The joyful delivery of a baby girl to Prince Harry and Meghan is lovely news. But it has been lost, ever so slightly, in the couple’s naming choice: Lilibet Diana Mountbatten-Windsor.

I don’t think they had any say in the surname, so let’s stick with the forenames. Lilibet is, of course, the Queen’s nickname; not, as you might suppose, a contraction of Elizabeth that only posh people use, but rather what she called herself when she was too young to pronounce her own name. Only George VI, the Queen Mother, Princess Margaret and Prince Philip used it. “Lilibet is my pride. Margaret is my joy,” the king was quoted as saying, evidently having not caught up with the parenting manual that says you are really supposed to keep the identity of your favourite child to yourself. When Prince Philip died, the nickname died with him.

So, was it sensitive or insensitive for Harry to revivify it so soon? This is the question that is occupying the royal watchers, along with: is this an olive branch to the family, a reminder that underneath all the feuding lie real, human relationships? Or is it a defiant statement: you can’t evict me from the family, because it is not a house, or even a collection of gigantic houses; it is a family. Or is it somehow a combination of the two – and is that even possible?

But what is a royal watcher, anyway? Their expertise is the weapons-grade fawning; the watching, any of us could do. What if they are asking the wrong questions? Because there are two parts to this name: yes, there is Lilibet, but there is also Diana. Plainly, the couple have chosen the two most different members of the family, each embodying a diametrically opposite culture, and named their daughter after both of them. It could be that they are trying out something quite inventive, a monarchical third way.

The Queen is synonymous with a powerful sense of duty. Duty is an outcome rather than an input, but it is possible to infer character from it — rigidity, obedience, reticence, self-effacement, an absolute horror of showing emotion.

Diana, Princess of Wales, meanwhile, was emphatically not rule-bound; really, her only duty as the wife to the heir of the throne was to produce young and stay married, and she flamed out spectacularly on the second.

What was much more discomfiting within the royals and to the public, though, was that she wasn’t emotionless. You could see the feelings running riot all over her face, from the beseeching eyes to the wistfulness. There were glimpses of mirth, sorrow, boredom. Has any royal’s face ever been so damn legible?

432 Lilibet Diana b Gtres

It was never clear whether these feelings were genuine or part of a complicated PR long-game — but they certainly weren’t hidden. It caused a lot of rancour, since she accrued the world’s attention that way — after all, it is much more interesting to look at a person who is feeling a thing than someone who is not – and was cast within the family as an attention-seeker. Attention-seekers are annoying in any family, but they are poison to a family whose operating model is “we didn’t ask for any of this, we’re just doing our duty”. Having Diana around, with those great pools of emotion she called eyes, was an unsettling reminder that people, even under all that pomp, might still act like people.

Between the charity work and the tacit demands of her office, it is very hard to say what the Queen actually cares about. Dogs and horses, certainly; she is passionate about the Commonwealth, although it is unclear what about the Commonwealth inspires her passion (the memories of dominion? The beaches? The many cuisines?). People project views and behaviours onto the Queen, sometimes strategically — recall the Sun claiming her as an ardent Brexiter — and sometimes just to fill the void. There is no record of the Queen having any political or intellectual agenda.

Diana, conversely, was not just overtly political, but also radical in her choice of causes. Her work with the Halo Trust, the anti-landmine charity, started in Angola in January 1997, only months before her death. 

The impact was more or less immediate: in the autumn of that year, the international mine ban treaty came into force and has been signed by hundreds of countries that previously would have opposed it, not least the UK. It is the kind of impact that an individual makes only as a maverick, a thorn in the establishment’s side. If Diana had been swimming with the current, she would have been one voice among many. So, did it make her a pioneer or a narcissist? Maybe all pioneers are narcissists.

Yet it was her work with HIV and Aids patients — which started in 1987 with the photo of her shaking hands, gloveless, with the patient Ivan Cohen and continued until her death – that flagged how truly unusual she was.

In their everyday lives – how they parented, the formality of their bearing – Lilibet and Diana offer contrasts that are a little melancholy. There is a video of the Queen arriving home from a long trip abroad, in which an absolutely tiny Prince Charles approaches and shakes her hand; to modern eyes, at least, it conveys worlds of distance and loneliness. It is understood that she bucked the aristocratic norm of outsourcing motherhood by the time it came to Prince Andrew, and that he was her favourite, but it is not possible to point to real-world evidence of this.

Diana was what psychologists might call a much more “attached” mother, but she was powerfully unhappy even by the time she was pregnant with Prince William, so there was never any sense that she was living the perfect-family dream. She rebelled against petty expectations – kicking off her shoes in the hair salon, wearing red cashmere maternity dresses – but she did not manage to find an alternative way of being royal that made the business any less draining.

432 Lilibet Diana Cordon

In the end, it is impossible to adjudicate on whose way of being makes more sense. We cannot know what kind of royal would make the institution more durable, more bearable, more coherent. All you can say is that they were as different as they could have been, and that this schism has been the gift that keeps on giving, a pinball of conflict that pings between the rest of the family with perpetual energy.

The putative feud between William and Harry, if it is really as bad as people say, can be read as a rerun of this clash — cold against hot, doing one’s duty versus questing for fulfilment. The obvious solution is for Harry and Meghan to become Diana ultras in the US while William stays in Britain and channels the Queen, but that amounts to the rift lasting for ever.

Maybe the newest family member’s name is an audacious act of hope — what if someone came along who was a bit of both? Who was capable of putting herself second to her role without losing her identity? Who could harness her star power for good? She might be a bit like Daenerys Targaryen without the dragons. Or maybe she is just a baby — and that is fine, too.