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One woman’s impact on the world of names

Saoirse Ronan

When it comes to first names, there’s a strong case for saying that Irish-American actress Saoirse Ronan is the most influential person in the world. Since her first Oscar nomination for supporting actress in the 2007 film Atonement her movie profile has shot up. This year she’s been the face – and the star – of Lady Bird, a heavily promoted film for which she won a Golden Globe for best actress and won an Oscar nomination as an unconventional teenager on the verge of adulthood. She was also Oscar nominated for another international hit film Brooklyn as an Irish girl torn between love and family loyalty.

So what’s this got to do with names? Well, Saoirse meaning freedom and pronounced either Seer-she or Sair-sha has been on the rise just about everywhere in the past decade. It’d been a popular name in Ireland for a long time but seldom travelled beyond Irish families living abroad. Now she’s in the Irish top ten and has broken into the US top 1000 for the first time. In England she’s leapt 436 places to reach number 387 – a sure sign that Saoirse’s getting noticed.

Some Irish names have travelled well for generations such as Sean and Aisling but these are in decline in the UK along with one-time favourites Siobhan and Liam. So, is the Irish vogue over? Not so much over as shifting to Saoirse – thanks to the sweet acting skills of Lady Bird.

Girls just wanna have fun names

Girl babies have a greater chance of being given a name that breaks with tradition. Flowers, nature, seasons, cities and emotions all contribute to what sociologists call the ‘originality gap’ compared with names for boys. Showbiz parents especially are willing to experiment. David and Victoria Beckham have brought Harper back into popularity while Kim Kardashian and Kanye West have named their daughters North and Chicago.

Surnames moving to the front

More and more parents have picked up on the idea of giving their children traditional surnames as first names. Statistics from various parts of the world in the past couple of years show a range of family names becoming popular as given names. This trend is running alongside an established move towards biblical names, especially for boys, and flowers and nature, mostly for girls.

Lawrence and Alexander have for years been interchangeable as first names and surnames. Now there is a rush to promote family names to the forefront, especially for boys. Perhaps it’s the influence of mothers keen to give prominence to a maiden name or a name prominent on their side of the family. Or maybe these are names that just sound manly. Whatever the reason, the evidence is clear.

Mostly it’s a boy thing both in the US and the UK. The latest official list for England and Wales shows some sharp risers with seven surnames in the top 100 first names: Harrison, Mason, Riley, Harvey, Tyler, Jackson and Ellis. Making rapid progress into the top 150 are Cooper, Parker, Bailey and Cole.

The rise of Harper for girls is one of the few examples of a female name/surname making it big while Harlow and Quinn are rising more modestly up the female chart.

What’s the point of a middle name

Few people use their middle name on anything other than application forms and a few other official documents. Seldom when making introductions. Most of us have them, but how did we get them?

Here’s a guesswork guide to the person in the middle.

  1. Throwback to the days when children were given additional name of a saint
  2. A compromise between parents who can’t agree
  3. Maintains a traditional family name or mother’s maiden name
  4. Gives the child a choice to make a change
  5. Sounds important when using just the first letter as in Donald J Trump

Technical note: You can abandon a middle name, simply by not using it on application forms.

Historical note: Queen Victoria insisted that the name Albert was used as a middle name by her descendants, if not a first, in memory of her much-loved husband Prince Albert who died aged 42.

Their eldest son, Edward VII, was named Albert Edward and known as Bertie to his family. Their other sons all had Albert as a middle name and King George VI (great grandson of Victoria) was given Albert as a first name and was also known in his family as Bertie. On becoming king he chose to use his fourth name. Prince Harry has Albert as one of his middle names.

Harper and Noah on a steep popularity curve

Noah is without doubt a man of the world. He is high in the list of popular newborn names from England to Australia, and from the US to Europe. Across the United States and in Holland, Noah was the number one choice for boys in 2016 and 2017. In England and Wales the boost for Noah has pushed him to sixth place in the list.

Noah is a classic case of a name growing organically because parents like the choice of other parents with no apparent influence from royalty or celebrity. Amelia is another in this category along with Emma and Emily.

By comparison, the decision by David and Victoria Beckham to call their daughter Harper has had dramatic impact around the world. Harper was virtually unknown as a choice for girls (except author Harper Lee who wrote To Kill a Mocking Bird, published 1960) until the Beckhams. Now she has shot to prominence in just a few years, reaching the US top ten.

And then there’s Charlotte, another international favourite, thanks to Prince William and Kate choosing the name for their daughter. Charlotte’s in the US and Australian top ten and has climbed back up to 12 in England and Wales after a few years of waning popularity.

When a name is ripe for revival

Why do names go in and out of fashion? Our theory is that a name begins to feel old fashioned after a couple of generations. Once it was common to call a child after a grandparent but their names are not likely to be chosen for a new baby by modern thinking parents.

The name choices given for children of people in the public eye can be influential in setting a trend with the rise of Harper for instance after Victoria and David Beckham’s daughter and of George, son of Prince William and Kate.

Sometimes a name just seems right for the times and parents are willing to follow one another – the rapid rise of Amelia, Olivia, Jack and Oliver being prime examples of names that have just caught on for no particular reason. Once a name has been out of vogue for a century or so it may be ripe for a revival – and so we have seen a boost for Charlotte, Ruby, Lily and Violet among others and for the boys, Alfie, Archie, Arthur and Edward.

At Nameslink we love all names. Even if it is not in our catalogue we can create a greeting card for any occasion and any name.

Ireland holds on to its roots

Traditional names give way to Jack and Emily but remain prominent

Jack and Emily are the overall most popular names for baby boys and girls across both the UK and Ireland. The latest figures from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office show that parents in all five nations are making similar choices with Jack at number one or two everywhere. Emily tops the chart in both the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and Scotland while she takes third place in England and Wales. 

The Irish list shows that there is still a strong showing for traditional names often from Gaelic that do not appear in England’s top 100.

Most popular Irish name for girls is Aoife at number 13 with Saoirse, Caoimhe, Roisin and Fiadh all in the top 40. Non-Irish people may need a bit of help with pronunciation here.

Aoife (ee-fa) means beautiful

Saoirse – (seer-she) means freedom

Caoimhe (kee-va) means gentle, precious

Roisin (ro-sheen) means little rose

Fiadh (fee-a) derived from the Irish word for wild deer

 

Ireland’s boys are led by Oisin at 12 and Cian at 14 with Fionn, Darragh and Tadhg all inside the top 40.

Oisin (osh-een) legendary poet and warrior

Cian (key-in) means enduring

Fionn (fin) fair-headed warrior

Darragh (di-re) means fruitful and goes far back into Irish legend

Tadhg (ti-ge, like tiger without the er) a Gaelic name also found in Scotland meaning poet or philosopher.

 

How we choose the people in our cards

We tip our hat to Philip Treacy

Sometimes we’re asked about the choice of people we put in our cards. The answer is that try to find a spread of interesting namesakes with a positive story. People of attainment who you feel you can admire or appreciate and who are frequently, though not always, high achievers of the present day or who have made their mark in history. We try to reflect a range of interests and activities from the arts, science, sport, showbiz or the social world.

With characters from the past, the task is relatively straightforward as their circumstances do not change and their place in the pantheon is secure. The tricky bit is sometimes making a selection from a huge catalogue of fame – Thomas, Mary, William, John for example. Who goes in and who is left out. 

Our cards are not designed to be a history lesson and so we look for contemporary high fliers. Often – take Andy Murray – we may update a profile to take account of new achievements. Then there is the risk with high fliers that they may crash land. That’s why we’ve recently said farewell to Philip Green, the retail tycoon whose methods and activities have been called into question, particularly over the controversial sale and subsequent collapse of British Home Stores (BHS). We felt he no longer merited a place among the Philips with a positive image.

So out he goes and in comes Philip Treacy the milliner famous for creating daring headgear. His hats are worn at weddings, on film sets, at the races and wherever a woman wants to make a statement. At the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton 36 guests wore Philip Treacy designs. 

Updates boost for two top names

Ella and Isabella get the full story

It’s always good to make things better and we’re pleased to report that our Birthday and New Baby cards for Ella and Isabella have both been refreshed with a selection of biographies. Both girls are in the nation’s top ten list of favourite choices and now they are full members of the Nameslink family of first names. 

Everyone knows Ella Fitzgerald, the queen of jazz, but some of the other Ellas may be less familiar. They include Ella Mills, the healthy eating campaigner whose brand of food and recipes go under the label Deliciously Ella. There’s pop singer Ella Henderson and the American poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox whose poem Solitude includes two often quoted lines:

‘Laugh and the world laughs with you

Weep and you weep alone.’

Among our selection of Isabellas is the Victorian domestic phenomenon known simply by her married name of Mrs Beeton. Her Book of Household Management became the most famous cookery book ever published. She died at only 28 after giving birth to her fourth child but her husband Sam continued to update the book year after year without revealing that Mrs Beeton was no longer alive. 

Top girls in 2015

Celebrity parents put Harper on a high

The Beckhams’ daughter inspires popularity surge

On the face of it the list of most popular names for baby girls has changed little in the last couple of years. While Amelia and Olivia remain the dominant choice of parents there are other trends emerging and a mix of new and traditional names pushing their way into the top 100.

Among the newcomers according to latest data from the Office for National Statistics, Aria has made her debit at 100 with a rise of 70 places in a year and 1195 places in ten years. The name means lioness and apart from the character Arya Stark in Game of Thrones it’s hard to find a clear reason for Aria’s new popularity.

You can’t say the same about Harper. Once known only as the forename of Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, the name’s spectacular rise is clearly clothed in celebrity since it was chosen by Victoria and David Beckham for their daughter. Last year Harper rose 26 places to number 63 and shows a spectacular increase from the depths of 2619 ten years ago.

Thea, Mila and Robyn have all been on a roll over the past decade and are in the lower section of the chart.

Traditional names have been making a comeback for several years and the latest to hit the top 100 are Penelope at number 69 and Clara at 91. Nearer the top Florence, Charlotte and Elizabeth are all holding their places in the top 40.

Flowers are favourites throughout the list with Poppy, Lily and Daisy all in the top 20. Willow and Ivy are also climbing.

It’s looking like we’ll soon have to say farewell to Katie, the biggest faller in 2015, down 22 places to 99 and heading out of the chart.

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