A Telegraph journalist, Lucy Denyer, has written about how rubbish it is that people are calling their children stupid, made-up names. (Spoiler alert: I’m anti stupid made-up names.) Trouble is, while she hasn’t exactly gone the Fifi Trixibelle/Peaches route herself, she has called her son Atticus. And no, it’s not the friend of Cicero she had in mind; it’s the bloke from To Kill a Mockingbird. Difficult one, Atticus. Classical names like Titus, Marcus or Octavia do dangerously expose your child’s class background, increasing their chances of getting beaten up. On the other hand, I’m all in favour of Cornelius, which is obviously from the Acts of the Apostles, and was formerly a popular name in parts of Ireland – the BBC’s excellent racing correspondent, Cornelius Lysaght, is probably the last of the breed.
The peg for the piece wasn’t, as you might think, the naming of Princess Charlotte but a report from Goldman Sachs (and what, pray, is an investment bank doing sounding off about names?). It says that modern parents have seen off traditional names such as Michael in order to boost their ‘brand individuality’ with a made-up name. They’re right, you know. The priest in my home parish in Ireland was recently thrown when he had to baptise not one child but two in a single session, both as Bailey. Or rather as Bailey and Bayleig. God knows where the parents got it from. It makes my friends’ decision to call their child Attila seem rather humdrum.
The most radical and subversive thing you can now do is call your child John or Mary. There isn’t a single one of either in my children’s school. In fact, I’d like the serialisation of Wolf Hall to give us more Thomases. In Tudor times, Thomas was your default option – so we had Cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell and the author of Utopia all with the same name. John was the other default option – that was what Thomas More called his son; and you could take your pick of patrons, St John the Evangelist or the Baptist, though romantic sorts could go for Arthur. Girls were Margaret, Elizabeth, Mary or Alice, maybe Catherine. And what was true in Tudor times is true now: New Testament figures or saints, or their variants, give you all the choice you need. Anything else is superfluous. (And what’s wrong with Michael or Jonathan if you’re Jewish?) France had it right once: if a name wasn’t in the calendar of saints, forget it.
But the obvious caveat about the Goldman Sachs report is the one it would be in poor taste to mention. One of the most popular boy’s names in Britain doesn’t feature in the Times Most Popular; apparently it’s Mohammed, spelt however you like. Brand individuality possibly isn’t so much a Muslim thing.