Wednesday 21 February 2018

The name game

Naming your baby is a fun but potentially risky business. Should you play it safe or go for a name that will make your little one unique and different? Bernice Mulligan looks at the baby-naming trends in Ireland currently, and how pop culture is influencing our choices

Bernice Mulligan

WHEN it comes to naming children, most people fall into one of two camps. Either you’re a traditionalist who favours strong, classic names that won’t cause your child to be teased in the playground, or you’re an individ­ualist/rebel who wants a baby name that will stand out from the crowd.

Rock stars and actors tend to fall into this latter camp, causing a collective gasp of breath when they declare to the world the ridiculous moniker they’ve chosen for their newborn. (Who can forget Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s choice of ‘Apple’ for their firstborn daughter, or the triple whammy of Fifi-Trixibelle, Peaches and Pixie chosen by Paula Yates and Bob Geldof?)

However, according to recent Central Sta­tistics Office figures, while the more unusual names are certainly out there – Taylor, Zuz­anna, Kacper and Jakub all feature in the top 100 names of 2008 – those that make the top five tend to be slightly more conservative.

The top five names for boys in 2008 were: Jack, Seán, Conor, Daniel and James – exactly the same as in 2007 – while, for girls, the top five names were: Ava, Katie, Sarah, Emma and Emily, with Ava having risen from number six in 2007.

The rise of the name Ava has been pretty spectacular – it was ranked a mere 23rd in 2003 – and while the immediate association is with Hollywood icon Ava Gardner, one can’t help wondering whether there’s also some connection between it and current starlet Eva Longoria-Parker of Desperate Housewives fame. (Sure, she spells it differently, but she pro­nounces it in the same Spanish way, ‘Ay-vah’.)

And then there’s the pretty name Ella. It enj­oyed its highest position ever in 2007, com­ing in at number three, but dropped to num­ber 12 in 2008. Its celebrity fans include Ryan Tubridy, whose daughter bears the name,

‘Irish names are on the rise, particularly those with complex spelling or those that are a bit unusual, such as Fionn or Aifric’

although one wonders could Barbados bea­uty Rihanna have affected its popularity last year with her rather irritating Umbrella song?

The celebrity connection may sound trite, but it is very real. In an RTÉ radio documen­tary, One Hundred Years of Names, a nurse in the Rotunda notes that after Britney Spears’ son Jayden was born, the popularity of this name rose dramatically. (In 2003, for exa­mple, Jayden was ranked 649th most popu­lar boys’ name in the country; in 2008 it had risen to 54th). Although she admitted it ten­ded to be “very young mums” who opted for it.

I can certainly identify, having grown up in an era when a plethora of Charlenes and Kylies abounded. (Home and Away and Neighbours were very popular at the time).

Another interesting thing that arose from the documentary was the fact that the revival of Celtic names is a relatively recent phenomenon, mainly dating back to the Sixties and Seven­ties. So, for example, if you look up the name Seán in the 1911 Census records (now online), you will find just a handful of examples, which is quite amazing given that it is the second most popular name in the country currently, and the most popular in the Dublin region!

In 2008 there were four Irish boys’ names in the top 10: Seán, Conor, Ryan and Cian, but just one female name, Aoife. Having said that, if you go further down the list, an abun­dance of Celtic girls’ names begin emerg­ing: Ciara, Niamh, Sive, Roisin, Saoirse, Aisling and Aoibheann, to name just some.

According to the documentary, Irish names are on the rise, particularly those with com­plex spelling (Orlaith is moving up the top 100, whereas Orla is moving down) or those that are a bit unusual, such as Fionn or Aifric.

Looking down the list, I can’t help but make the celebrity connection once again. The name Ruby was at number 21 in 2008, a rise of 153 places in just five years. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Charlotte Church and Gavin Henson gave their child this name back in 2007, or that the uber-cool Kaiser Chiefs had a huge hit with the song Ruby in the same year?

However, there are, of course, the victims of baby-naming fashion. In the late middle ages, the name Mór (meaning great or big) was very popular for a woman. Although given the 21st­century obsession with being skinny, it’s diffi­cult to see that one making a comeback. And then there are the saints’ names such as Brid­get. This has gone from being one of the most popular female names in the country (we all have an auntie or granny called Bridget) to a victim of tastes in the 21st century. In fact, it doesn’t even feature in the 2008 top 100 list.

Finally, when choosing a baby name, a test has been suggested as to its appropriateness. This involves trying it out in a number of situa­tions, ie: ‘Can X come out to play?’; ‘I love you, X’; and ‘We’re considering X for a promotion’.

If the name works in all three situations, then you’re probably onto a winner. If not, you might want to revisit that stash of baby books on your bedside locker. After all, do you really want to be like Jordan when she shouts: ‘Princess Tiaamii, come in for your tea!’?

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