In these trying times, the universe has seen fit to gift us with two royal events: the engagement of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, followed closely by the release of The Crown, Season 2 on Netflix.
After bingeing the show in a matter of days, and with the date of the upcoming of the upcoming royal marriage between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle now confirmed for May 19, 2018, I've been wondering: Do members of the royal family, mostly referred to by their titles and first names, actually have last names? And if so, what will Meghan's be?
It turns out that the British royal family has somewhat of a fraught relationship with last names — or surnames as they're known across the pond. Until 1917, they didn't have one at all. There were dynasties — like the Plantagenets, the Yorks, the Tudors, the Stewarts, and the Hanovers, clans or "Houses" who had fought for their claims to the throne over hundreds of years — but the senior members of the royal house didn't really use them for identification purposes.
That changed when George V (Queen Elizabeth II's grandfather), who was from the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, decided that amid the carnage of World War I, which pitted Britain against Germany, a German-sounding surname would give the wrong impression to all the families who had sent their sons to the front. By royal decree, the family was hereby to be known as Windsor, after Windsor Castle built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror, and a symbol of British power. In addition, George V also specified that the name "Windsor" wouldn't just be applied to the dynasty, but also be used as an actual royal surname.
The reason the original name sounded German is because it was. In 1714, Queen Anne died without an heir, leaving somewhat of a vacuum in the succession. Since Catholics could no longer inherit the British throne, due to the Act of Settlement of 1701, the closest Protestant relative available was the German Elector of Hanover, who became King George I.
By the time of Queen Victoria's ascension to the throne in 1837, the royal family was still closely tied to their German-speaking relatives — Prince Albert, her husband and consort, gave the royal house its new surname of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, the name of the duchy he came from.
The symbolic nature of the name "Windsor" came into question once again when Queen Elizabeth II came to the throne in 1952. As a private citizen, she had been known as Elizabeth Mountbatten (the surname Prince Philip had taken when he renounced his Greek citizenship in order to marry the heir to the British throne), but as Queen Elizabeth, her last name would also be the one passed down to the future monarchs of her line. It's a debate we see play out quite fiercely in the first season of The Crown between Elizabeth (Claire Foy), and Philip (Matt Smith), who tries to argue that he'll be the only man in Britain whose children don't bear his last name.
In the end, a compromise was reached: while the royal House would continue to called Windsor, descendants of the queen would use Mountbatten-Windsor as their last name when needed.
So, assuming Meghan Markle (whose first name is actually Rachel) actually changes her surname — which, in 2017, isn't a given — her new full name upon marriage will be along the lines of Rachel Meghan Mountbatten-Windsor — has a nice ring to it, no? Her formal title will be Princess Henry of Wales, and it is rumored she will also become HRH the Duchess of Sussex.
Click through for a look into the last names of the various branches that make up the British royal family tree.