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.
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.
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.
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.