Magazine article The Spectator

Name of Shame

Magazine article The Spectator

Name of Shame

Article excerpt

The importance of not being Nigel

You know what the real problem with Nigel Farage is? It's not his politics, for they are a matter of personal taste.

No, it's something more objective. His name.

And not that improbable surname, either, the one that makes him sound like a Bond villain. It's the Nigel.

There's a passage in Julian Barnes's novel Talking It Over which summarises the Talking It Over Talking It Over problem nicely. One of the characters, Oliver, used to be called Nigel until he changed his name by deed poll. 'You can't go through the whole of your life being called Nigel, can you?' he explains. 'You can't even go through a whole book being called Nigel.

Some names simply aren't appropriate after a while.'

How true. Would John Taylor, bass guitarist of Duran Duran have had the same success as a rock star if he had stuck to the name he grew up with? Nigel? Nigel Taylor?

I suspect not.

It's partly because Nigel is a comedy name. When Monty Python wanted an easy laugh they often called a character Nigel.

In the 'upper class twit of the year' sketch, for example, John Cleese played a character called Nigel Incubator-Jones. And in This is Spinal Tap the preposterous character played by Christopher Guest - the one whose amplifier goes 'all the way up to 11' - is called Nigel Tufnel.

When everyone was betting on a name for Prince William's first born, you couldn't even get odds on a Prince Nigel, it is that ridiculous. Another good test of the ridiculousness of a name is whether you could imagine a dog being called it. Can you imagine a dog called Nigel? No, of course not.

You might think, given all this, that it is a modern name. One of those modern names, indeed, which recent research has shown can hold you back at work, in the same way that baldness does. Wayne and Kayleigh are the worst modern names to have, apparently. If you are going for a job interview you are much better off with a solid Biblical name such as John or Rachel.

But actually the name Nigel comes from the Latin nigellus and has been around since the Middle Ages. In was at its most popular in the Regency period, as reflected in Sir Walter Scott's 1822 novel The Fortunes of Nigel. But it fell out of favour after that and when it trickled back briefly in the 1950s and 1960s it became associated with the smell of freshly clipped suburban lawns. …

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