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The name game

12 August 2013

1:59 PM

12 August 2013

1:59 PM

The ONS have published its list of popular names, and so it’s time for that annual ritual of debating whether Mohammed, if you include all eight spellings, is really the most popular name in Britain. It depends; if you include spelling variations in a name, do you also include diminutives, in which case Oliver and Ollie, and Henry and Harry, outnumber all Mo’s. But then diminutives are sort of separate names where variations are not, Isabella, Lisa and Jack all having started as diminutives, now surely names in their own right.

Why on earth does this pedantry pop up? Whether you think Mohammed tops the list says a lot about your view of Muslim immigration, whether it is all part of the natural tapestry of English history (the Huguenots, Mary Seacole, zzzzz) or alternatively the Muslamics are taking over with their ray guns.

Perhaps a more important issue is class, so that the rise of Jayden and Jenson also speaks a lot about the way that names have become class-distinctive in England for the first time since the 12th century.

It’s always puzzled me why people choose to inflict on their children names that are surely likely to incur a huge disadvantage throughout life, whether it’s ghetto names or very unusual, bohemian ones. The problem with the latter, popular among middle-class Londoners, is that the parents imprint a huge mark on their offspring, rather than an opportunity to decide their own destiny. Call your child Elizabeth and they can be Liz, Bess, Betty, Beth or a dozen other variations; call them Apple and that’s it.

But having an unusual, or ethnically different, name may be a slight advantage in the age of Google. We chose James for our son, after my uncle, so that he has a rather conventionally common name (there are many mildly well-known James Wests, the most famous having invented the traffic light), but his middle name Carlos (after my other maternal uncle) at least allows him some Google-distinctiveness, if he uses it. We’re thinking of a third name, but haven’t agreed on anything, my wife vetoing my suggestion of Ragheed, after the inspiring Iraqi martyr Fr Ragheed Ganni. She worries he’ll get teased.

That’s another thing you have to think about – unusual names may be fine in the local primary school, but come the first day of the comp it could get difficult. Posh bohemian names are sort of class signifiers in this way, suggesting that the carrier’s parents don’t have to worry about such trifles.

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