Monday 25 March 2019

What's in a name?

Names fall in and out of fashion and finding the right moniker for your little one can be a struggle. Arlene Harris gets the expert advice on how to pick the right one for your baby

The name game: Those with very common names feel that they ‘aren’t unique enough’ Stock image
The name game: Those with very common names feel that they ‘aren’t unique enough’ Stock image
Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle

Arlene Harris

There was a time when every Irish classroom had its fair share of Josephs, Gerards, Marys and Margarets. Now, these names are rarer than hens' teeth. Recent research by Ancestry.ie highlighted the names that have become practically 'extinct' in Ireland, including Donald and Garrett for boys and Sheila and Doris for girls. Shorter forms of names have also become the norm, such as Alex instead of Alexander and Kate instead of Katherine. The most recent CSO statistics revealed that Emily takes the number-one spot for most popular girls' name in Ireland and Jack jumped from second place in 2016 to top of the list in 2017.

James and Daniel are next in line for male names while the next favourite female names are Emma and Amelia.And, indeed, with Harry and Sophie making the top ten for the past few years, it seems that Irish parents are now looking towards British royalty when naming their new babies.

Of course, the gender of their baby is yet unknown as is the potential name of the seventh in line to the throne, but there is no doubt that whatever the Duke and Duchess of Sussex (aka Harry and Meghan) decide to call their unborn child, this time next year, there will be more than a few Irish babies with the same name.

It's not a problem if the child is called something standard, but there have been cases where parents have been banned from landing their children with absurd titles - such as the twins who were almost named Fish and Chips, and other bizarre names, which include Lucifer, Sex Fruit and the ludicrous: Talula does the Hula from Hawaii.

Generally, most people are more conservative with their name choices, but most try to be somewhat individual. However, while parents may be delighted with their choice, their offspring might not be so grateful in years to come.

Professor Helen Petrie, from the University of York, says people with unusual names have a really hard time when they are young, while those with very common names feel that they 'aren't unique enough'.

So, the key arguably is to try to choose something which is middle of the road, and these days, it couldn't be easier with a whole host of online sites dedicated to finding the right name, as well as traditional baby name books and even the means to search through your family tree to perhaps choose the name of a distant ancestor.

Child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell, says there is a big difference between parents naming their children what might be considered uncommon and giving names that are strange.

"Many historical or traditional names are unusual and parents' choices should be respected," he says. "Some wish to honour their culture or a family tradition and go with a name or a less common spelling to reflect that. But sometimes, parents choose names that are whimsical or associated with a celebrity - here they should stop and reflect on how that name will sound in years to come.

"Having said that, all names go out of fashion and some become 'extinct'. I think it would be unacceptable if parents were pressured into naming their children more common or anglicised names just to suit others' biases; parents should feel comfortable choosing the name or a spelling that feels right, whether that's opting for the extra silent consonants in traditional Irish spellings or going with a name that reflects a family's non-Irish heritage."

The Wexford-based expert says if parents feel their child or others around them are not respecting their name choice, they shouldn't despair but should remember why they chose it in the first place.

"I wouldn't advise parents to avoid any name, but maybe a name being in the number-one spot for a few years is a good reason to pick something different to avoid the confusion of seven Jacks and eight Emilys (which are still both great names) in the one classroom. If a child has a name that is common or they just don't like it, I would tell parents not to have any regrets. Instead, tell your child how much and why you loved their name when choosing it, and focus on the connection with someone special to you or the true meaning of the name."

So, before you write your new baby's name on their birth certificate (which has been amended to allow same-sex couples to register as parents, but has also banned anonymous donors in a bid to ensure everyone knows their genetic parentage), take a moment to reflect on the fact that they will have this name for life and may not thank you if you chose it on a whim.

Discover how popular your baby name is at: cso.ie/en/interactivezone/visualisationtools/ babynamesofireland/

Irish Independent

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