"For you are called plain Kate, and bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst, but Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom..." That's from Shakespeare's "Taming of the Shrew." While Kate the curst might not be accurate for Kate Middleton, it is Kate that is at issue -- still being called Kate Middleton might be her particular curse.
But is it one?
I had been thinking about this even before I wrote an article on Kate Middleton's new bangs (I know I know, that's another issue), but a charming comment on the piece made me realize it was time to address it: "Great... now can you call her by her correct name? Y'know... Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge?? She hasn't been "Middleton" for almost 2 YEARS now. Is it really that difficult to use her correct name and title??"
No, it's not, but there are extenuating circumstances.
I decided to address the feminist issue first and called Gloria Feldt, a renowned feminist leader and author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. I asked her about Kate Middleton still being called by her maiden name, and a funny thing happened: We both paused to consider the term "maiden name" -- it suddenly sounded so archaic.
The fact that few people bat an eyelash at calling Kate Middleton, well, Kate Middleton was, she thought, indicative of how thoroughly feminism has pervaded our culture.
And she laughed, remembering how hard she had fought to reclaim her "maiden name" after a divorce, only to realize that that name was her father's. Although she was happy to have it, "whatever name a woman chooses is a man's name," she mused.
Taking another tack, I contacted author Barbara Hannah Grufferman, who had written here on Huffington what I thought might be a relevant article, "Follow the French: Say Adieu to 'Miss'," especially the subhead: Is it OK to just let every woman choose for herself? What if she has chosen, but others continue to refer to her by a different and unwanted title? Barbara's response to the Kate Middleton conundrum? "Oh my god, I didn't even think about that. It doesn't seem weird at all!" So, it was less about the maiden name vs. married name vs. neutral name, and more an echo of Gloria Feldt's observation.
Gloria added, "Kate Middleton is seen more as a whole person; [she] established an identity for herself, so it's harder to separate that from her name."
I decided consulting a reputable British source was in order to confirm proper protocol (and to see if there is any wiggle room). William Hanson, Senior Etiquette Tutor at The English Manner was crystal-clear on the topic:
The title 'Her Royal Highness, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge' is correct. In conversation she is Her Royal Highness. David Cameron [recently] referred to her in a statement as 'Princess Kate'!!!!! She is not a princess, so this was very wrong on all grounds.
But if the British Prime Minister fell into that trap, what can be expected from a bunch of bumbling Americans? I poked around the web to see what she was being called. No surprise: Kate Middleton.
But there were varying hybrids. A December 5, 2012 New York Times article issued this correction: "In an earlier version of this piece, the duchess of Cambridge of was referred to as "Kate Middleton," her name before she was married."
And, although a Feb. 19, 2013 article in the same paper referred to her by her proper title, with the added clarification: "the Duchess of Cambridge, the former Kate Middleton," another piece a few days earlier referred only to her maiden name, so there doesn't seem to be a cohesive policy.
Some articles, like this Daily Mail piece on Feb. 18, cover all their bases by using every known way to address her; another a day later used her proper appellation but employed the unfortunate wording "the late Kate Middleton," instead of "former."
Circling back to Mr. Hanson (doesn't that sound so very Downton Abbey?): "It is a faux pas to refer to her with her Maiden Name (and apparently she doesn't like the name Kate and has never suggested anyone use it) and the press should respect correct form and use her correct title."
That adds another layer of complication -- she doesn't even like "Kate." Sure enough, in a December article discussing their impending family expansion, Prince William called her "Catherine" -- although Us magazine still used her maiden name.
The crux of the matter is two-fold. The biggest obstacle, as I see it, is this: Writing for the web demands recognition factor in the constant pressure for pageviews (because that's what ad rates are based on). To quote Javier Bardem's character in Skyfall, "It's exhausting!"
The recognition factor for Kate Middleton is exponentially higher than for the Duchess of Cambridge. Mention the latter alone and precious few will know who you're talking about. She was on the public stage for nearly a decade as Kate Middleton, so a mere wedding, despite all the pageantry and coverage, is not enough to dislodge the association.
Plus, for the pervasive short attention span, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is just too long; pair that with the penchant for abbreviating even the shortest of phrases to quasi-acronyms and we could end up with a horrific honorific like CaDoC. ONUD!
Mr. Hanson anticipated my thoughts when he said:
"I am sure in five years time she will not be known as Kate Middleton anymore, a bit like her step-mother-in-law is now known generally as Duchess of Cornwall, and not Camilla Parker-Bowles."
It could even be less than that -- I was thinking that the birth of the heir to the throne might cement her new title. And if it is a girl, since the succession laws were changed a little over a year ago, that girl will be the future queen, so she will never have to change her name.
Gerit Quealy writes on Style & Substance at NBC's StyleGoesStrong.com.