What’s in a name? For all the Lucrezias I have taught.

We love a pantomime villain in the UK. The current one, who I can’t be bothered to name, has caused outrage by saying that she wouldn’t let her children play with any children with names such as Chardonnay or Tyler because they reveal their working class origins and therefore must be despised.

Whilst I agree that Chardonnay is a god-awful name, (and wine by the way – it’s just about the only wine I can recognise from it’s revolting sickly, cloying taste) the attachment of the Brits to class hatred is alive and kicking like a badly named newborn.

I admit it. I love discussing baby names. I love the books. I love the lists every year outlining the top ten most common names. And common is the key here. Just what does your name say about you and of course your parents who named you?

What I hate most are those terribly aspirational middle-class names that people force upon their children. Like a desperate attempt to raise the level of their children, to keep the class distinction, to demonstrate how middle-class they really are. Ridiculous names used to be the preserve of the upper classes. I love this list on the Huffington Post:Hermine Halcyon, Ella Persephone, Ignatius Mungo and Rupert Thor being the choicest examples. Would you want your children playing with these weirdos?

With English names I understand the connotations. I understand the prejudice, the history and the context of a name. Do you know any Trevors under 40? Any Jordans who are grandmas? As a teacher in England, my last class consisted of 30+ children, of which only 2 children had names of classmates of mine in the entire 12 years I went to school (Daniel and James). When I was at school there had obviously been a significant lack of imagination from our 1970s parents – how many Pauls, James, Stuarts, Louises, Nicolas and Joannes did you know? We are obviously going through a period when fashion is more likely to sway parental choices. As the great Yorkshire playwright Alan Bennett says, names used to be more solid, more weighted towards the grave, more suitable to be carved in stone.

My understanding and appreciation of names does not apply in Italian. In my first class teaching in Italy I had a Lucrezia, a Ludovica, a Grazia and an Eleonora. All of these names were foreign to me. Are they traditional? Old-fashioned? Aspirational? Common? I had no reference point. I just had to like them, or not, without the prejudicial judgements. 

As a childless woman, my preferences, like fashions have changed. I used to love Megan and Callum. Both now far too popular. One year I had three Megans in my class. As a teacher the names of the children you teach influence your choices. My own personal favourites are now Elsie, Martha and Sean. Whereas my other half would argue for Percival, Tristan or Roger. Make your judgements as you will.

Updated: August 2015

One comment

  1. […] I love discussing baby names. I love the books. I love the lists every year outlining the top ten most common names. I love the judgements. “The Collins Gem Baby Name book genuinely points out under the entry for Adolf/Adolph that ‘Adolph has never been a common name in this country and received a further setback with the rise of Adolph Hitler. Setback? I’ll say.” […]


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