Wednesday 13 November 2019

'Jesus O'Toole and his cousin Elvis Byrne' - The new Irish baby names parents are hearing

One in five grandparents can't stand the names we choose for our children, according to a new survey. But are they right to disapprove, asks Ed Power

Food for thought: Chef Jamie Oliver shows off four-month old River Rocket
Food for thought: Chef Jamie Oliver shows off four-month old River Rocket

Ed Power

What's in a name? More than you might imagine, according to a UK survey which has revealed grandparents are often appalled at the "creative" monikers eager mothers and fathers bestow on their offspring. One in five grans and granddads can't bear to call their grandkids by their given names, the Mumsnet study found - with Lindsay, Tabitha and Elijah among the handles likely to raise their elderly ire.

"Choosing a baby name is fraught enough for parents if you're only taking into account your own views," said Mumsnet founder Justine Roberts. "If you add grandparents' biases to the mix it can become impossible, unless by some freakish chance you're all in agreement that the baby has Cedric written all over him."

As anyone with kids will testify, grandparents are fantastic - so long as they understand their place in the parent-child dynamic. While their advice is welcome (sort of), it's important they realise where their responsibilities end and that of the parent begins.

Nonetheless, the Mumsnet research lays bare an arguably worrying tendency to saddle kids with ever more exotic names. Forty years ago, Irish parents could give their little darlings whatever names they desired, provided those names were Sean, Connor, Mary or Siobhan. But today we're in the midst of a nominative arms race, with our playgrounds populated by a generation of Xanders, Taylors, Noahs and Indigos. Won't someone think of the children?

"There is a trend in Ireland for parents calling their babies more unique and unusual names," says Roberta von Meding, editor of Mums And Tots magazine. "I wonder if this originated with the rise of celeb culture: Blue Ivy (Jay Z and Beyonce's daughter), Apple and Moses Martin (the children of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin), not to mention Jamie Oliver's brood.

"We put up a post on the Mums And Tots magazine Facebook page asking parents to comment if their child had an unusual name. We got over a thousand comments! I couldn't believe some of them. I think the winner for me was Eagle-Eye."

Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani called their third child Apollo Bowie Flynn
Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani called their third child Apollo Bowie Flynn

This isn't to paint the past in a golden light. Irish parenting was as hidebound as every other aspect of life in this country for much of the 20th century. Even as recently as the 80s, it was hard to feel like much of an individual if you were one of three or four Seans or Marys in your class. But are we now swinging too far in the other direction? The latest baby name data suggests parents aren't so much thinking outside the box as stuffing the box with dynamite and blowing it sky high. All of a sudden, Apollo Bowie Flynn (Gavin Rossdale and Gwen Stefani) doesn't seem so absurd... well, not as much.

Aria, Harper, Heidi, Matilda, Willow and Zoey were among the new names appearing in the top 100 of Irish girls' names for the first time in 2016, the CSO reported. For boys, new entrants included Anton, Brodie, Cruz, Feilim, Harris and Riain. Also featuring on the countdown were Blake, Indigo, Lucia, Romy, Reidin and Peyton.

One issue is that names can often 'time-stamp' a child. In her book Bring Back Beatrice, author Jennifer Griffin argues that when in doubt, parents should opt for something traditional. That way, there is less chance of their offspring growing up synonymous with a short-term trend.

"Some parents," she writes, "dislike traditional names and want to go with something really cool, really different. Like Madison. What a great idea for a girl! It's so unusual that nobody else will have it. Except that many parents are thinking the same thing. And many of them are going to choose Madison as well. Heed the baby-naming cardinal rule - you can't go wrong with something traditional no matter how popular the name becomes. My belief is that you are better off being one of a crowd of Emmas than one of many Madisons."

Chris Martin with his son Moses
Chris Martin with his son Moses

So are grandparents who quietly take umbrage to unusual names in the right? Or is it more important children grow up feeling they are all individuals? Is it better to be the only Indigo in your school - or one of a handful of Lauras or Emmas? "I have a Juliet, age seven, who has her granny's middle name, Jane. We call her JJ for short," says Roberta von Meding of Mums And Tots. "Then we have a Robyn, age five. Her middle name is Summer which we thought was very pretty. My husband wanted her first name to be Summer but I thought it was a bit too hippy-dippy, flower-power…

"When I was growing up, it was hard being a Roberta in a sea of Sarahs, Kates and Marys - particularly when it came to having your name on a magnet or bookmark."

Hand in hand with this is a trend in Ireland towards more old-fashioned names, from hipsters choosing old Gaelic names to the upsurge in kids named Tom, Charlie, Jack etc. What's different is that, whereas a Charlie of 50 years ago might have begun life as Charles, today kids are often given the shortened name at the outset.

"There is also a throw-back to older names that your granny or great granny might have had - Mabel, Edith and Elizabeth," agrees Von Meding.

Beyonce and Jay Z named their daughter Blue Ivy
Beyonce and Jay Z named their daughter Blue Ivy

"Coming back into fashion for girls are old English names - Daisy, Lilly, Daphne are popular. For boys, James is still top of the shop," says Erika D'Alton of Pregnancy & Parenting. "Parents now are concerned that their little ones are not ribbed or bullied in school by silly names and are reverting to the traditional. Irish names for both boys and girls are still very strong.

"I once was in a clinic with my own little girl when two babies' names were called out. One was Jesus O'Toole and his cousin Elvis Byrne - I still wonder, after all these years, how those boys fared in life with such fancy names."

Irish Independent

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