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updated 3/8/2011 2:21:25 PM ET 2011-03-08T19:21:25

Call her Kate, at least for now.

It may be years before Kate Middleton becomes queen, but questions are already being raised about the princess-to-be's preferred moniker: Queen Kate or Queen Catherine?

Image: Prince William and Kate Middleton visit Belfast
PAUL MCERLANE  /  EPA
Britain's Prince William and his bride-to-be Kate Middleton arrive at Belfast's City Hall, Northern Ireland. Although William has recently called her Catherine, when asked outside Belfast City Hall what name she preferred, Middleton said, “I'm still very much Kate.”
Ever since her engagement became official in November, palace officials — and her fiance, Prince William — have taken to calling her Catherine, the name used on the official, gold-embossed invitations to their nuptials at Westminster Abbey on April 29.

"Catherine" sounds more formal, regal and fitting for a future queen, experts say.

But Middleton herself may not embrace the change just yet. During a joint visit Tuesday with Prince William to Northern Ireland, Middleton mentioned casually that she thinks of herself primarily as Kate.

"I'm still very much Kate," said Middleton, when a woman outside Belfast City Hall asked what name she preferred.

The "Kate" versus "Catherine" debate has emerged in recent weeks because of William's switch in using it and because "Catherine" or the initial "C" is being imprinted on official wedding memorabilia and commemorative china.

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"I think that Catherine does have a more historic feel to it; there have been several queen consorts called Catherine in British history," said Charles Kidd, editor of the blue-blood bible Debrett's Peerage. "So Queen Catherine does sound quite familiar. It has a historic ring to it."

He said Kate also sounds pleasant but reminds him of the feisty character in "Kiss Me Kate," a Cole Porter musical that features William Shakespeare's play "The Taming of the Shrew."

"I imagine she'll be known as Catherine but the tabloids and majority of the press will continue to call her Kate, so in the general sense she'll be known as Kate," he said.

According to the official royal wedding website, which has already received more than 2 million visits since it started up last week, Middleton does not prefer one name over the other. It says Middleton used the name "Catherine" when she was growing up with her family but tends to use the more casual "Kate" in her professional life.

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"Miss Middleton uses both names equally, and she has never expressed a preference for either Catherine or Kate since her engagement," the website states.

Most of the British media still calls her "Kate," and headline writers are not expected to change.

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A spokeswoman for Prince Charles, who declined to be named according to palace protocol, would not comment Tuesday on Middleton's statement in Belfast. But she noted that Middleton's family and friends call her "Catherine" and that is her real name.

The late Princess Diana, William's mother, also had an informal nickname — "Lady Di" — that was too casual for formal court affairs, where she was called Her Royal Highness, The Princess of Wales. After her death, she became known as "The People's Princess," a phrase coined by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair.

No matter what she is called, Middleton and her beau showed true star power in Belfast, delighting an enthusiastic crowd on their first official visit to Northern Ireland. Police kept watch from the rooftops as the center of Belfast was brought to a standstill.

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William and Middleton were cheered outside Belfast City Hall as they took turns flipping a pancake, the traditional treat eaten on Shrove Tuesday, the day before the Catholic season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

"My little heart is beating 90 to the dozen after meeting Kate," said Gloria Lowry, from Carrickfergus. "She is absolutely beautiful and William so handsome. They make a perfect couple."

It was their third public outing in recent weeks, completing a circuit that has taken them to all parts of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Last month, the couple traveled to Wales and to Scotland.

On Monday night, Middleton, William and Charles made a private visit to Westminster Abbey to hear a full orchestra and a choir perform music that is being considered for the wedding ceremony.

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In Belfast, Middleton wore a double-breasted cream-colored belted coat with a ruffle hem, black tights and black high-heeled shoes. The prince wore a navy suit.

Rebecca Fletcher, 11, who took the day off school, called "Katie!" and offered a bouquet of daffodils.

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"You're a very lucky lady. I'm so jealous," the girl said.

"I am lucky," Middleton said. "He's a very nice man and I'm looking forward to spending the rest of my life with him."

Heather Lindsay, whose daughter Laura Ann is also getting married this year, brought "bride" and "groom" caps in the hope of getting William to wear one.

"He politely declined. He said his mother would not appreciate him wearing the hat," said Lindsay, from Killyleagh.

"I told Kate I am also planning for a big wedding as well. I told her not to lose any more weight. She laughed and said it was all part of the wedding planning," Lindsay added.

William and Middleton also toured Greenmount Agricultural College in Antrim outside of Belfast, where they were shown a herd of 30 prize Holstein dairy cows and taught how to rate cows.

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William drew laughs by comparing the qualities judges look for in cows to a dating website then refereed a tug of war between agricultural students.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Kate Middleton’s spot-on princess style

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  1. Princess style

    On the left, Princess Diana wore an elegant pink gown to the opera in Milan in 1985. Kate Middleton chose the same color halter dress for a Starlight Children's Foundation event in 2008.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Jayne Fincher/Getty; Davidson/O'Neill/Rex via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Whimsical hats

    Princess Anne of England matched a fun orange hat to her suit at the Ascot Racecourse in 2009, the same year Kate paired a matching hat with her lavender coat at the wedding of a British aristocrat. (Samir Hussein/WireImage; Indigo/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Equestrian chic

    Princess Charlotte Casiraghi of Monaco looked ready to ride in 2003 at the International Horse Jumping Show. Kate Middleton went for a similar look with tall riding boots and a crisp white skirt in 2007 at the Badminton Horse Trials.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Bruno Bebert/Rex; Rex USA InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Classic coats

    Princess Caroline of Monaco looked chic in a classic trench in London in 1973. The same style still looked fresh on Kate Middleton in 2008 as she watched Prince William receive his military pilot's wings. (Popperfoto/Getty; Michael Dunlea/AP via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Holiday wear

    Princess Diana wore a red coat and black hat on Christmas Day in 1993. Kate wore the same winning combination during the 2006 holidays.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Tim Graham Picture Library/Getty; Anwar Hussein Collection/ROTA/WireImage Photos via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Royal blues

    Crown Princess Mary of Denmark looked elegant in a teal gown at a birthday celebration. Kate Middleton looked equally regal in a blue halter at a charity gala in 2006. (Tim Rooke/Rex; JPI via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Black and white

    Princess Diana dressed in a chic black and white skirt suit at Royal Albert Hall in 1990. Kate dressed similarly to receive her diploma from the University of St. Andrews in 2005.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Tim Graham/Getty; Michael Dunlea/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Feathered hats

    Princess Diana wore a feathered hat for outing in Pembrokeshire in 1981, while Kate Middleton wore an almost-identical one to a wedding in 2006. (Jayne Fincher/Getty; Tim Graham/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Metallic gowns

    Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden wore a beautiful bronze silk gown to a banquet for the Danish Royals in 2007. Kate opted for an elegant chrome-colored gown for the annual Starlight Children's Foundation event in 2009.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Tim Rooke/Rex; Alan Davidson/Rex via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Feminine florals

    Queen Rania of Jordan chose a delicate floral dress for a Royal Military Academy parade in 2006. In 2007, Kate Middleton wore a similar carefree look on a walk through West London. (MJ Kim/Getty; Ramey Photo via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Fur hats

    Princess Marie Chantal of Greece wore a luxurious fur hat to the wedding of the Dutch Crown Princess in 2002. In 2006, Kate kept warm in a fur hat at the Cheltenham Races.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (UK Press/Getty; Tim Graham/Getty via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Polka dots

    Princess Diana looked glamorous in a red polka-dot dress at the premiere of "For Your Eyes Only" in 1981. Kate Middleton dazzled in the same pattern at the Chakravarty Polo Match in 2006. (Tim Graham/Getty; Rex via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Menswear

    Princess Diana went shopping at Harvey Nichols in 1995 wearing an understated neutral pant paired with a blazer. Kate Middleton dressed almost identically 10 years later out and about in London.

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    Kate Gosselin’s Style Evolution (Rex USA (2) via InStyle.com) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Image:
    Jayne Fincher/Getty; Davidson/O'Neill/Rex via InStyle.com
    Above: Slideshow (13) Kate Middleton’s princess style
  2. Mario Testino / Art Partner
    Slideshow (27) A royal couple’s long courtship

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