As many of you will know, as well as our website, we also operate a Twitter account where we tweet Royal Facts and also answer questions about the Royal Family. One of the most common questions we find come up a lot is ‘What Is the Royal Family’s Surname?’ Those with even a small amount of Royal Knowledge will be able to answer confidently ‘Well, Windsor Of Course’. But is it really as simple as that? We will now explain the history of surname use in the Royal Family and how it has developed into confusion over what they should call themselves.
Our story starts in 1917, King George V (unsure what his own surname may be) set about changing the Royal House name from the German sounding Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to the easily recognisable Windsor. Remember, at the time, the First World War was making it difficult for a primarily German Royal Family to succeed in Britain. Before 1917, the royal house name was an amalgamation of the males’ names of those who married female Monarchs and Hanoverian names.
King Edward VII (George V’s father) was the only monarch of the House Of Saxe-Coburg Gotha, before all British Monarchs were also monarchs of Hanover, so they reigned as the House Of Hanover. When Queen Victoria acceded to the throne, due to what was known as Salic Law, women were forbidden from succession to the Hanoverian Throne, so from thereon in, no British Monarchs held the Hanoverian throne also, although Queen Victoria continued to reign under the House Of Hanover. Edward VII inherited the House Name Saxe-Coburg-Gotha from his father Prince Albert rather than the Hanover house from his mother due to the way titles and the like are passed through the male-line.
Before 1917, the Royal Family had no need for a surname as none of them really engaged in any organisation that required as such (e.g. employer/bank).
Back to the modern day: legally and officially, all titled members of the Royal Family (that is, those with HRH in front of their name) have NO LEGAL SURNAME. However, when one is required they will opt for Windsor (Prince Edward, Earl OF Wessex used this surname for his productions company), because that is now (since 1917) the name of the reigning house.
To further add to the confusion, in 1960 The Duke Of Edinburgh had complained that ‘he was the only man in the country not allowed to give his own name to his children’. It was then decided that although past precedent dictated the man’s surname was used for the Royal House name, it would remain as Windsor, but all of the Queen’s Children onwards would bear the surname of Mountbatten-Windsor, which was first seen in 1973 on the official documentation for the marriage of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips.
Although Mountbatten-Windsor was supposed to be the new Royal Surname, it hasn’t been used all that often. The Queen’s two youngest grandchildren (Prince Edward’s children) bear the surname of just Windsor as they are not styled as HRH (James Windsor, Viscount Severn & The Lady Louise Windsor).
So now we’ve established that Windsor and Mountbatten-Windsor are the ‘official’ surnames of the Royal Family where required, there is also a third option to bring into the mix. What is more common now is for members of the Royal Family to use their territorial designation as a surname. For example, Prince William and Prince Harry famously use Wales as a surname for their Armed Forces careers and Sophie, Countess Of Wessex is sometimes referred to as Sophie Wessex. Also, when going into a surfing equipment shop to make a purchase, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge was unrecognised by the person operating the shop and when asked to leave a name for contact, she gave the name Mrs Cambridge. The shopkeeper was then lambasted by colleagues and shop-visitors for not recognising the Duchess, much to his and everyone else’s amusement!
So there we go. I hope this has cleared up everyone’s understanding of the Royal Family’s surname use and the like. To summarise: Windsor, Mountbatten-Windsor or their designation (e.g. Wales, Cambridge, York) are the names used as surnames by some members of the Royal Family where required.