The naming of baby George is likely to increase the popularity of the name, which currently ranks tenth. Photo: Getty.
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Top baby names: would you want your name to make the list?

Girls and boys names in the UK are becoming increasingly diverse - but does having a popular name make your life easier?

There was a point, growing up, when a quarter of the girls in my (admittedly small) year group was called Sophie. I longed for a more unusual name and, having been brought up Catholic, I briefly settled on Bernadette after Saint Bernadette of Lourdes. My younger brother, an Oliver, declared that he wanted to be named Eric McDick – an ingenious amalgamation of Eric, the dashing prince in the Little Mermaid, our Scottish surname, and my maternal Grandfather’s name.

It is something of a relief now that neither of us quite knew how to go about changing our names via deed poll - and not only because I'm no longer Catholic. (To the Bernadette McBain and Eric McDick I found on Google, I’m sorry.) Our parents were, however, deeply unimaginative and Sophie and Oliver are still among the most common children’s names. This year, 3,013 more Sophies were born in England and Wales and 6,949 Olivers, according to the latest ONS data. Sophie is still the ninth most popular girl’s name in the UK, and Oliver is the first, having overtaken Harry this year.

This year’s statistics show that Amelia, Olivia and Emily are the three most popular girls names respectively, with Oliver, Jack and Harry topping the list for the boys. If you were to add up the different common spellings of Mohammad/Mohammed/Mohammad it would reach first place for boys, however, with 8,385 born this year.

That said, it is becoming increasingly unusual to have a common name. Before the 1800s the first four baby names referred to half of all English men. According to 2012 statistics, the four most popular names for boys (Harry, Oliver, Jack, Charlie) accounted for just 7 per cent of English baby boys.  

Girls’ names are even more diverse than boys: more than 35,000 different girls’ names were registered in 2013, compared to 27,000 for boys. This has increased in the last decade: in 2003 the ONS recorded 21,000 boys names and 27,000 girls names.

Among the more unusual names are those inspired by TV or books: thanks to the popularity of Game of Thrones, for instance, there were 50 Khaleesis, four babies called Daenerys, 187 Ayras, five Sansas and three Catelyns. The ONS also notes the Harry Potter effect: there were 3 baby Dracos in 2011, and 3 little girls called Bellatrix born in 2013. The name Harper shot up in popularity following the birth of Harper Beckham (the well dressed daughter of Victoria and David). Cameron, meanwhile, has dropped down 70 places to number 93 in the decade to 2013 – a reflection of political sentiment, perhaps? I couldn’t find any Gideons in the top 1oo either.

This increasing diversity of baby names is good news for economists, especially as names are useful indicators of socio-economic background, something I’ve written about before. But what’s it like for those who have to survive primary school and beyond with a weird and wonderful name? Studies in the 1940s found that men with uncommon names were more likely to drop out of school and be lonely later in life.

Richard Zweigenhaft, a psychology professor at Guilford College in the US concluded in the 1980s that members of the upper-class in America with unusual surnames were more likely to be found in Who’s Who.  It’s hard to draw firm conclusions from this – are less privileged children born with strange names also more likely to pursue interesting or high-profile careers, or is it only helpful to be named Daenerys if your family is wealthy? His other studies showed that an unusual name was unlikely to have a negative effect on your life chances, but it did depend on both your specific name and your parent’s socio-economic background. The sociologist Dalton Conley believes that being teased for an unusual name can even have beneficial effects on personality development, by teaching children impulse control. He named his daughter “E” so that she could fill out the rest of her name when she was older. She stayed E

The problem is, it isn't only having an unsual name that can cause difficulties (or equally bring benefits to the bearers). There is evidence that in the UK, some employers discriminate against applicants with “foreign sounding” names – suggesting that anonymous CVs would be fairer. In an ideal world, we’d do more to ensure that whatever your parents call you will have no impact at all on your life. In a far from ideal world, I’ve found myself newly thankful for my name. It might be boringly common among women of my age (not to mention among dogs) but it probably will have very little impact on my life. 

Sophie McBain is a freelance writer based in Cairo. She was previously an assistant editor at the New Statesman.

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The Tinder dating app isn't just about sex – it's about friendship, too. And sex

The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, as I found out quickly while using the app.

The first time I met someone using Tinder, the free dating app that requires users to swipe left for “no” and right for “yes” before enabling new “matches” to chat, it was an unqualified success. I should probably qualify that. I was newly single after five years in a committed relationship and wasn’t looking for anything more than fun, friendship and, well, who knows. A few weeks earlier I had tried to give my number to a girl in a cinema café in Brixton. I wrote it on a postcard I’d been using as a bookmark. She said she had a boyfriend, but wanted to keep the postcard. I had no date and I lost my page.

My Tinder date was a master’s student from Valencia called Anna (her name wasn’t really Anna, of course, I’m not a sociopath). When I arrived at the appointed meeting place, she told me I was far more handsome IRL (“in real life”) than my pictures suggested. I was flattered and full of praise for the directness of continental Europeans but also thought sadly to myself: “If only the same could be said about you.”

Anna and I became friends, at least for a while. The date wasn’t a success in the traditional sense of leading us into a contract based on exclusivity, an accumulating cache of resentments and a mortgage, but it had put me back in the game (an appropriate metaphor – people speak regularly of “playing” with the app).

According to Sean Rad, the co-founder who launched Tinder in late 2012, the service was invented for people like me. “It was really a way to overcome my own problems,” he told the editor of Cosmopolitan at an event in London last month. “It was weird to me, to start a conversation [with a stranger]. Once I had an introduction I was fine, but it’s that first step. It’s difficult for a lot of people.” After just one outing, I’d learned two fundamental lessons about the world of online dating: pretty much everyone has at least one decent picture of themselves, and meeting women using a so-called hook-up app is seldom straightforwardly about sex.

Although sometimes it is. My second Tinder date took place in Vienna. I met Louisa (ditto, name) outside some notable church or other one evening while visiting on holiday (Tinder tourism being, in my view, a far more compelling way to get to know a place than a cumbersome Lonely Planet guide). We drank cocktails by the Danube and rambled across the city before making the romantic decision to stay awake all night, as she had to leave early the next day to go hiking with friends. It was just like the Richard Linklater movie Before Sunrise – something I said out loud more than a few times as the Aperol Spritzes took their toll.

When we met up in London a few months later, Louisa and I decided to skip the second part of Linklater’s beautiful triptych and fast-track our relationship straight to the third, Before Midnight, which takes place 18 years after the protagonists’ first meet in Vienna, and have begun to discover that they hate each others’ guts.

Which is one of the many hazards of the swiping life: unlike with older, web-based platforms such as Match.com or OkCupid, which require a substantial written profile, Tinder users know relatively little about their prospective mates. All that’s necessary is a Facebook account and a single photograph. University, occupation, a short bio and mutual Facebook “likes” are optional (my bio is made up entirely of emojis: the pizza slice, the dancing lady, the stack of books).

Worse still, you will see people you know on Tinder – that includes colleagues, neighbours and exes – and they will see you. Far more people swipe out of boredom or curiosity than are ever likely to want to meet up, in part because swiping is so brain-corrosively addictive.

While the company is cagey about its user data, we know that Tinder has been downloaded over 100 million times and has produced upwards of 11 billion matches – though the number of people who have made contact will be far lower. It may sound like a lot but the Tinder user-base remains stuck at around the 50 million mark: a self-selecting coterie of mainly urban, reasonably affluent, generally white men and women, mostly aged between 18 and 34.

A new generation of apps – such as Hey! Vina and Skout – is seeking to capitalise on Tinder’s reputation as a portal for sleaze, a charge Sean Rad was keen to deny at the London event. Tinder is working on a new iteration, Tinder Social, for groups of friends who want to hang out with other groups on a night out, rather than dating. This makes sense for a relatively fresh business determined to keep on growing: more people are in relationships than out of them, after all.

After two years of using Tinder, off and on, last weekend I deleted the app. I had been visiting a friend in Sweden, and took it pretty badly when a Tinder date invited me to a terrible nightclub, only to take a few looks at me and bolt without even bothering to fabricate an excuse. But on the plane back to London the next day, a strange thing happened. Before takeoff, the woman sitting beside me started crying. I assumed something bad had happened but she explained that she was terrified of flying. Almost as terrified, it turned out, as I am. We wound up holding hands through a horrific patch of mid-air turbulence, exchanged anecdotes to distract ourselves and even, when we were safely in sight of the ground, a kiss.

She’s in my phone, but as a contact on Facebook rather than an avatar on a dating app. I’ll probably never see her again but who knows. People connect in strange new ways all the time. The lines between sex, love and friendship are blurrier than ever, but you can be sure that if you look closely at the lines, you’ll almost certainly notice the pixels.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 26 May 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Brexit odd squad