The Cambridge Problem

14 May 2013 - 10:27am
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imagesLast 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!

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  • Lulu in the Palace

    Great post. On my blog I refer to her as Catherine, ever since she was engaged. I think it is a sign of respect. I also agree that for the folks who are not royal watchers. they think of her as “Kate Middleton”. I DO like when news outlets refer to her as Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge. I think it is appropriate in that format. xo Lulu

  • micmac

    I do agree with Royal Central in principle, especially with the observation that Kate Middleton is more computer user friendly than Duchess of Cambridge. There is another reason why we should get used to using Duchess of Cambridge. It is about time people got used to the fact that whatever she was in her single life, her marriage is a different kettle of fish altogether, that now as a public person and one of “The Firm” she must be treated as the granddaughter -in-law of UK’s current head of state.
    But does that also mean that the Duchess must cut ties with her own family? To read commentary elsewhere it seems that is what people want to happen. I’d think that is a heartless attitude for readers to take.

  • Royalist

    On the morning of their marriage, when their new title was announced it was said that officially she would be HRH Princess William, Duchess of Cambridge—then added that no one would mind if people called her Princess Catherine.
    Can’t understand why people do not–after all Diana was never really Princess Diana, but that didn’t stop people calling her that.

  • Amelia

    No idea why I would need to “show respect” to someone whose only accomplishment was marrying into a particular family. Actually…I don’t know why I would need to show respect to someone based solely on their parents and grandparents – Queen Elizabeth has earned based on her age and dedication. In fact, if anything, I think Kate is LESS deserving of our respect for the terribly little she accomplished prior to her marriage, despite a good education and privileged upbringing. Every single one of my friends from university has contributed more to society than Kate has (unless you are talking about promoting British fashion, I suppose). There are plenty of traditions more worthy of our attention and efforts.

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