’s title will be “Queen Consort.”
Confusing? Very. And while Kate and Will are known for bucking tradition — and as Arbiter says, “neither would have been offended if someone had called her Kate” — the Canadian guide to the public was likely a nod of courtesy to the couple and an attempt to avoid further confusion (as is this story).
So why can’t we let go of “Princess Kate?” Enter our cultural obsession with a good, happy ending. We may romanticize the title because of Kate’s humble roots, which made her marriage to William a real-life fairy tale. The couple met at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, when Kate was an art history major who wore sequined halter tops. Parents Carole and Michael Middleton were middle class, and their daughter’s pairing with William caused controversy among those who questioned whether she had the “breeding” to be a future queen. “Princess Kate” could also be a glamorous nod to her status as a global fashion icon and ability to crash a designer’s website minutes after being photographed in her outfit du jour.
Or maybe the reason we hold fast to “princess” is much simpler. “Royal titles can be very confusing, so to some degree, ‘Princess Kate’ is just easier,” notes Arbiter. “We all know what a princess is and it can seem like a grander title than any other.” And while some may ask, “Why does it even matter?” the easy answer is this: If we can say William’s title correctly, it’s only fair to extend the same respect to his wife. Right?