Every once in a while, I’ll get a comment questioning why I still call the Duchess of Cambridge “Kate Middleton” even though she hasn’t been “Kate Middleton” since April 29, 2011. I’ve explained it in the comment section before, but since the subject was brought up again recently I thought I’d take a more in-depth look at the topic for a couple of reasons: 1) So I have something easy to point to if the question ever arises again; 2) Because every few months since I started calling Sofia Hellqvist “Princess Sofia” I’ve been questioning why it was so easy for me to switch names for her but not for Catherine; 3) I’ve been thinking about writing a titles clarification post for a couple months since I saw a comment on another site complaining about the way people write certain royals’ names; 4) I recently read an article trying to explain why people still call Catherine “Kate Middleton” and think their reasoning was incorrect (at least for me). So I thought I’d kill fours birds with one article and write up my personal thoughts on the subject.
The TL;DR answer to the headline question: name recognition. But it’s far more than Google searches and SEO. In order to fully explain why I still use the name “Kate Middleton”, I need to explain a little bit about my royal watching history.
I was never an avid royal watcher until several years ago. My first royal watching experience was when I saw my mom watching Princess Diana’s funeral in 1997 and wondered what was happening. My second royal watching experience was in 2004 when my mom brought home a UK paper from a business trip and it had a photo of Kate Middleton in a sheer dress in it and was comparing her to Diana. My third was hearing, in 2007, that Prince William and Kate Middleton had broken up. The next time I paid attention was in 2010 when I heard that they had gotten engaged. I watched the wedding in 2011, but hadn’t paid any attention to the lead up to it. I again stopped paying much attention until the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 when I became much more interested, but I didn’t follow too closely until after the Vegas and France photo scandals.
Since I hadn’t been paying much attention to the royals, in 2012 when the BBC America commentator said “The Duke of Cambridge”, I had a “Who the F is that?” moment before I saw William getting out of a carriage and realized the commentator was talking about Prince William. I literally had no idea that William’s title was “Duke of Cambridge”, meaning that over a year after she got married I literally had no idea Catherine’s title was “Duchess of Cambridge”.
While thinking about the headline question, I remembered going through my Facebook friends list recently and realized that what I thought while doing so is a similar situation to why I still refer to Catherine as “Kate Middleton”. Recently, I went through my Facebook friends list and unfriended anyone whom I didn’t remember or whose posts I no longer wanted to read. I had so many “Who the F is that?” moments while going through the list, not because I forgot all those people, but because so many of them were women I friended in high school who had since gotten married and changed their last names. I knew them by their maiden names and had no idea who they were with their married names because I hadn’t kept in touch with them. This is very similar to what happened to me, specifically, with Catherine.
I “met” Catherine when she was “Kate Middleton”, then “lost touch” with her until after she was married and going by “Duchess of Cambridge”, and by that time I had no idea who she was when using her married name. To me, she was still “Kate Middleton”, so that’s what I referred to her as – but it wasn’t in a “She’s still just the girl-next-door I grew up with” kind of way; it was in a “I haven’t been paying attention and don’t recognize your married name” kind of way.
I started this blog in June of 2013, and at that point I had been following the royals long enough to know that Catherine’s title was “Duchess of Cambridge” and that it was incorrect to refer to her as “Kate Middleton”, but to me she was still “Kate Middleton”. That’s the name that so many news outlets still referred to her as, that’s the name I knew her as, so that’s the name I used for the blog. It was a conscious decision to use her incorrect name, but the logical reasons behind my decision weren’t fully clear to me at the time.
Since I’ve been blogging, I’ve come to associate Catherine with “Duchess of Cambridge” and so it is easier for me to 1) recognize who people are talking about when they say “Duchess of Cambridge”, and 2) use the name myself. However, I still prefer to use the name “Kate Middleton”. So I had to ask myself “Why?”
In terms of blogging, yes Google searches and SEO play a part in why Catherine is still referred to as “Kate Middleton”. I don’t pay too much attention to SEO (and am probably doing it wrong), but I do notice that most of the search traffic I see in my blog analytics use the name “Kate Middleton” more than “Duchess of Cambridge”. When we’re talking about why news outlets still refer to Catherine as “Kate Middleton”, not only is it searches and SEO but it’s also consistency in tagging and archive articles and backlinks that you don’t want to 404. Catherine had a brand of “Kate Middleton” for many years before marriage so that name will forever stick around due to consistency in tagging and archives. That’s why Sofia’s category at the top of this article is still “Sofia Hellqvist”, because I started writing about her before she became “Princess Sofia”.
The most recent question I’ve gotten about this topic mentioned other royal women and how I don’t use their maiden names – I don’t say Sophie Rhys-Jones nor Camilla Parker Bowles. So that got me thinking about what I call other royals, and that brought back my question about Sofia: why was I so quick to jump from “Sofia Hellqvist” to “Princess Sofia”, but not from “Kate Middleton” to “Duchess of Cambridge”? But then I cycled around to what I actually do call Sophie and Camilla. I don’t call them “The Countess of Wessex” and “The Duchess of Cornwall” (their correct titles), I call them “Sophie, Countess of Wessex” and “Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall” (which is completely incorrect).
As married women, Sophie and Camilla should be called “The Countess of Wessex” and “The Duchess of Cornwall” – the female version’s of their husband’s titles. Only after the deaths of their husbands or divorce would they be called “Sophie, Countess of Wessex” and “Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall”. I know that what I call them is incorrect, just as I know what I call Catherine is incorrect, but I call them that anyway. But I call Sofia “Princess Sofia”. Why?
This brought my thought process to what I call the men. What do I call these women’s husbands? I do not refer to “The Prince of Wales”, “The Duke of Cambridge”, or “The Earl of Wessex” as such. I refer to them as “Prince Charles”, “Prince William”, and “Prince Edward”. For all of these blood royals, I refer to them by their first names, not their titles. Unlike for the spouses, the blood royals can be called by their first names without there being any sort of fuss, because they get to keep their first names even though they have titles (although it is proper to refer to them by their title). But for the spouses, they lose their first names entirely and take on the female version of their husband’s name and title only.
The way the British system works is that the royal spouse’s first name goes away and is replaced by the female version of the husband’s title or name. Catherine is no longer Catherine, she’s just “The Duchess of Cambridge”. Sophie is no longer Sophie, she’s just “The Countess of Wessex”. Camilla is no longer Camilla, she’s just “The Duchess of Cornwall”.
Although many people referred to Diana as “Princess Diana”, she was never “Princess Diana” and referring to her as such is even more incorrect than still referring to Catherine as “Kate Middleton”. During her marriage, Diana was “The Princess of Wales”, and after her divorce she was “Diana, Princess of Wales”.
In Sweden, however, spouses are given the Prince/Princess title before their first name, followed by the opposite form of their spouse’s title – “Prince Daniel, Duke of Västergötland”, “Princess Sofia, Duchess of Värmland” – rather than just the opposite form of their spouse’s title.
That brought me to the conclusion that the reason I dislike using the British royal spouse’s correct titles is because I’d be losing the person’s first name, which I dislike. One reason is that I dislike the idea that the person isn’t a person anymore, they are just a title – which for the women isn’t even theirs since it’s just the female version of their husband’s title. Another reason, which is similar, is that in losing the name I have no idea who we’re talking about. “The Duke” could refer to any of the current Dukes and “The Duchess” could refer to any of the current Duchesses, and the specific title could refer to any of the people who have occupied that title throughout history. The only way to know to whom we are referring is by context. Using the person’s first name is, to me, much easier.
I can guarantee that if Sofia were to use “The Duchess of Värmland” instead of “Princess Sofia” I would absolutely still be referring to her as “Sofia Hellqvist”.
That explains why I don’t use the correct titles for these women, but it doesn’t fully explain why I continue to call Catherine “Kate Middleton” when “Duchess Kate”/”Duchess Catherine” is an option. I’ve experimented with “Duchess Kate” in the past and from time to time still use that name, but it doesn’t resonate with me as much as “Kate Middleton”. On the scale of correct to incorrect names to refer to Catherine as, “Kate Middleton” is more correct than “Duchess Kate” since she was at one time known as “Kate Middleton” and “Duchess Kate” has never and will never be correct.
Without turning this into a debate about a woman changing her name upon marriage, I don’t think there is anything disrespectful in referring to a married woman by her maiden name if that is the name you most know them as, especially for a woman in the public eye like Catherine. I’m not calling Catherine rude names, and I’m not referring to her by her maiden name in some derogatory tone. Words have meaning, but it is tone more than negative words that convey negativity or hostility (which cannot be conveyed through text, so I understand the confusion). When I refer to Catherine by her maiden name, I am not doing so in a negative or hostile way, so I don’t think it is disrespectful to refer to her as such. There are a lot of names that Catherine gets called that are disrespectful, her maiden name is not one of them.
By the way, I’ve never seen anyone get upset that people still refer to William as “Prince William” when it is correct to refer to him as “The Duke of Cambridge”.
Name recognition is the short answer to why I still call Catherine “Kate Middleton”, but the long answer is a blend of “Kate Middleton” being the name I knew and most associated with her when I began this blog, not wanting to lose the person to the title and wanting to be specific about to whom I’m referring, and the fact that I don’t think it is disrespectful to continue to use that name, with a splash of searches and SEO thrown in. Other people have their own reasons for why they continue to call Catherine “Kate Middleton” even though she’s coming up on her sixth wedding anniversary, but those are the reasons I still do.