Wednesday, 22 May 2013

What's in a name?

What’s in a name? Quite a lot it would appear. Take the Beckhams for example. Harper Seven is blissfully unaware of the interest in her name. Let’s be honest she’s blissfully unaware of anything at the moment except her next opportunity to have a crack at mummy’s boobs.  Just like her dad!

Most people were intrigued by the Beckham’s choice but it’s more important than just a name. It goes to the very heart of the way we view our own position in society and our expectations for our children’s’ future.
My initial reaction was a gentle snigger. This was followed swiftly by references to barmy celebrities and their wacky worlds and other famous offspring with names such as Apple, Dweezle, Moon Unit and the one I can never remember that belongs to Tom Cruise and Katy thingy. Then came the jokes. “Should have named my girl Guildford Four, Jackson Five or Birmingham Six” etc etc.
Average people agonise over names. But it’s not about picking a name for its uniqueness. For Bob average it’s the exact opposite. Most people pick a name they like but also one that will blend in. They look at the 100 most popular from the previous year. They buy a book or two. They check with their friends to make sure they haven’t missed any obvious jokes or unfortunate anagrams. They google the name to check it isn’t linked with a famous serial killer, paedophile or Conservative MP (or all three at once).
They may have some obvious points of reference to help them choose. They may have a family name. They may be Welsh, Scottish or Irish which would provide a long list of additional options – one just as unpronounceable as the next. I am Welsh and I have given both my children strong Welsh middle names, but not first names. Their first names are as top 10 as they can get. Just enough for them to be sure of their cultural identity but not so obvious as to raise a chuckle during school assemblies or to subject them to a lifetime of spelling things to people in call centres.
The big difference here is the assumption of what the future holds for your child. Harper Seven is only really going to work for you if you are special in some way (and I know we are all special blah blah but you know what I mean!). The Beckhams clearly think their children are going to follow the same path as them. If they at any time considered that their little girl was going to end up in an insurance office in Stevenage then Harper Seven was the wrong way to go.
The rest of us start off with the idea of the insurance office in Stevenage and hope for the best. Don’t get me wrong insurance can offer a very well paid, rewarding and successful career but no one’s going to stop you in M and S for an autograph or hack your email.
And then there’s the bullying.  We hope that our offspring will escape secondary school with the minimum of bullying but one certain way to guarantee at least a little bit is to have a silly name.  The reality is that those of a celebrity/staggeringly rich disposition don’t have to worry about such things. If anybody even breaks wind next to little Harper they’ll be flat on their face in a Vulcan death grip long before you can say “ex SAS soldier seeks close protection work – celebrity considered”.
Of course we all mock celebrity name choices and yes I do believe it goes to the very heart of how you see your kid’s future. The thing is it’s not just celebs who are guilty of this – we all are. We are a middle class family, the type with shrill voices who can’t control their odious children at airports, and we agonised long and hard about names. Yes I felt we had to have the Welsh element somewhere but other than that we could choose anything we wanted.
 Or could we? Of course we couldn’t because perception of class and social status intervened. Let’s be clear, when I say I grew up on an estate I mean one that had a community centre, not one that had a gamekeeper’s cottage. Never the less I consider myself middle class and that guides your choice of name. We may well have toyed with a Jacob or a Benjamin but there were no Kyles or Brandons crossing my threshold. In fact we excluded anything that might appear at the top of an ASBO almost immediately.
So blending in is the key to the average parent’s name choice. Blending in to the relatively small and tight social group you feel you belong too or want your kids to belong too. If you think about it that’s exactly what the Beckhams have done too.
And anyway you know Harper will be in next year’s top 100!

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