The daughter that Meghan Markle and Prince Harry announced they were expecting a few months ago—her impending arrival was just one revelation that came out of their explosive Oprah interview, you may recall—is now here. And her name is … Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.* Let’s unpack that for a moment.
An addition to the stable of royal babies is always big news, but Lilibet’s birth is a particularly notable event because of that aforementioned interview and the uniquely complicated set of circumstances this not-even-a-week-old person has been born into. To recap, about a year and a half ago, her parents made the historic decision to leave the British royal family because, they told Oprah, the racism and abuse they were facing from both within the institution and externally had become too much for them to take. Understandably, things have been more than a little awkward for the royal family since Meghan and Harry went public with all this. On social platforms, members of the family (or at least the people in charge of their accounts) posted varying degrees of warm welcomes to Lilibet, but it’s fair to assume there’s some tension lurking below the surface. And that makes the name choice all the more eyebrow-raising.
Lilibet, who will be known as Lili, is named after her great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth. (Her middle name is of course for her late grandmother, Princess Diana.) Royal family lore has it that the queen’s childhood attempts to pronounce “Elizabeth” came out more like “Lilibet,” and eventually it stuck as a nickname, one that lasted her into adulthood—it is reportedly what her late husband, Philip, called her, making the name a tribute to him as well.
To some, such a nickname might be an odd choice for an official name, one that could come to seem childish as the girl grows up. I was on the other end of the spectrum: I could have sworn that it’s a perfectly normal name and has always been a variation on the name Elizabeth. There are so many established nicknames for Elizabeth—Lily and Betty among them—that surely the queen couldn’t have beem the first to have come up with this. Yet upon an inquiry, one Slate research ace confirmed the name “Lilibet” does not seem to have appeared in print before stories of a young Elizabeth abandoning the name around age 5, in the early 1930s. Huh!
But the origins of “Lilibet” are probably less interesting than another big question surrounding the name, which is: If Meghan and Harry were so unhappy in the royal family that they made the unprecedented choice to quit it, move a continent away, and tell all in a television special, why did they name their new baby after the head of the family that was causing them so much grief? There have been a few cynical answers to this question—to profit, of course!—but the more charitable explanation would be that throughout this saga, Meghan and Harry have taken pains to emphasize that they still have a warm relationship with the queen. It is the institution they have a problem with, you see—or so they’ve said while giving the distinct impression that they are much less eager to stay in the good graces of certain other royal family members. That is to say, I certainly would have been surprised if they named a baby after Charles or William, but the queen, less so.
Again, all of this seems like a very thorny situation for a newborn to find herself in. I think the British monarchy should be abolished just as much as the next person, but these aristocratic babies, what can I say, I’m a fan. While the rest of the royals deal with the drama, I wish Lilibet the best of luck with learning to use her eyes and vocal chords, move her head, roll over, and the other more immediate challenges before her.
Correction, June 9, 2021: This post originally misspelled Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor’s last name.