Wednesday, 15 August 2012

What's in a name?

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a jobbing journalist at a loss for a topic now the Olympics are over must be in want of the annual baby names survey. This year your licence fee has helped fund a truly outstanding specimen...
But parents choosing a name for aspirational reasons need to think about how it will go down in the playground, says Scarlet Brady, editor of the modern parenting magazine Gurgle.
"You can wrap up all your hopes and dreams in a name but have to be careful that you don't put all of that on your child's shoulders."
How a name rolls off the tongue is an often overlooked reason for why names have changed. Today's more tolerant society seems to prefer "softer sounds" like Charlie and Maisie over harsher sounding names like Reginald and Gertrude.
The Reverend Rosie Harper, vicar of Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, says parents look for different qualities in boys' and girls' names.
Parents still like Bible names for boys - there are five in the top 12 - Thomas, James, Joshua, Jacob and Samuel. But the highest-placed girl's Biblical name is Hannah at number 41.
"The Biblical names for boys are macho warrior blokes. They all have gravitas. Whereas what's chosen for girls tends to be Victorian names linked to image. They're not empowering, they're pretty names like Isabel and Olivia."
The disappearance of Mary is part of this trend. It is perhaps too associated with Catholicism and the Virgin Mary for many parents in England and Wales.
There's some wonderful cognitive dissonance here. We are a "more tolerant society"... but be careful not to give your sprog too outlandish a name, lest he/she be given hell in the playground. And we draw the line at tolerating Catholicism, it seems.

But let me draw your attention especially to the Reverend Rosie Harper and her contention that "[t]he Biblical names for boys are macho warrior blokes". Hmmm. By my reckoning we have one patriarch (whose machismo was of a more procreative than martial character, apart from his wrestling bout with the angel), one prophet, two entirely non-violent Apostles and just one authentic macho warrior bloke. A score of 20% would suggest that Ms Harper might usefully spend a little more time with her Bible.

It might, among other things, help her out with one or two "empowering" names for girls. There are plenty of Judiths in my pre-feminist generation, a fact which doesn't altogether square with her thesis, but there can be little hope of the name returning to favour within the next 50 years. Nevertheless, there is still scope for her to promote empowerment of a no less radical kind. Jael Harper has a certain ring to it. A somewhat chavvy ring, admittedly (and let's face it, the Book of Judges contains pretty chavvy stuff), but surely that will not deter such a determinedly trendy and right-on vicar.

Seriously though, what a perfect vignette of what Andrew Marr has acknowledged to be the BBC's "cultural liberal bias". A candyfloss piece needs filling out with a quote from a vicar. Who gets the call? A Home Counties feminist whose time at theological college seems to have taught her more about empowerment than about the contents of the Bible.

Or am I being unfair to the BBC? Is Ms Harper by now an entirely typical specimen of the Anglican clergy?

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