Prince George of Cambridge is almost certainly going to sit on the throne of Great Britain as king one day. At the moment, though, he’s just a cute little boy. What’s more, he’s also one of the few people allowed to speak to Queen Elizabeth II using something other than her name or “Your Majesty.” And now George’s mommy Kate Middleton has revealed exactly what the little prince does call his famous great-grandmother.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the British royals do have official titles by which they are intended to be called. For example, although George’s parents Prince William and Kate Middleton are often referred to as “Wills and Kate” by the media, it would be a huge faux pas to dub them as such to their faces. For instance, although Kate doesn’t mind being called either by that name or by Catherine, officially she’s Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. Her husband, in turn, is Prince William, Duke of Cambridge.
And after William and Kate got married, they therefore knew that their first child would be either a Prince or Princess of Cambridge. However, when it came down to providing an heir to the throne, it didn’t actually matter whether the couple had a boy or a girl. That’s because, ahead of George’s birth in July 2013, Britain’s parliament passed a new law that allowed the oldest royal child to become monarch regardless of their gender.
As it turned out, though, Kate and William’s first child was born a boy. Prince George was delivered on July 22, 2013, in the same hospital where both his father and his uncle Prince Harry had been born. And as soon as the news broke that a healthy baby had been brought into the world, the crowds outside the hospital erupted into cheers and celebration.
Then, the name announcement came: the new arrival would be called George Alexander Louis. And that moniker is full of significance to the royal family, it seems. George’s first name is a reference to that of the Queen’s father, King George VI, for example. Meanwhile, Alexander is thought to be a nod to the Queen’s middle name, Alexandra, while Louis is also one of Prince William’s middle names.
It’s perhaps fair to say, too, that Prince George has since spent a lot of time in the spotlight. The world has certainly looked on as he has grown from a baby into a toddler, and interested parties have also observed all the engagements and events that George has attended. Indeed, in just the first four years of his life, Prince George has experienced more than the majority of other children his age.
The future king has met Barack Obama and shook his hand, for one. He’s also journeyed across the world to New Zealand and Australia and has attended multiple Trooping the Color ceremonies with his family by his side. And during some of those occasions, he’s also been photographed alongside his great-grandmother Queen Elizabeth II.
Queen Elizabeth herself is as private about her relationship with her great-grandchildren as she is about many things to do with her family. After all, it wouldn’t do for the Queen of England to splash her personal life all over the newspapers and internet. Still, we do know a couple of things about the bond between her and George: we know his nickname for her, for one.
Kate Middleton let that particular juicy tidbit slip in a U.K. television special made for Queen Elizabeth’s 90th birthday in 2016. There, the duchess discussed how the Queen adored her great-grandchildren, even leaving George and Charlotte gifts in their room whenever they visited her. Then, Kate revealed, “George is only two-and-a-half, and he calls [the Queen] Gan-Gan.”
Why Gan-Gan? Well, possibly because it sounds exactly like the word you’d get if you asked a two-year-old to pronounce “great-grandmother.” But, as it happens, that may not be the real reason after all. Indeed, royal biographer Kitty Kelley has claimed in her books that calling the eldest royal woman “Gan-Gan” is actually a tradition that goes back years. It turns out that Prince Charles called his great-grandmother that, as did Princes William and Harry.
However, Prince William once had a very different nickname for his grandmother, the Queen. According to Daily Mail columnist Richard Kay, two-year-old William once fell over at Buckingham Palace and started sobbing that he wanted “Gary.” When someone asked who Gary was, however, the Queen explained that she was Gary, because “[William] hasn’t learned to say Granny yet.”
Of course, William did eventually learn how to say “Granny,” and now apparently both he and Prince Harry call the Queen that in private. But non-members of the royal family would likely get a withering look if they ever dared to be just as informal. That’s because, when meeting the monarch, guests are instructed to use the terms “Your Majesty” or “Ma’am.”
There have been quite a few amusing royal family nicknames over the years, though. And while, naturally, the royal family doesn’t talk about them to the press, they’ve nevertheless leaked out thanks to journalists and biographers. Prince Philip, husband to Queen Elizabeth, has perhaps the best name for her out of all of them: it’s said that he calls her “cabbage.”
This detail came to public attention after the 2006 movie The Queen, starring Helen Mirren as the titular monarch. That film features one scene where Philip turns to Elizabeth as the pair are in bed and says, “Move over, cabbage.” And writer Peter Morgan spoke to The Times about the nickname at the time of The Queen’s release. “I inquired in royal circles and was told on very good authority that that is what the duke sometimes calls the Queen,” he revealed.
And Robert Lacey, a biographer to the Queen, backed up Morgan’s claim. Lacey said, “Yes, I’ve heard that is how [Prince Phillip] will sometimes refer to [the Queen].” he said. As for the reasoning behind the name? Well, The Times has speculated that it comes from a French term of endearment, “mon petit chou,” which roughly translates to “my little cabbage.”
But, “Gan-Gan” and “cabbage” aren’t the only nicknames for the Queen. Another arose in her childhood, when the then Princess Elizabeth apparently couldn’t pronounce her first name. So she took to calling herself “Lilibet,” and her close friends and family soon started using that, too.
However, a more patronizing nickname came from Elizabeth’s uncle, the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated the throne in 1936. In letters he wrote to his wife Wallis Simpson, he referred to his niece condescendingly as “Shirley Temple” because of her curly hair. The duke also called the Queen Mother “Cookie,” as he thought that she resembled a cook.
The Queen may hold the crown, then, for the most-nicknamed member of the royal family. Since she’s the matriarch, it’s hardly surprising. But she may yet gain another moniker when Prince George grows a little older. After all, though the Queen is 91 years old, she’s still got a lot of life left in her, and she’s no doubt looking forward to developing her relationship with her great-grandchild.
Meanwhile, the Queen did let something slip about the royal children when she met a young girl in January 2018. When the monarch asked if the ten-year-old child looked after her six-year-old sister, the girl’s mom answered, “It’s the other way around.” To which Queen Elizabeth replied, “It’s like that with Charlotte and George.” And of course, she would know.
And, of course, the Queen is set to meet another great-grandchild in April 2018, when William and Kate’s third baby is due to be born. The month after that, meanwhile, Prince Harry will marry his fiancée Meghan Markle, and the two of them may also elect to start a family. So chances may be that, before too long, the Queen will have a whole palace full of children calling her “Gan-Gan.”