The naming of baby George is likely to increase the popularity of the name, which currently ranks tenth. Photo: Getty.
Show Hide image

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.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Hyper-partisan Corbynite websites show how the left can beat the tabloids online

If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Despite their best efforts during the election campaign, the Sun, Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express failed to convince voters to give Theresa May a majority, let alone the landslide she craved. Instead, Labour made inroads thanks partly to increased turnout among younger voters who prefer to get their news online and from social networks.

The centre of power in the media has been shifting to the web for years, but during the election we saw just how well a crop of hyper-partisan left-wing news sites are using social media to gain the kind of influence once restricted to the tabloid press.

Writers for sites such as the Canary or Evolve Politics see themselves as activists as much as journalists. That frees them to spin news stories in a way that is highly attuned to the dynamics of social media, provoking strong emotions and allowing them to address their audience like a friend down the pub “telling it how it really is”.

People on Facebook or Twitter use news to tell their friends and the wider world who they are and what they believe in. Sharing the Canary story “Theresa May is trying to override parliamentary democracy to cling to power. But no one’s fooled” is a far more effective signal that you don’t like the Tory government than posting a dry headline about the cancellation of the 2018 Queen’s Speech.

This has long-term implications for the right’s ability to get its message out. Research by BuzzFeed has found that pro-Conservative stories were barely shared during the election campaign. It appears the “shy Tory” factor that skewed opinion polling in previous elections lives on, influencing what people are prepared to post online. If I were a young Tory looking forward to a long career, I’d be worried.

Distorted reality

Television was once the press’s greatest enemy. But its “newspaper reviews” now offer print titles a safe space in which they are treated with a level of respect out of all proportion to their shrinking readership. Surely this must change soon? After all, the Independent sometimes gets a slot (despite having ceased print publication last year) for its digital front page. How is it fair to exclude BuzzFeed News – an organisation that invests in reporting and investigations – and include the Daily Express, with its less-than-prescient weather predictions?

Another problem became apparent during the election. Because the press is so dominated by the right, coverage from the supposedly impartial broadcasters was skewed, as presenters and guests parroted headlines and front-page stories from partisan newspapers. Already, some political programmes, such as BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show, have experimented with including news from outside Fleet Street. One of the newspaper industry’s most reliable allies is looking for new friends.

Alternative facts

The rise of sites spreading the left-wing gospel across Facebook may be good for Labour but that doesn’t mean it’s good for the public. This was illustrated on 16 June in a post by a relatively new entrant called the Skwawkbox, which claimed that a government “D-notice” – now called a DSMA-notice – might be in place restricting news organisations from reporting on the number of casualties from the Grenfell Tower fire.

The claim was untrue and eventually an update was added to the post, but not before it was widely shared. The man behind the blog (who gives his name in interviews only as “Steve”) insisted that because he had included a couple of caveats, including the word “if” in the text of his article, he was justified in spreading an unsubstantiated rumour. Replacing an irresponsible right-wing tabloid culture in print with equally negligent left-wing news sites online doesn’t feel much like progress.

Blood and bias

Narratives about the corrupt, lying mainstream media (the “MSM” for short) have become more prevalent during the election, and it’s clear they often hit a nerve.

On 17 June, a protest over Theresa May’s deal with the DUP and the Grenfell Tower fire made its way past BBC Broadcasting House, where a small group stopped to chant: “Blood, blood, blood on your hands!” Hours later, in the shadow of the burned-out tower, I heard a young woman complain loudly to her friends about money being used to fly BBC news helicopters when it could have gone to displaced victims.

The BBC cites the accusations of bias it receives from both ends of the political spectrum as evidence that it is resolutely centrist. But while many of its greatest critics would miss the BBC if it goes, the corporation could do a better job of convincing people why it’s worth keeping around.

Grenfell grievances

Early reports of the attack on a Muslim crowd in Finsbury Park on 19 June exhibited a predictably depressing double standard. The perpetrator was a “lone wolf”, and the Mail identified him as “clean-shaven”: phrases it is hard to imagine being used about an Islamist. Yet the media don’t just demonise Muslims in its reporting; they also marginalise them. Coverage of Grenfell contained plenty of references to the churches in this part of west London and its historic black community. Yet Muslims and the relief work carried out by local mosques received comparatively little coverage. Community issues such as Islam’s requirement that the dead are buried swiftly were largely ignored, even though a large number of those killed or made homeless by the fire were Muslim.

I suspect this may have something to do with outdated ideas of what north Kensington is like. But it also must reflect the reality that just 0.4 per cent of UK journalists are Muslim, according to a study by City University in London. The lack of diversity in the media isn’t just a moral issue; it’s one that affects our ability to tell the full story.

This article first appeared in the 22 June 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The zombie PM

0800 7318496