Magazine article The Spectator

How Baby Names Got So Weird

Magazine article The Spectator

How Baby Names Got So Weird

Article excerpt

How Wolf and Skylar pushed out John and Mary

You have to pity the Welsh woman who was last week prevented by the Court of Appeal from naming her daughter 'Cyanide'. An unusual choice, admittedly. And the mother's defence -- Cyanide is a 'lovely, pretty name' because it was the drug Hitler used to kill himself 'and I consider that this was a good thing' -- didn't help. But given some of the names being foisted on kids these days, Cyanide almost seems sensible.

Naming your child was once simple: you picked from the same handful of options everyone else used. But modern parents want exclusivity. And so boys are called Rollo, Emilio, Rafferty and Grey. Their sisters answer to Aurelia, Bartolomea, Ptarmigan or Plum. Throw in a few middle names and the average birth certificate looks like an earthquake under a Scrabble board. In the poll-tax returns for 1379, one in three men in Sheffield was called John. Now the name has dropped out of Britain's top 100. Mary doesn't make the girls' top 200. More girls are christened Skylar, Luna or Zoya than Mary. Thor is more popular than Gordon. No doubt Mr Brown had an effect, but it's still astonishing that in 2014 only ten British boys received that name.

Not that the strange new world is without rules, according to the book You're So Mummy . Its authors Alex Manson-Smith and Sarah Thompson advise: 'No flowers (too popular), no cities (too common)... Animals are in (Wolf, Bear, Otter) as is weather (Rainbow) and soul singers (Otis, Elwood).' No word on cars: my partner recently heard a playground echo to the cry of: 'Aston! Jensen!' The boys should think themselves lucky. It could have been: 'Skoda! Nissan!'

The trend is reaching the stage of child cruelty. Harry Wallop of the Daily Telegraph regularly delights his Twitter followers with morsels from the paper's births column. 'Elektra Esmeralda,' runs a typical example, 'a little sister for Dorothy, Wulfstan and Cleopatra.' Or: 'Grayson Jude Strathearn, a brother for Kester and Talia.' John has appeared, but only as a middle name sandwiched between 'Awbrey' and 'Wulfram'. Likewise Mary, tagging along behind 'Tarka Valentine'. Wallop discusses names in his book about the tribes of modern Britain, Consumed . The internet, he says, has made a big difference. 'The web's culture of unique URLs and social media handles has altered the way we think about labelling ourselves. Who wants to be ChrisJones987 when you could be Zephyr Jones? …

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