The most popular boys' names are Jack, Joshua, Thomas, James, Daniel and Samuel, and there's nothing naff there. The list is suggestive of conservatism and biblical rectitude - possibly in response to 9/11. The top girls' names are similarly restrained and traditional. The first mildly ridiculous boy's name comes in at 19: Jordan. What young lad wants to have the same name as a woman with big tits who makes gynaecological revelations to the Sunday papers?
The difference between ridiculous names bestowed on children by poor people and ridiculous names given by rich ones is that, in the first case, the name is usually traceable back to a celebrity and represents an attempt to gain social confidence: if I call my son Dylan (a lot more popular than Andrew these days) maybe he'll turn out tousle-haired and cool like Bob Dylan. Above all, rich people are exempt from having to ask themselves: how would this name go down among the violent 14-year-olds at an inner-city comprehensive?
Freed from that constraint, one could roam widely through the ironically titled Virgin Book of Baby Names. "How about Ananda for my daughter?" the rich man might ask himself on turning to page 147 and, being rich and confident, he will not hear a small voice in his head saying: "You bloody idiot. If you call her that, you will doom her to a life of saying, 'No, not Amanda but Ananda.'"
In The Virgin Book of Baby Names, saints' days are keyed to celebrity birthdays, and so you can imagine a novelist sitting in her charming house in north Oxford and musing, with regard to her son, born on 24 January: "Francis of Sales . . . Patron saint of authors, writers and journalists . . . Francis is such a nice name," while at the same time another mother, in a housing association property in Pontefract, thinks: "Mmm . . . Neil Diamond was born on this day . . ." Incidentally, some of the saints are sold a bit short in the book. Fursey (16 January) is described as someone "known for falling into long trances during which he saw visions of good and evil". Hard to imagine anyone reading that and thinking: "Yes, I'd like my son to be just like that."
I'm in two minds about ridiculous names. On the one hand they are ridiculous; on the other, they make for memorable bylines. I tend to assume that every young person of today will end up as some sort of media commentator, and I speak as a writer who's endured 20 years of people saying: "Are you the Andrew Martin who . . .?" Or they blurt out: "Andrew Motion, did you say? Andrew Morton, was that?" For a flickering moment they think I'm either the poet laureate
or the biographer of Diana, Princess of Wales, so the truth comes
as a disappointment. I call up about missing cheques, and people in accounts say: "I have it here on the screen. Andrew Martin . . . cheque sent out last Tuesday. You live in Glasgow, right?"
I look at columnists with first names such as Rowley or Byron, and think: if my name had that kind of distinction I'd be 20 per cent richer. I'd stand out more on the bookshelves or in the newspapers. There's a distressing circularity to the process, in that rich and confident people give their sons extravagant names that in turn help those sons succeed in literature. I like to think it's too late for me to change my writing name, but if I did, I'd probably go for Andred. According to The Virgin Book of Baby Names, "In Arthurian legend, Andred was a cousin to Tristan who betrayed him and Iseult to King Mark." Now, did Andred betray Tristan or was it the other way round? It's probably my fault, but I can't work it out from that sentence. Either way, I like the name, and I could also bring into play my extremely distinctive middle name: John Andred J Martin. Now that's a W H Smith "Book of the Week" name.