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If it’s a girl, parents pick flowers

Ivy, Violet and Iris making big gains

The biggest trend in names for baby girls is the natural world and especially flowers. You can forget parents being starry eyed about celebrities. With the possible exception of Sienna who has made a remarkable rise to number 22, the 2013 list of names published by the Office for National Statistics shows that beauty all around us is the true inspiration.

In a way, this is part of a return to the tradition of a century ago when names like Rosie, Ivy, Violet and Iris were popular and until recently were more likely to be found among grandmothers than newborn babies.

Poppy is the latest flower to enter the top ten, while Lily who was at number 5 in 2012 has slipped to 12.  Ivy is the most spectacular riser, up 733 places in ten years to number 66 while Violet is up 588 places to 78 and Iris is just outside the top 100 having risen to 106 from 412 in a decade.

Summer (48) and Skye (91) bring their wide open spaces into the top 100. In all there are 14 names from nature in the top 100

7 Poppy up six places since 2012 and up 36 places since 203

12 Lily down 7, up11

23 Daisy down 1, up 8

33 Holly down 8, down 20

37 Lilly down 4, up 132

38 Rosie up 10, up 4

48 Summer down 8, up 38

50 Jasmine down 5, down 20

54 Willow up 15, up 203

66 Ivy up 22, up 733

68 Rose up 10, up 69

75 Hollie down 21, down 1

78 Violet up 22, up 588

91 Skye down 5, up 23

Initial impressions

How writers show their love of letters

Most of us remain happy to be known by the names we were given although in the world of literature there are plenty of leading authors who prefer to operate  behind their initials. Perhaps the most obvious contemporary example is JK Rowling who chose the ambiguity of her initials – real names Joanne Kathleen – as she thought the use of her full name might deter boys from picking up her first Harry Potter story.

A similar device to add a whiff of mystery was used by Erika Leonard whose erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey enjoyed sensational success under her chosen moniker of EL James. But that’s verging on a pen name which is not quite the same thing.

Some of the most celebrated writers have established themselves by their initials. Might they be quite so famous if they allowed their first names to see the splash of a front cover?

Here are some other famous examples:

AS Byatt (Antonia Susan)

JM Coetzee (John Michael)

JP Donleavy (James Patrick)

TS Eliot (Thomas Stearns)

CLR James (Cyril Lionel Robert)

PD James (Phyllis Dorothy)

DH Lawrence (David Herbert)

CS Lewis (Clive Staples)

AA Milne (Alan Alexander)

VS Naipaul (Vidiadhar Surajprasad)

PJ O’Rourke (Patrick Jake)

JD Salinger (Jerome David)

JRR Tolkien (John Ronald Reuel)

PG Wodehouse (Pelham Grenville)

Scottish parents voting for independence

Choice of first names shows patriotic streak

With the Scottish referendum on independence from the UK coming up in September, it is clear that in terms of baby boys’ first names, Scottish parents are already making a patriotic choice.

The dominant example is Lewis, the name of the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, that has been popular in Scotland for several decades. It currently sits at No 3 in the Scottish chart while in England and Wales Lewis has a more modest place at No 40.

Logan is another place name (from Ayrshire) that has become popular for boys. Logan is the No 6 choice in Scotland while he’s down at No 29 in the rest of the UK.

Finlay is a classic Scottish name derived from Gaelic meaning fair hero and used by Shakespeare for the father of Macbeth. Today Finlay is at No 17 in the Scottish chart but a distant No 83 in the rest of the UK. Strangely, the alternative spelling Finley has risen fast in England to reach No 34 in the latest figures.

Among girls’ names a loyal Scottish trend is harder to define. Most of the top 20 names are similarly popular across England and Wales with perhaps only Erin in at No 18 (and derived from Irish Gaelic) outpacing the English version that comes in at No 35.

It will be interesting to see whether Alex (Salmond) and Nicola (Sturgeon), the names of the leading figures in the Scottish National Party gain admirers in the event of a Yes vote for independence. Alex is currently No 91 in Scotland  – and 65 in England – while Nicola is outside the top 100.


Joshua joins the biblical boys

We welcome Joshua – and Josh – to our catalogue. Joshua has enjoyed a run of consistent popularity for the past 20 years as a regular in the top 10 for boys’ names and stood at No 11 in 2012.

He is one of the boys with biblical backgrounds who now feature prominently in the list in the company of Jacob, Thomas, Samuel, Daniel and Joseph, all of whom are in our collection. Noah, who we will add shortly as a ‘front and back’ card, shot up 104 places in ten years to No 14.

In terms of names with a religious context, two of the most frequent spellings of the Prophet – Muhammad and Mohammed – stand at 19 and 26 in the chart.

Joshua has already proved popular with our customers and was among the best sellers from our stall at Kew Midsummer Fete in both the Happy Birthday and Hello baby versions of the card. 

Split personalities – new cards for James and Jim

Fresh names and life stories brought in to the collection

James and Jim are the latest names in our catalogue to be given separate cards. Until now, we have combined James, Jim and Jimmy in one card but this has meant leaving out a number of interesting people. Besides, if you prefer to be called Jim and that’s the name by which everyone knows you then you need a card that’s more personal than James – even if it is your official name.

We’ve done the same with Thomas and Tom and with the varied spellings of Ann and Anne, Claire and Clare and Stephen and Steven.

The change in the line-up of James and Jim has given us the opportunity to introduce James Patterson, the world’s most prolific novelist, James Watson who helped discover the secret of DNA and James Brown the ‘godfather of soul’.

New entries in the Jim card include Jimmy Wales, inventor of Wikipedia, Jim Marshall who built the amplifiers used by rock bands around the world and Jim Clark the motor racing world champion in the 1960s who was killed in a crash while at the height of his success.

Zoe completes the Nameslink century

We celebrate a publishing landmark 

We enter 2014 and pass a significant milestone – our 100th biographical card. Zoe not only neatly completes the A-Z of names, she is number 100 in our list.

As you can see, there are already around 130 names to choose from but some of these are short versions (such as Sue and Andy) that share the same inside stories with the more formal style of the name. Additionally, we have some cards in the range that feature popular names (examples being Amelia and Bella) that are left blank inside because there are as yet insufficient famous people who share those names.

Zoe zoomed to popularity in the 1970s, reaching the top 30 in England and Wales and stayed there into the 1990s before a gradual descent. In 2012 Zoe ranked 91 in the list with 620 baby girls given the name.

How we create a card for you

Choosing the perfect nine

We’re often asked how we select the names that go into our cards, so here’s a quick summary of the process.

First of all, most of the names in our catalogue have been popular for 20 to 50 years as this means there are a lot of people with the name even if it is less popular today. We also try to respond to new trends and particularly the revival of classics such as Ruby and Frederick/Freddie who we have just added to the list.

We then make a selection from our database and from additional research to reach nine people who will appear in the card. We look for an interesting spread of careers, trying not to have an imbalance of say, pop singers or authors. Sometimes – and Katie is a point – the singers are too significant to ignore and hence in the same card you’ll find Katy Perry, Katie Melua and KT Tunstall.

Generally, if we have a strong group of contenders we will favour people who are alive and active today, although some historical figures are too significant to ignore. This is especially true in the case of both Thomas and Charles, two names that have produced people of influence through the ages.

We keep our selection under frequent review and update entries where necessary. Andy Murray is a prime example. While we salute his two grand slam titles and Olympic gold he has kept us busy refreshing the Andrew/Andy card at least three times.

And finally, we feel all our people should be inspirational so it’s rare for us to include villains unless their activities reached epic proportions such as bootleg era gangster Benjamin ‘Bugsy’ Siegel. The same goes for politicians, not many of them qualify.

·      We’re always pleased to hear from you if you have suggestions


A shock for Harry

That No 1 slot is not the whole story

We’ve got news for Harry, he’s only at the top of the popularity league on a technicality. Oliver is at number two but lying a little deeper down the chart is Ollie which is effectively the same name.

Just as Amelia is only top girl because of the split in the Isabelles, so Harry is outpointed when Oliver and Ollie are added together.

The figures for the number of boys registered in England and Wales in 2012 are:

Harry  7168

Oliver 6669

Ollie     907

Looks like a clear win for the Os.

Who’s really head girl?

Isabelle variations pip Amelia

We’ve been doing a bit of mathematics and it seems that although Amelia came way out in front when the most recent list of  popular names for girls was announced – that’s not quite the whole story.

Step forward Isabelle and her sisters with similar spellings: Isabella, Isabel and Isobel They’re all in the top 100 and when you add them together they come to 7311 newborn girls in 2012. There were 7061 Amelias compared with 4584 Olivias in second place.

So it sounds as if Isabelle, a name from Italy and Spain originally, is numero uno.

Farewell then, famous John

The most popular name in history slips quietly out of the top 100

Oh woe is John. For the first time, probably since the Middle Ages and certainly since statistics were first thought of, he’s gone missing from the top 100 names for newborn boys.

There was a time a little over a century ago when one in every five boys was called John. Now he’s out of favour at number 104 in the list for 2012 just published, trailing newcomers like Kayden, Seth and Ellis who all made it across the line and into the nineties.

Poor John has been in decline for a while and hasn’t topped the chart since the early 1950s. He joins Andrew, Richard, Stephen and Paul, other one-time high flyers, who have felt the chill of parental disfavour. Now it’s Harry who’s the undisputed champion.

Sad that old John Bull should come to this, the erstwhile symbol of heroic Englishness.

Scotland’s Johns have done rather better in 52nd place, holding off the challenge of Josh, Oscar and Jake. Perhaps the striding figure of Johnny Walker who since 1820 has brought cheer in a glass has stiffened the resolve of wavering parents tempted to embrace trendy alternatives. 

And Scotland famously has John o’Groats, the northern end of the extremity measured from Land’s End. The romance of that particular journey should be enough to preserve John’s status in the north however many Harrys, Jacks and Rileys push to the front.

John has been flowing through the nation’s blood since John of Gaunt’s masterful presence at the medieval court where he confronted opponents and fathered children with equal disregard for conventional niceties. Ever since, John has been a label worn by the powerful and the creative, the politicians and sometimes the crooks.

They’ve often enriched our lives: Milton’s poetry, Constable’s paintings, John Reith’s BBC. John Stuart Mill believed in women’s equality long before it was fashionable, John F Kennedy inspired the western world and John Lennon rocked a generation. John Cleese gave us Basil Fawlty, Johnny Rotten the Sex Pistols. John Lewis, never one to be undersold, taught Londoners the value of shopping.

The Penguin Book of First Names points all the way back to the high profile biblical characters John the Baptist and St John the gospel writer to explain the enduring love for a boy called John. Given these connections it’s not surprising that John is the most common name for popes. There have been 23 Popes John with the last occupying the Vatican from 1958 into the formative years of the swinging sixties.

Over time the jocund image of John has taken a few knocks. A Dear John letter stands as shorthand for action by any girlfriend who tells her bloke his time’s up. The dismissal today is most likely to come in a text message or email but the technique goes back to the second world war when American girls and wives left behind by their fighting men became tired of waiting and posted news of a new relationship ‘Dear John, I’m sorry to tell you I’ve found someone new…’

Jilted soldiers had to do their weeping in the John.





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