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.
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
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:
Looks like a clear win for the Os.
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.
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.
Nameslink pops up at the play centre
We’ve teamed up with a cool children’s play centre to display the full range of Nameslink birthday and baby cards. You can find them on sale at Treetops Soft Play in Witchford on the outskirts of Ely, Cambridgeshire. This is the first time the cards have been available outside the website and the summer fairs that we attend regularly in west London. If you’re in the area, you’ll find cards that are special – plus a cafe serving drinks and meals. Treetops telephone 01353 665111
Who’s in and who’s out
One frequently asked question concerns how we select the names and their stories that appear inside Nameslink cards. The answer is that we try to present an interesting mix across a diverse spread that includes entertainment, sport, literature, science, adventure and leadership.
Some names are rich in actors, sports stars or musicians so a choice has to be made. For instance, there are many high achieving Ians in sport and we chose to feature heroic cricketer Ian Botham over footballer Ian Rush, fellow cricketer Ian Bell, golfer Ian Poulter and swimmer Ian Thorpe, any of whom might have made it on the strength of their performances.
Names such as Thomas, William, Mary and John have been prominent over the centuries so we try to blend them with contemporary characters for the sake of balance. Generally we’re looking for people whose names will already be familiar to most people although we think it’s fascinating to add the occasional wide card – someone whose life was unusual even if their name has faded over the years.
Here’s a good example about Annie Edson Taylor from the Annie card. She faced dire poverty, when in 1901 at the age of 63 she came up with a wheeze – riding in a barrel over the 150ft Niagara Falls. The barrel made of oak and iron, was just over 4ft high, fitted with a mattress and after a test run with a cat that survived, she became the first to plunge over the falls. Sadly, her manager ran off with her money – and the barrel.
Our most recent addition – a card for Julia – includes Australia’s first woman prime minister Julia Gillard, the former children’s laureate and Gruffalo author Julia Donaldson and the Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts.
If you don’t agree with any of our choices, we’re please to hear from you and have a debate.
Fascinating card for Hannah brings up 90 names
Hannah, just added to the catalogue, is our 90th name. Our selection reveals a fascinating group of Hannahs past and present. For instance Hannah Lightfoot a Quaker who was recently married against her mother’s wishes when she was spotted at a theatrical entertainment by the Prince of Wales, later George III. One night in 1754 a coach drew up at her home and she was taken away, never to be seen again. The story that took hold – and has persisted – was that she had been spirited away by the prince who kept her as his secret love and may have had two children by her.
Then there’s Hannah Snell who spent four years in the 18th century marines pretending to be a man. Quite a deception you might think, but although her fellow sailors questioned her smooth skin she convinced them of her ‘manliness’ by hard drinking and hard work on board ship. She was shot in a battle against the French in India but still concealed her true identity. On return to England she unmasked herself and appeared in stage shows as The Female Soldier.
Bang up to date, Hannah Cockroft stormed to two gold medals as one of the Team GB golden girls at the 2012 Paralympics – and that’s after doctors had warned her parents when she was a baby that she would be unlikely ever to walk or even talk.
Lovely way to welcome newborn babies
Thanks to everyone who has sent feedback recently. It’s good that the Hello card is proving popular. As a result we’ve designed the Hello cards more specifically for parents of newborn babies by adding a cute illustration on the front of the card (you can of course still order Hello without the baby). See the example on the home page or the link to Hello Card
where Charlotte is the example. It’s fun to welcome new babies to the world of their famous namesakes.
We’ve been doing a bit of work to make sure the name on your card matches the spelling your friends or family members prefer. There are a lot of names with a variety of spellings and we want to match our cards as precisely as possible.
Our list has always contained separate cards for Clare and Claire and now we’ve refreshed the cards for Anne, Ann and Annie so that, for example, the life stories inside the Ann card are not combined with Annes.
And we have new content in cards for Catherine, Kate and Kathryn.
There is unique content in our cards for Stephen and Steven and if you want to send a greeting to someone who prefers to be known as Steve you can choose from either the Stephen or the Steven selection.
It’s all part of the regular process of extending and improving our catalogue. All feedback welcome at email@example.com