What’s in a Name?

WorthingGooner, Going Postal
What’s in a name?
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A few days ago, the Little Girl Next Door had a school friend come home when school finished at three o’clock. They happily played in the back garden and the visitor stayed for tea. A day or so later I was talking to the LGND’s mummy who apologised for the noise they made. Of course, I didn’t mind in the slightest, the sound of little children playing and using their imaginations to hide from an imaginary dragon drifting into my house was actually quite lovely. The LGND’s mummy said that when her daughter and Elsie get together, they tend to be a bit noisy.

That got me thinking I hadn’t heard of a little girl being called Elsie in years and it made me think back to Coronation Street’s Elsie Tanner. Who remembers Elsie Tanner, Martha Longhurst and Minnie Caldwell sitting in the snug of the Rovers Return with a milk stout? In addition, a long-dead uncle of mine had a lady friend called Elsie Knowles who owned a corner shop that was just like Arkwright’s in ‘Open All Hours.’ Thinking back to when I was at school, I can’t remember every having an Elsie in my class. Back when I was at school, I left in 1966 so I am old, the most common name for a girl was probably Susan, Ann or Linda and for a boy we had lots of Davids, Richards and Michaels.

Names seem to be somewhat of an age. They come and they go, and some come back, but it’s surprising how many seem to fix the age of the bearer. For example, my own mother was an Ethel. Now that’s not a name often given to baby girls these days, but someone once said to me ‘everyone seems to have an old Aunt Ethel’. My mum was born in 1919 and Ethel was certainly not an unusual name in those days. I understand that Olivia and Isla are today’s top girl’s names but in 1919 you might have been christened Olive, not Olivia, and the first Isla I can remember was Isla Sinclair on ‘The Generation Game.’

As a little aside, my mum and dad met when they worked together in London, for the Royal Army Pay Corp, during World War 2. When Dad first took his future bride home to Hull, to meet his side of the family, he asked her if she had a middle name. He didn’t much like the name and thought that Ethel would not go down very well. Mum had two middle names, Doreen and May. So, she was introduced to that side of her family as Doreen, which Dad thought was more northern. Consequently, every time Mum went to Yorkshire, she became Doreen to that half of the family. At Mum’s funeral she was called Ethel and afterwards two of my Yorkshire cousins came to me and said that at first, they wondered who Ethel was. They had no idea she was actually an Ethel.

I had aunts called Florence, Ada, Cissie and Lillian but I can’t remember a single contemporary with one of those names. But as I mentioned, names seem to go around and every so often these old names come back and Florence seems to be popping up again as does Lilly, but not Lillian. Cissie and Ada would appear to have been dealt a death blow by characters in that famous comedy sketch.

My Dad was a Sydney, which once again put him into an age bracket with my Mum, they were both born in the same year, but miles apart, Dad in Yorkshire and Mum in India where her father was a serving soldier. Sydney, with a ‘Y’ or an ‘I’ doesn’t make the current top 100 boys names from the ONS and unsurprisingly Ethel isn’t in the top 100 girls names either. Some of the older boy’s names seem to have fared better than girl’s names over the years. I had an Uncle Bill (really William) and that is in the top 100 at 21. I also had several uncles named George and that is at number three. Both of these names have probably been helped by being the names of royal princes, which also probably accounts for both Harry and Archie being in the top ten. Of course, in my day no one was christened Harry, it was a diminutive of Henry and once again I didn’t go to school with a Henry, but I did have an Uncle Harry who was actually a Henry.

The current number one boy’s name is, according to the ONS, Noah. Well, I can’t say I have ever met a Noah, but it is a one of those biblical names that becomes popular from time to time along with Joshua and Elijah. Female biblical names don’t appear in the top one hundred very often these days, as far as I can see only Delilah makes the current list at 50. Once popular names like Rebecca and Miriam have slipped out of the list. I had a great aunt called Sarah, another biblical name that seems to have slipped from the top 100, although Sara has scrapped in at number 100!

I suppose it reflects ‘modern’ Britain that the current number five male name is Muhammad but isn’t it a little strange that other spellings of the same name Mohammad and Muhamad also appear in the top 100. Is this a bit like Sarah, Sara, and different pronunciations of the same name or is it that there is no generally accepted spelling of the Muslim prophet’s name? But what I do find a little odd is that the list of girl’s names doesn’t seem to have any Muslim girl’s name in the top 100. We have assimilated other non-British names like Amelie and Cleo.

I asked the LGND the names of her school friends and she of course listed Elsie, but added Gracie, Evie, Rosie and Sophie for girls and Jack and Toby for boys. What is notable here is that most of the girls’ names appears to be updated versions of the older names Grace, Eve, Rose and Sophia. I asked if they were really their names or was it just what they liked to be called. The LGND’s mummy assured me they were all their actual first names.

I then started thinking about how parents choose baby names. In my day baby name books were very popular. These had an alphabetical list of names together with their meanings and derivations. Are they still popular? I am a bit old to be personally naming babies, so these things seem to slip past me. But I do get the impression that children these days do seem to be named after celebrities or trends. Hence the number of little ones called Sienna, Daisy and Luna arriving in reception classes. Film stars and Harry Potter books inspired. But then I suppose babies have been named after film stars for many years, think of the 1940s when Ava from Ava Gardner and Laurence from Laurence Olivier were common.

Another source of baby names is family tradition, something, I am happy to say, my own parents ignored. On my paternal side, Frederick went back many generations and on my maternal side it was William. I am delighted to tell you that I am not a Fred or a Bill. My parents made great efforts to make sure my brother and myself were given names that were not family names or outrageous or named after a celebrity or trend. We were both christened with what I would call semi-popular names because they chose names they liked, not because they were pressured by the family or to follow trends.

Then there are names and social class. If I said the names Sebastian, Rupert or Alexander, I’m sure you would associate them with the upper crust. Do the working class ever call their sons Sebastian or Rupert? Likewise, I have never heard of an upper-class Chardonnay, Liam or Tyler. For upper class female names, I would suggest Annabelle, Antonia and Marina would be typical.

If I go back years, my first junior school crush was on a Deborah, now more likely to be spelt Debra. But in my teens and twenties I can remember, among others, dating at least four girls named Susan, two named Ann or Anne, several Carols, both with and without an ‘e’, a Linda, a Denise, a Marilyn, a Yvonne and a Dawn, whose parents had imaginatively named her sister Eve. I always wondered if Dawn and Eve’s parents had another child what they would call it, possibly Midnight, or Midday. I settled on Noon which would have been appropriate for either sex. From this list you can make up your own mind about the circles I moved in. Of course, my first love was a Penny (not Penelope) and when she moved away, with her father’s job, I moved on to Sue (not Susan) and to this day I have a soft spot for the names Penny and Sue.

© WorthingGooner 2023