Every time a celebrity gives their child an unusual name, people have opinions.
When a famous family like the Kardashian-Wests (with North, Chicago and Saint), the Olivers (with Poppy Honey Rosie, Daisy Boo Pamela, Petal Blossom Rainbow, Buddy Bear Maurice and River Rocket Blue Dallas) the Beckhams (Brooklyn, Romeo, Cruz and Harper) or the Jolie-Pitts (Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Knox and Vivienne) add to their brood, there’s a bit of head-shaking.
“Bear Payne?” people mutter, looking at pictures of Liam Payne and Cheryl’s offspring, “Whatever happened to normal names?”
Firstly, Bear Payne is an incredibly cool name and everyone involved in its choosing should be very proud of themselves. Secondly, it raises the question – what do we mean by “a normal name”? There’s a tendency in this country to use the word “normal” to mean “white, Anglo-Saxon”, which is not cool.
We live in a multicultural society. Not everyone’s going to be called Ian, and that is a wonderful thing. Parents are more likely to have travelled, to have been exposed to (and influenced by) other cultures, than their parents, and as such might not make the same choices when choosing names.
I have a “normal” name, Michael, a good old-fashioned British name, one that gets a nod of approval from the type of people who splutter when the Olivers give another cheerfully bonkers name to a kid. Except it’s not British, is it? It’s a Hebrew name that, due to a saint and archangel in the Bible, became popular in Ireland – popular enough to occasionally be used, in a shortened form, as an anti-Irish slur – and ended up being the name of about a fifth of English boys born in the 1980s. It’s not British in the slightest.
When I was very young, there were only 10 different boys’ names in my (very white, very Anglo-Saxon) school. Michaels, Stephens, Williams and Davids constituted half the male population. At one point I was one of four Michaels in my class. Spare a thought for the thousands of Fat Daves around the country who aren’t even fat, just slightly more heavy-set than their friend Dave. I know a Little Nick who is 6’1” – tiny compared to his 6’3” pal, Big Nick
Names are more trend-based than we realise. Jakes exploded in the 2000s, and what was once a name given only to pirates and cowboys was everywhere. “Old lady names” became massive a decade ago. If you meet a Kylie you pretty much know exactly how old she is. In my daughter’s nursery there is one girl with a traditional, evergreen, ‘British’ name, the type everyone can spell.
[Read More: The UK’s Most Popular Baby Names Of The Past Year]
More Auroras were born in 2018 than Victorias. There were more Willows than Lucys. There are more baby boys under one named Jaxon than David. For every Michael, there’s at least one Mason. Garys are close to extinct.
There are so many things to consider when naming a child. Will their initials spell out something hideous? Will their first and last name together form a silly word, like in those wacky author jokes kids never tire of (you might want to avoid Anna if your surname is Conda, Log or Notherthing, for instance, and those with the surname King might wish to steer clear of Joe, Lee and Juan)?
Maybe there’s a name you always imagined giving your baby, but your partner briefly dated someone with it or someone you know on Facebook gives it to their weird-looking child. Everyone who wrongs you takes away an option. You don’t want your little bundle of joy to share a name with the dick who used to take your lunch money.
There are things in my life I regret, but I won’t lie on my deathbed wishing I’d named my kid Oberon.
When my wife and I were awaiting the arrival of our child, we knew we wanted to go for something at least slightly unusual. There’s nothing wrong with a traditional name. Scoffing at someone for calling their child Chris rather than Zephyr is exactly as stupid and prickish as the other way around. We just didn’t fancy one.
Looking through endless lists trying to find something you both like is a brain-melting exercise. Names begin to lose all meaning. I distinctly remember the 30-second period, nine pages deep into a big stupid PDF of every name under the sun, when I became totally convinced Oberon was a good shout. There are things in my life I regret, but I won’t lie on my deathbed wishing I’d named my kid Oberon. Especially as we had a girl.
We ended up choosing something we’re still happy with, which I won’t share here – it’s her name, not mine, and she should be in charge of where it goes. Some people were less impressed, but she suits it, it’s badass and so is she.
There are potential disadvantages of an unusual pick, of course. Endlessly spelling out your name on the phone, Starbucks making total guestimates on your drinks, having the “Yes, that is my real name” conversation a 1000 times.
But they all apply to loads of “normal” names too. Are you Anne with or without an e? Eddie with an ie or a y? Lisa, Liza or Leeza? Is your surname Cole, like Ashley, or Coel, like Michaela, or Kohl, like Helmut, or Coal like the stuff?
At least with an off-piste name, you’re the only one that has it, a pretty valuable thing in the age of Google. I have a friend who works in films and has a very common first name and surname. He is the eighth person on IMDb with his name. England’s 1986 World Cup squad had two players with the same name, leading to the chant “Two Gary Stevens, there’s only two Gary Stevens”.
On the other hand, Shannyn Sossamon’s son Audio Science Clayton might run into a few problems with his name, but nobody’s ever going to ask: “Which Audio Science Clayton do you mean?”
Some of the discomfort around unusual names seems to come from the British obsession with class. You don’t expect your patio to be laid by a Horatio (even though the words look like they rhyme), and it would be a big surprise if Prince Harry and Meghan Markle introduced us later this year to Prince Darren. When the rich and famous name their children, they do so in the knowledge those names probably won’t end up written on a McDonald’s badge.
Exactly the same name can be seen as tacky if chosen by someone off ‘TOWIE’ and elegant if chosen by, well, someone off ‘Made In Chelsea’. There are many reasons to be filled with rage at the thought of Jacob Rees-Mogg – the fact he named his sixth child Sixtus, having never changed a nappy in his decade of fatherhood and needing a reminder of how many he has, is a minor one.
But the birth of Sixtus was treated with much more of a “Ho ho, look how posh this eccentric chap is” approach than the contemptuous way the parents of Hashtag Jameson were treated, even though both names are equally silly.
Ultimately, having an interesting name isn’t going to make someone interesting. But, since they mean nothing anyway, and are pretty much an admin tool to help us keep track of one another, isn’t it worth having some fun?
And if, down the line, my daughter – or Ashlee Simpson and Pete Wentz’s son Bronx Mowgli, or Nicole Richie and Joel Madden’s son Sparrow Midnight, or Alice Kim and Nicolas Cage’s son Kal-El, or Gwen Stefani and Gavin Rossdale’s kids Apollo Bowie Flynn, Kingston James McGregor, and Zuma Nesta Rock – decides she doesn’t like her name, she can change it.
She might choose something very mundane, or she could go for something incredibly exotic and unusual, like Gary.