What’s in a name? A lot, of course — especially when it’s a royal baby name. Britain’s Duke and Duchess of Sussex, also known as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, announced the birth of their son on Monday. With photos not expected until later this week, attention has turned to the baby’s name and possible title. Some have speculated that Meghan and Harry, a couple widely seen as comfortable bucking tradition, might eschew titles for their offspring.
But in this instance, it would actually be more unconventional if Harry and Meghan seek to make their son a royal prince. Meghan first broke barriers as a divorced mixed-race American actress marrying into the royal family. Their son is the first mixed-race baby born into close succession to the throne, so the title of royal prince could hold significant symbolism.
Accordingly, as the great-grandson of a sovereign, the new baby Sussex is too far removed to be automatically styled a prince or princess. In 2012 — months before Harry’s older brother, Prince William, and his wife, Kate Middleton, welcomed their first child — Queen Elizabeth II issued an exception that allowed all the children of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge to be styled as royal princes and princesses. Because no exception has been announced for the Sussex children, many expect Harry and Meghan’s son to be known as the Earl of Dumbarton, one of the subsidiary titles bestowed on Prince Harry before his wedding last May, when the queen also styled him the Duke of Sussex.
There is, however, recent precedent for opting not to have a title. The queen’s daughter, Princess Anne (Harry’s aunt), declined courtesy titles for her children, who are known as Mr. Peter Phillips and Ms. Zara Tindall. “I’m very lucky that both my parents decided to not use the title,” Tindall said in a 2015 interview, “and we grew up and did all the things that gave us the opportunity to do.” While Tindall and her brother attended royal events such as the sovereign’s annual birthday parade, there was no question that they were private individuals.
With Harry sixth in line to the throne — behind his father, brother and his brother’s three children — the Sussexes are thought to have some leeway to break with tradition when it suits them. There have been minor shifts (the new duchess baked banana bread on their first overseas royal tour as a gift for one of their hosts, for example), along with more symbolic gestures, such as their wedding service featuring a passionate sermon from the first African American leader of the U.S. Episcopal Church and a performance by a gospel choir. Their decision to initially keep the birth details private and forgo an immediate post-birth photo also broke with recent custom.
“We’ve heard from several sources on both sides that the couple really hopes to forgo the formality of royal titles,” royal correspondent Omid Scobie said last month in an On Heir podcast about the newest royal baby.
Notably, Harry admitted in a 2017 interview that at one point he had “wanted out” of his public life as a member of the royal family and that he had relished his time in the military, when “I wasn’t a Prince, I was just Harry.”
But Harry has since dedicated himself to life as a working royal. He and Meghan are, respectively, president and vice-president of the Queen’s Commonwealth Trust. They recognize the global interest in themselves and the attention that their high profiles can draw to charitable causes.
This couple also understands the power of optics; Meghan’s coat of arms features three quills, chosen to emphasize the importance of communication to the duchess, as well as a songbird. They famously used elements of their wedding to celebrate not only the traditions into which Meghan was marrying but also her mixed-race heritage.
An unconventional couple doing the opposite of what is expected — in this case, to forgo a royal title — would be the more radical action. They could decide, as working members of the royal family who are proud to support the monarchy, that they want their son to have a full royal title to celebrate that aspect of his heritage.
Their child is part-African American and the first mixed-race member of the British royal family born close to direct succession to the throne. Their thinking might be: We want to celebrate our first biracial prince. Or: We want our child to share the style of his royal highness with which his parents and royal cousins are known. Or: If his grandfather, the heir to the throne, were king, baby Sussex would already be entitled to the rank of prince.
For the Duke and Duchess of Sussex to buck convention in this way would be highly unexpected — but also understandable.