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Publishing error that sparked the Nobel prizes

Why ‘Mr Dynamite’  decided to give his money to good causes

October is Nobel prize time of year with brilliant people recognised for their contribution to knowledge along with the 2014 shared Peace prize for Malala Yousafzai  andKailash Satyarthi. The money for the recipients was left in his will by Alfred Nobel whose fascinating story is told in our card for Alfred – or more popularly Alfie.

Nobel is credited with discovering how to make dynamite – although he blew up his younger brother Emil when one of their experiments went wrong.

It is thought that Alfred decided to make his legacy for the benefit of humankind after reading an obituary of himself, mistakenly published in a newspaper on the death of his elder brother Ludvig. The item was critical of Alfred as a ‘merchant of death’ on account of the vast profits he made from selling dynamite and other war materials.

His conscience pricked, he left his fortune to fund the prizes.

Oscar and Jane – a tale of two centuries

Names that illustrate surprising changes in choice

The worlds of Jane and Oscar have been added to our catalogue. They represent popular names at opposite ends of the past 60 years. As recently as 1998 Oscar was outside the top 100 favourite names for boys and yet by 2013 he had claimed a place in the top 10 – at number 7.

Jane is a different story. She entered the top 50 during the 1940s and broke into the top 10 during the 1960s. Since then Jane has declined and now doesn’t make it into the top 1000. We, of course, see Janes differently – an exclusive choice in this century while in the great wide world there are many Janes who deserve a personal card.

We reckon that the combined charms of Jane, the Daily Mirror strip cartoon, and the ‘mean, moody and magnificent’ Jane Russell may have helped Jane reach the heights in the post-war years.

As for Oscar, he’s always carried a manly twang and has also become the dominant name among the film world’s top achievers. Quite why the Oscar statuette is so-called remains unclear but our card gives the most likely explanation. 

More top boys come from the bible

Almost one third of names have religious roots

The number of boys given biblical names is rising fast in contrast to a decline in churchgoing in the UK. The recently published list of 100 most popular boys’ names shows that apostles, prophets, messengers and other characters from the Old and New Testament are present in significant number.

Thomas and James have been regulars in the top ten for decades and while Andrew and John have dropped out of the 100 they have been replaced since 2003 by newcomers Zachary, Elijah, Gabriel, Caleb and Seth. Altogether, 26 boys in the top 100 have names that derive from the Bible with Noah at No 13 the fastest riser

Three variations of spelling the Prophet – Muhammad (15), Mohammed (23) and Mohammad (57) – are highly placed while Ibrahim, in at 89, also reflects the choice of Muslim parents.

These are the biblical boys in the list of 100 most popular names from the Office for National Statistics, 2013:

4 Jacob, 6 Thomas, 9 James, 12 Joshua, 13 Noah, 14 Ethan, 19 Joseph, 20 Samuel, 22 Daniel, 29 Isaac, 30 Benjamin, 38 Sebastian, 39 Zachary, 40 Adam, 45 Luke, 47 Matthew, 50 David, 53 Michael, 54 Reuben, 55 Nathan, 69 Elijah, 72 Jude, 79 Gabriel, 81 Aaron, 88 Caleb, 97 Seth

Girls’ names are more often taken from flowers (see below) but they too can be drawn from the Bible with Evie (basically a version of Eve), Elizabeth, Hannah, Martha, Leah, Bethany, Sarah and Lydia all in the top 100. Grace and Faith add a further spiritual dimension to the list.


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



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