What’s in a name?

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just published a couple of lists detailing the most popular names for babies in England and Wales. I can’t say I’m a big fan of many of them though it’s worth noting from the outset that at least we’ve got past our bleak national fad of calling too many children Liam and Britney and Dwayne and Kai and Lacey and Kayden; and on and on and on is where that list could go. Those names make Chardonnay seem ever so cosmopolitan.

Let’s have a quick look anyway and see what we can see. Top for girls is Olivia, which is quite a nice name but now it’s all over the place so people will go off it soon enough. Then there’s Isla, Ava, Ella and Mia. You can just hear them ringing out in every supermarket and café and airport across the land. “Don’t touch that, Ava” (sorry, Ava is just a shit name that means absolutely nothing), “aren’t you a clever princess, Mia?” (unlikely, if the parents have to say it out loud in public), “Ella, it’s not nice to point at people with Down’s?” or “Isla, my darling, what have you done with Mummy’s inhaler?”.

Baby names tell you much more about the parents than the baby. A couple that name their child Mia will be exactly the kind of couple that we’re both imagining right now. And they’ll have a very clear idea of the kind of child they’ll want her to become (when she turns out to have ADHD and destroys her mother’s wedding dress with some pinking shears they’ll be devastated). And that kind of couple are only a few wisps of DNA away from others who call their kids Ella and Isla.

Amelia (at No 2) is, if anything, the most pretentious in the top 10. It’s one of those names that echoes down the streets of Hampstead at 4.45pm every weekday and in every branch of Oliver Bonas and Cath Kidston at the weekends. To my mind the only 2 names that even seem properly normal are Jessica and Emily. I like the name Isabella because I have to. Or do I?

And so to the boys. I looked up my real first name in writing this and was quick to learn that it’s about as well loved as testicular cancer these days. But in a way that’s fine, I’d always much prefer to have a better chance of not having the same name as the person next to me on a train.

“What’s your name?”
“No way, me too!”

Ubiquitous and super popular names have only one direction and that is down. Who’d want to be a Dave or a John or a Mike or a bitter man with a issue with other people’s names? Just as girls names are reaching back to some lost Edwardian yesteryearland (Downtown’s fault?) so the boys list is filling up with characters from an Enid Blyton book. Parents attempting to recapture their rose tinted youth. Oliver, Harry, Thomas, George and Oscar all reek of couples desperate to create their perfect image of an adorable son just by waving a name at them. I have never met an Oscar that wasn’t a total prick. “Stop that, Oscar”, “where have you put Daddy’s epilepsy pills Oscar?”, “don’t go under there Oscar”, “Oscar! Is that your name you spoilt little sh*t? Well f*ck off and do that somewhere else”.

Then there’s Charlie, the boy they hope will turn out to be a generally well behaved little chap but with a little cheeky side to him. A loveable, punch-able rogue. Charlie’s up there with Alfie and Archie and those other names parents pick because they seem to have a nostalgic fondness for music hall entertainment and spivvy, east end black market traders. I wonder if the name Bruce will get a shot in the arm next year.

It also seems that religious names are coming back. Noah and Jacob are all very well but I’ll be buggered if I’d want to talk to either of them at a kids birthday party – “well Noah is taking his Applied Maths GCSE 3 years early and Jacob has a part in that new ITV drama about Jimmy Savile”. I also see that Muhammad has crept into the list too, which is great and nicely represents the all-embracing multicultural British dream. As long as he doesn’t turn out to be a van driving Muhammad. Or an exploding Muhammad.

Beyond the lists there are also a worryingly large number of parents who are naming their children after characters from Game of Thrones. I presume that they believe this to be the epitome of middle class hipster cool (or just lazy and unimaginative) but it’s actually the epitome of being a pair of clueless dicks. Some poor kid will end up working in McDonalds and wondering how on earth they managed to have Khaleesi or Daenerys typed out on their badge above a solitary star that will never be multiplied. Just imagine if you had grown with the name of your parent’s favourite character from Star Trek or Baywatch. Sorry if you did.

I pity them almost as much as those new born children who are cradled in their parents warm, loving arms and christened, with no thought of cruelty, Stan or Mildred. Or Destiny. Or Kacey. Or Kenzie. Or Painton. And on and on and on. In the end a bad name is a bad name and you’re either lucky or you’re not. It just seems a shame that you don’t get to choose.

G B Hewitt. 22.09.2017

Ps – fastest rising boys name this year? Jaxon. F*ck me.

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