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Commissioned by Sunday Times Style, 2005

Freestyle Babynaming: why are new parents giving their babies daft names?

It’s common knowledge that Kevin is Britain’s least glamorous name. And though I don’t resent my parents for giving me the ultimate Chav signifier – how were they to know, back in dim 1972? – a life of fake Burberry and Argos gold seemed predestined (and the reality isn’t far off).

But what does life hold in store for the Class of 2004’s babies, whose names are a genre so flamboyant, erudite and expressive it puts to shame anything the average A-lister - think of Apple Martin-Paltrow, Misty Kid Spiteri-Heath and Pepper Coxon - can dream up? Aah, isn’t little Ulysses sweet? Do Amberlori and Sonny sleep well? How has Ridley taken to his new brother, Mack? Guess what - Jaspin took his first steps the other day at creche with (I’m not making any of this up) Gracie, Florian, Myrah, Maximus, Arlow, Blythe, Buster, Gawaine and Ski?


Previously in the UK baby-naming was a sober and highly considered practice over which new parents would agonise for months. The options were by and large simple: you named your child after a favourite relative, pop- or film star, or after the leading figure of whichever religion you subscribed to.

Since then babynaming has gone ga-ga. The most popular names of 2004 – the somewhat pedestrian Jack and Emily - mask a highly eccentric approach to naming. A cursory glance at the National Register of Births reveals a nation tossing off its reserve and embracing the new creativity with a characteristically British emphasis on overdoing it.

Some general trends emerge. Naming you child after a plant, colour or other aspect of nature is big news, including Lily, Fleur, Rose, Indigo, Berry, Poppy, Daisy, Sky, Tiger and Blossom; a distinct nautical bias also emerges with Dolphin, Pearl and Ocean. Or naming your child as if the Blitzkrieg is still raging over London’s skies: Sid, Stan, Ernie, Leon, Evie, Vic and Archie have all been noted in a cyclical echo of pre-war tastes.

Furthermore, many new parents have clearly been studying hard at the classics and developed a profound interest in Arthurian, Greek or Roman legends, accounting for the presence of Blythe, Guinevere, Gawaine, Mungo, Maximus, Isis, Titus, Ulysses, Ulrich, Solomon and Elwood above the pegs in the primary school cloakroom.

Gone are the days when only celebrities with a surfeit of time and lack of in-touchness with reality dreamt up zany names for their new arrival. ‘This starts as a celebrity thing,’ theorises Elena Dalrymple, editor of Mother & Baby magazine. The top ten UK names are all very traditional, and it takes a very long time to for a name to drop in or out. But there has been a proliferation of books showing a huge number of names. People are more aware of the huge number of names now. They want their child to stand out and know that there won’t be five other similarly-named kids in class .’

While it’s hardly news that the British have become a notion of shoppers to the tune of a £1 trillion debt, who would have suspected we’d be naming future generations in honour of brands or consumer goods? Evian, Nike, Armani, Lexus, Versace, Chanel and at least 50 Chardonnays are all, at this very moment, bruising their knees in the playgrounds of the UK. And while we’re at it, there’s further trend for naming your child as if they were a piece of Ikea Furniture: Arjun, Aari, Han, Daan, Malaika or Emil, for instance.

Meanwhile, the celebrity trickle-down and flatpacking of contemporary motherhood only goes so far, and it’s a safe bet stylist Katy England’s son will probably be the only Wolf in his class register. ‘One thing we notice a lot of,’ says a local registrar from a town near Wales, ‘is deliberate mis-spelling of names. Alicia, for example, becomes Alisha.’ Though it’s anyone’s guess as to what Kaella, Chervanna, Kymia and Jaspin and are all misspellings of.

Fun though it may be the baby-naming process can be fraught with anguish. Design director Catherine, 32, thought long and hard before naming her son Oberon, 4, and Otillie, 21 months. ‘The responsibility or naming a child is hard,’ she says. ‘We wanted something that wasn’t run-of-the-mill - like my own name. Oberon means ‘Great Bear’, and Ottilie was a name I loved as a child which came back to me when I was pregnant - I used to love Lady Ottilline Morrell of the Bloomsbury Group.

‘Everyone is really positive though,’ Catherine explains, ‘although my father was heard storming round the house shouting, “no grandson of mine is going to named after a fairy!” Plus, some people think I named him after the Star Wars character, which is the downside.’

It’s clear that the urge to pre-programme future glamour and individualism into a child is a risky business for plebs and celebs alike. Jesse Wallace’s Talulah Lilac may well be the apex of cutsiness on the yummy-mummy circuit today, but what’s to say the it won’t be the Sharon or Tracey of 2020, when the sprog comes of age? Let’s face it, Ulysses, or Ulrich have every chance of becoming the Darren and Kevin of the future.

The fact is it makes sense to be as creative as possible now because no baby name is future-proof. By the time any of today’s nippers grow into the perpetual embarrassment of adolesence, the hot name of the era may well be Kierkegaard, Aluminium, Banana, AEIOU, Nokia or N’gwgwgaba? Or even, for that, matter, some remixed version of Kevin. (But somehow I doubt it).

© 2005 K*v*n Braddock


All content ©2004 Kevin Braddock

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