Current Affairs: What’s in a name?

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There are many things about motherhood that surprise me. I feel like I’m constantly banging on about how wildly underprepared I felt for becoming a parent, and one element that still catches me off-guard – alongside the constant, low-level tiredness; the strength of love I feel and the number of Ginger Nut biscuits my son can put away before breakfast – is the judgement, and the comparison.

I risk sounding paranoid here, but I think we’re all guilty of it – of judging others’ parenting against our own, of comparing ourselves. Often, we don’t even know we’re doing it.

And I’ve been thinking this week about how the judgement starts as soon as a pregnancy is announced. At the time of writing, all being well, I’m weeks away from welcoming my second child. The conversations I’ve had with numerous lovely people over the last eight or so months often started like this: “Congratulations! Do you know what you’re having? Have you got any names?”

And there begins the judgement, on my intended name for Baby 2 – or at least, it would have begun, if we had any names to be judged. There are still no real contenders yet, honestly. But even if there were, I’d probably keep them to myself because of that aforementioned judgement.

We’ve all done it: heard a baby name and tried not to pull a face because we associate it with someone at school who was mean. Or because the name’s pretentious, or common. I think most of us are usually too nice for too much (obvious) judgement once a child is born and named, but if the baby’s yet to pop out then it can be a free-for-all for every Tom, Dick and Harry to put their 2p in.

I was fascinated by a news story the other day that outlined the latest trends in names. Analysis of official data from the Office of National Statistics, between 1996 and 2017, show a significant decline in certain names: Craig, Shaun, Lee and Kieran are out of favour for boys, whereas for girls, Shannon, Gemma, Kirsty and Jodie are all at risk of disappearing.  

According to a Guardian article last week, these changes ‘come as parents flock to alternative spellings and to names such as Khaleesi, an honorific title used in the TV fantasy drama Game of Thrones, in what academics have identified as a pursuit of “virtue in rarity”.’

(Khaleesi!)

‘For boys, the fastest-rising name is Jaxon, which is as popular now as Mark was in 1996, while for girls it is Aria, as popular as Hayley was 23 years ago.’

There, I bet you’ve just judged all of those names without realising. I know I did. And it’s precisely why choosing a name for a precious new baby can feel like the most momentous decision ever: because rightly or wrongly, the monikers we’re saddled with have connotations that can affect our lives.

The Guardian piece suggests that Lee has dwindled in popularity ‘perhaps in part due to its prestige being undermined by Harry Enfield giving the name to a cowboy builder in his sketch show’. Craig, on the other hand, might be viewed nowadays as ‘a dad name’. Poor old Craig.

On a more serious level, various reports have looked at how names can affect job prospects, for example – either because a name is thought to be ‘chavvy’ or because it connotes a particular ethnicity or religion.

The pressure of naming can therefore be very real, and for much less frivolous reasons than whether a name sounds ‘dad-like’ or not.

I am fully appreciative of the fact that my baby is unlikely to face that level of prejudice. Still, this is one time I’m actually glad about my indecisiveness. It means I’m likely to be deliberating over Baby 2’s name on the way to the register office, on the last possible day, keeping any judgement at bay that little bit longer.

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About Laura O'Donnell

Laura is mum to Ted and partner of Graham Norton (yes really, and no, not that one). Laura left a glamorous life working in PR – first in London, then Sydney, Australia – to return to her less glamorous hometown of Hull, Yorkshire. She set up a PR consultancy and writes a column in Hull Daily Mail, which used to be about culture and going out; it’s now about culture and attempting a social life with a sleep-averse one-year old. Laura blogs at Only Teethin’, loves good guitar pop music and can be bought with donuts. Find her on Instagram @TheLauraOD.

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1 Comment

  1. 16 July 2019 / 19:33

    People are very quick to judge other people’s name choices aren’t they. In my experience grandparents can be awful in particular. I’ve kept my last two children’s name a secret until they are born, as the name we choose as parents is no one else’s business but our own.