So I hear that the Great Christmas Crisis of 2012 has been averted. Call The Midwife no longer clashes with Downton Abbey on Christmas night, and the world can relax. Middle-aged women everywhere can step down from the barricades in last year's shoe-boots, pour themselves another cup of coffee from the cafetiere of potential outrage, and prepare themselves to be annoyed at something else instead.
They define us, our Sky Plus reminders, or the scribbled boxes we draw around our to-watch list in the weekly TV guide. It seems that what we watch even defines the names we choose for the next generation of viewers: the annual survey of children's names suggest that traditional names like Amelia and Harry are topping the UK's trends.
The influence of Downton is cited, where a decade ago it might have been Footballers' Wives which was catching the imagination of new parents. These days, Chardonnay has been consumed and the outlandish names are often left to the infant offspring of celebrities. But is it, really, any different - any better, any worse - to name your child after your favourite character from a TV programme, if it's set in the past and involves bonnets, than if the programme is set in the present and involves fake tan and shiny sports cars? This month, a new mum in America has named her baby daughter Hashtag... what better indication is there of baby names as the index of a zeitgeist, as the era of Twitter takes over? It's not just fashion - it's a zeitgeist trend, and it's trending on Twitter as medium and message become one: #Hashtag. You really couldn't give a trend a better name.
As someone who isn't a parent, it's easy to make fun of name dilemmas. What's in a name, though, anyway? Most of us get names through family links: I'm the third generation in my Dad's side of the family to be christened Catherine, but actually called by my middle name or a variant, so that when doctors or dentists use my listed name I'm lost in a confusion of Pavlovian inattentiveness.
Growing up with a name which people often misspell or get wrong, and having to explain all over again at the start of each school year that I used my middle name and yes, it really was spelled like that and no, you didn't pronounce the last two letters, I ended up with a self-conscious teenage dread of having to introduce myself to anyone. Growing up in Northern Ireland during the troubles, I wondered if having an Irish name was like a giant label of ethnic or religious identity - a politicised version of the 'Please Look After This Bear: Thank You' label which Paddington Bear wore around his neck. 'Please Make Assumptions About This Child: Thank You.'
Those days long past, I now despair of having the correct version of my name scribbled on the label for my Starbucks order. Grande Americano for *Mumble*. For *Scrawl*. My favourite variant so far has been 'for Gareth'. Although... I wouldn't object to collecting a coffee order for a certain well-known choirmaster. Even in Starbucks, even with its Christmas queues, that would be less than... um... is taxing the word I'm searching for? As I might say if I were in the Twitter in-crowd: #JustSaying.
We're defined so many times. The names chosen for us when we were too young to know better, and the names we choose for ourselves if we later make a change through deed poll or by marriage. The avatars and monikers of websites or social networking. The recorded purchases and favourites on our loyalty cards. The secrets known about us all by postmen and delivery men: the parcels and Tesco Man deliveries to my house reveal my habits and therefore who I am, as books, CDs, Nespresso pods, salad leaves, university alumni magazines and cleaning products make their way in a solemn procession of definition through my doorway every month. 'What, will the line stretch out to the crack of doom?'
... and as inevitably as the coming of Christmas, we're back to Downton Abbey and the steely gaze of Maggie Smith. I don't like it and I won't be watching it, and I don't care if that goes against everything I seem to do or be. It says 'Bah Humbug' in coloured LEDs above my classroom desk, and this I who I am. I am the juxtaposition of grumpiness and twinkling, changing lights. I am the gradually noticed wish to make people feel better beneath a veneer of negativity; the changing colours of an anti-Christmas sentiment which turns out all right in the end. I'm all my names and avatars, my habits and my norms. And less - and more - and not as you expect.
And trying to define that? #Awkward.
Suggested For You
SUBSCRIBE AND FOLLOW
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements.Learn more