Last week, Royal Central launched their campaign to stop the media referring to the Duchess of Cambridge as ‘Kate Middleton’ (click here to see)
But why do so many people still call her this, and does correct usage of titles matter that much anyway?
I’ll jump off the fence now – I love titles and correct form. All the nuances and etiquette are just so terribly British aren’t they? It’s like the class system. As much as we would like to think that in this modern world class doesn’t matter, it still does, even if we refuse to acknowledge it. It’s the same with titles. It’s too much a part of our history for it not to matter.
We’ve grown up with titles – parents, teachers and other adults were ‘Mr, Mrs, Miss, Doctor’ and so on. It’s a mark of respect to use a title unless you have been invited not to do so. In many other languages, French for example, there are different forms of the word ‘you’ – one formal, used respectfully to elders and strangers, and one informal for use with friends and children. As children ourselves, we wouldn’t have dreamed of calling a teacher by their first name only, well, not to their faces anyway! And I’ll bet that few people meeting the Queen would dare to call her ‘Elizabeth’. No, you’d call her ‘Your Majesty’ or ‘Ma’am’ instead. So why do so many people still call the Duchess of Cambridge ‘Kate Middleton’?
Well, I have a few theories. Apparently, the name ‘Kate Middleton’ is used because it shows up better in search engine results. But isn’t it more likely that ‘the Duchess of Cambridge’ just doesn’t yet have the right ring to it? Catherine has married a Prince, so we all want to call her Princess Catherine, but we can’t. The Queen would have to issue new Letters Patent for us to be able to call her that, and this is not likely to happen. Technically, Catherine is ‘Princess William of Wales’ as well as the Duchess of Cambridge, as she takes the female form of her husband’s title upon marriage. But calling her ‘Princess William’ would seem a bit odd, wouldn’t it, although we don’t seem to mind with Princess Michael of Kent (Prince Michael’s wife).
I also think that ‘Duchess’ doesn’t immediately sound like a young woman in her early thirties and we all knew her as ‘Kate Middleton’ for so long! I have to admit, I do find it irritating when listening to a news report and hearing about “the Duchess of C…” and my mind is instantly wondering whether they will say ‘Cambridge’ or ‘Cornwall’ next. It’s not instantly obvious without a picture. Trivial I know, but I think it all adds up as to why the general public seems so much more comfortable with ‘Kate Middleton’. It’s about what people are used to – even now, I still see references to ‘Lady Diana’ – the late Princess of Wales wasn’t that after her marriage in 1981! It’s also why some women I know choose to keep their maiden names for business purposes – they are known by that name as the effort of getting people to change is just too great (although of course some keep their maiden names because they prefer to, and that’s fine. It’s about personal choice).
The trouble is, I think that using someone’s incorrect title shows a lack of respect. Does it bother Catherine? I have no idea. Does it keep me awake at night, worrying about it? No! But it is good practice and polite to use the correct form. Understanding why people use ‘Kate Middleton’ is one thing, changing public usage is another. The only way for this to happen is for the media to always refer to her as the Duchess of Cambridge and we’ll all get used to it eventually!