Increasingly, names are being chosen not to suit the children, but as a vehicle for their parents’ self-expression.
Apple. Shiloh. Kal-El. Blue Ivy. Harper Seven. Moxie Crimefighter. To this roster of inglorious celebrity baby names, we can now add Frank Skinner’s son, Buzz Cody. The proud father explains that the first was chosen for the astronaut, and the second for Buffalo Bill, the great showman. But still – Buzz Cody? It sounds like a sports drink.
Children’s names are one of the most fascinating, and revealing, topics there is. We’ve all felt a stab of horror and sympathy for a kid lumbered with a Thaddeus, Zebedee or (according to urban legend) Chlamydia. But it’s equally intriguing to track the rise and fall of more conventional names, and reach for explanations.
For example, is it thanks to our former prime minister that the name “Gordon” is near extinction? The Office for National Statistics recorded almost 1,200 Camerons in England and Wales in 2010, but only 10 Gordons. That puts it on a level with Alpha, Brock, Clive, Destiny, Horatio, Indiana, Lionel and Memphis, and not far above Peregrine, Deniro, Kazi and Timotei.
An especially interesting development is the middle-class fashion for retro kitsch, with old-fashioned names such as Alfie, Charlie, Lily and Florence among the fastest-growing. Perhaps this yearning for the past is a good thing. But isn’t there a hint of Cath Kidston tweeness in the hordes of young Ernests and Olivers, Esmes and Maisies? Some friends, or friends of friends, are coming up with names that wouldn’t be out of place in a PG Wodehouse novel. It’s not quite reached the Bertram Wilberforce (or even Pelham Grenville) stage, but it’s getting there.
Many people – especially the mothers and fathers of the double- or triple-syllabled infants in question – will say they have a perfect right to call their kids what they want. And that’s true, but only up to a point. If a parent’s first duty is to protect their children, doesn’t that duty include calling them something that doesn’t mark them out for a good thumping?
Increasingly, names are being chosen not to suit the children, but as a vehicle for their parents’ self-expression – and it’s the children who will pay the price. One of the fastest-growing names in America, for example, is Nevaeh. Maybe by the time all these babies are grown up, the name will be common enough for prospective employers to ignore the fact that it’s “heaven” spelt backwards. But I suspect that in the great race of life, they’ll be setting off with one leg manacled to the starting post.