Who Gave The Royal Family Their Last Name?
King George V—Queen Elizabeth II’s grandfather—declared in 1917 that he and his descendants would be using the surname “Windsor” from that point onwards. Up until that point, members of the royal family were referred to by their title, affixed with the name of the house they belonged to. Some of the most prestigious houses in English history include: the House of Tudor (Henry VIII), the Houses of York and Lancaster (the warring factions of the famous War of the Roses), and the House of Hanover (Queen Victoria).
For example, the full title of Queen Elizabeth II’s sister in this styling is: Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, of the House of Windsor.
At the height of the First World War, the general consensus of the people of England towards Germanic influences was sour. King George V knew that he had to disassociate himself from his house somehow, as the House he claimed of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (Germanic in origin) just didn’t sound quite English enough.
Thus, he decided to issue a decree that he is founding a house of his own. This became the House of Windsor, named after Windsor Castle. Windsor Castle was the royal family’s residence at the time and is currently Queen Elizabeth II’s preferred rest house on weekends. Also stated in King George V’s decree was that members of the royal family can now use “Windsor” as a surname if needed.
What Is The Queen’s Last Name?
There have been a handful of times where royals have not strictly adhered to this ruling. Queen Elizabeth II, in order to differentiate her descendants (through the male line) from the rest of the House of Windsor, revised her grandfather’s decree in 1960. In the revision, she stated that she and her descendants are to adopt the double-barrelled (hyphenated) “Mountbatten-Windsor” as a surname. This is because her spouse, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, was formerly Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten before he married into the English royal family.
Such decrees about the royal surnames are not considered to be part of “the law of the land”, unlike an Act of Parliament. Therefore, succeeding sovereigns are not bound or obligated to follow any naming tradition set by their predecessors.
Prince Harry’s Last Name? Prince William’s Last Name?
Travelling further down the Windsor family tree, this leniency of such royal decrees is especially apparent in the cases of Queen Elizabeth II’s famous grandsons; Prince Harry - Duke of Sussex, and Prince William - Duke of Cambridge.
When the two strapping lads entered school and joined the military, they both used the surname ‘Wales’ instead of their grandmother’s “Mountbatten-Windsor”. This is because their father (Prince Charles) is designated the Prince of Wales.
Prince George, son of Prince William and Kate Middleton, also follows this naming tradition: at school, he is enrolled as George Cambridge, after his father’s dukedom.
Exceptions To The Rule
Proclamations about the royal surname are often only applicable to members of the British royal family who do not have titles or inherited land. This is because using a landed royal’s title to refer to them is much more common in the media and popular culture. Even though Meghan Markle has become Meghan Mountbatten-Windsor through marriage, she is commonly referred to as Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. She is titled so because her husband, Prince Harry, was given the dukedom over Sussex on their wedding day. Even more popular is the usage of the name she used as an actress before marriage: simply, Meghan Markle.
This is also the case for Kate Middleton, who is a commoner and a public figure like her sister-in-law Meghan. Her official title is Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Her official married name could either be Catherine Mountbatten-Windsor (after the house she married into) or Catherine Wales (after her husband), depending on her liking. However, she is most commonly referred to as Kate Middleton.
In addition to the abundance of wealth and popularity, the Royals also get the luxury of choice over their own name too!
While they must adhere to some family traditions, there are a wide variety of colourful and royal last names in the family, and enough ancestral complexity to make your head spin.