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What's In a Name? The Katie Hopkins/Dustin Hoffman Dilemma

11/07/2013 19:14 BST | Updated 10/09/2013 10:12 BST

'A Sheldon can do your income taxes. If you need a root canal: Sheldon's your man... but humpin' and pumpin' is not Sheldon's strong suit. It's the name. 'Do it to me Sheldon, you're an animal Sheldon, ride me big Shel-don.' Doesn't work. No, no, you did not have great sex with Sheldon.'

(When Hally Met Sally, 1989)

There have been two interesting viral stories this week. One: Katie Hopkins declaring her opinions on both 'lower class children's names' and 'ginger babies' and two: Dustin Hoffman's tearful reflection while remembering an epiphany during the filming of 'Tootsie'. Hoffman has ignored women as they didn't 'fulfil the demands that we're brought up to think that women have to have in order to ask them out'. Men are influenced by society's conditioning and are therefore likely to miss out on an interesting experience. Hopkins presents a less positive view of a similar pre-judgement:

'I think you can tell a great deal from a name. For me there are certain names that I hear and I think, 'Urgh'. For me, a name is a shortcut of finding out what class that child comes from and makes me ask, 'Do I want my children to play with them?'

On face value, Hopkins' claims are extraordinarily judgemental and insulting. But has she stumbled onto a deeper issue? Let's try an experiment. Here are two names. What are your feelings, impressions or images of each:

Chardonnay Smith

Charles Jefferson-Huntley III

The impression you have of each name will no doubt depend on your own background and lifestyle but either way, you've just made a sweeping generalisation based on very little information. This is where Hopkins meets Hoffman. Both are saying that they have made generalisations based on social influences. We all do it and in some ways, it's a natural defence mechanism. Appearance especially is often the only information we have to decide whether a situation is dangerous or not: what do you feel when seeing a young figure in a hoodie and dark clothing at 11pm on a deserted street? Dangerous or someone you feel comfortable walking past?

But Hopkins goes a step further and invokes class. The elitism of questioning whether her children should be mixing with the lower classes is a discussion in itself but focusing on class based names, across history people have emulated the celebrity/royal hierarchy in naming offspring. A century ago there were Georges running through the urban backstreets as well as sitting on the throne. Studies show that the most popular names of the 1920's across all classes were the ever present ex-monarchs: John and Mary. Perhaps as 21st century royalty sit on thrones in the Sugar Hut and the Rover's Return, social naming conventions haven't changed as much as we would think.

Let's not forget the charmingly designated Dustin Hoffman, apparently named after a verb for cleaning the house, and include attraction. If you were given a list of names as a potential mate, would that name influence your decision? Would you be more attracted to Keith or Brad? Vera or Lucy? This is in someways based on experience knowing someone with a similar names or a television personality or the perceived age of a name. Combining both theories, unattractive yet interesting Gladys would have no chance.

Hopkins' defence is that she 'says what most people think'. A hundred years ago 'most people' thought that black people had no place in society and women had no right to vote. Popular opinion isn't always right. Does popular opinion really believe that ginger babies are 'more difficult to love'? Despite the opposition to Hopkins, how many ginger based jokes do we see in the media? What would have been the reaction had she claimed that black babies were 'more difficult to love'? Is one comment more racially bigoted than the other or is it simply more acceptable to trash ginger haired people? We're back to Hoffman and the social constructs of perception.

To some degree as a society, we have to make (often flawed) judgements based on little information but we should also consider the effect on ourselves and the individual concerned. Hoffman is clearly right in berating himself for the missed opportunity of not knowing 'interesting women' because of his 'brainwashing'. On the contrary, Hopkins not letting her daughter India play with lower class Chantelle is denying her daughter the same experience of meeting someone new and interesting. After all, what would have happened if Lord Alan Sugar had decided that the name Katie was not the class of person he wanted on The Apprentice? The rest is history.