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.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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