WHAT’S in a name? Plenty, if you live anywhere close to Reykjavik: Iceland, apparently, is ‘admitting’ 11 new children’s names into itsnational register of 1,800 ‘acceptable’ names.
“WHA-A-A-T?” you exclaim. “Are you saying that Icelandic parents can only name their new-born from an approved list?”
Yes, that’s exactly what happens. The Icelandic Naming Committee must approve any new names submitted and strict rules govern the sort of names that may be suggested: gender specific, no unisex names –boys MUST have boys’ names, girls MUST be girls. By law.
And not just any old name, either: the latest batch, perhaps significantly, approves Angelina but not Brad!
So, is our identity partly shaped by the way we are treated by other people? Is the way in which we interact with society governed by our name?
Early studies indicated that men with unusual or uncommon names were more likely to drop out of school and to suffer loneliness and possibly exclusion. But more recent research suggests the opposite. Here’s a test: how are Marion Robert Morrison and Shirley Crabtree better known? The answer (at the bottom of this column) might surprise you¡
What is extremely interesting is the number of people who choose occupations which seem to have a direct link to their names: Mr Smiler the dentist, for example, or Mrs Hound the vet and so on. This nominative determination can have a very positive effect. We’ve all heard of Usain Bolt, the multiple gold-winning sprinter, and look at what he’s achieved.
Speaking at a charity dinner a few weeks before the 2008 election, Barack Hussein Obama joked, ‘I got my middle name from somebody who obviously didn’t think I’d run for President’.
People whose names begin with A or B are often more successful than people whose names begin with letters from the end of the alphabet Why? Is it because they’re so used to being first that they continue this into their professional lives? Or is it because they got more attention from the teacher, being near the beginning of the register?
Teachers often make assumptions about the behaviour of new children from their names. In a recent poll, teachers said they could ‘spot trouble’ in kids with names like Callum, Crystal and Chardonnay ( my apologies to all the charming Callums, Crystals and Chardonnays reading this – not my poll, so don’t shoot the messenger!).
In Britain, first names chosen by the royal family invariably head the ‘favourite names’ lists. James and Elizabeth are often top, the choice of parents hoping to instil intelligence and success.
Unusual names can cause problems as children grow. Jamie Oliver’s latest additions was named River Rocket (or Rocket River, whatever!) and, while it it might be easier for celebrities’ children to have unusual names, for your average family an unusual name can make the child stand out and can even lead to bullying. David Bowie’s son ‘Zowie’ was quickly changed by the young teen to Zak. Sensible boy!
Beau Jessup, a 16-year-old Gloucestershire girl, made the most of her unusual forename by developing a website which helps Chinese parents choose an English name for their baby after she discovered that uniiversity admission in China asks for such a name to be included and that some Chinese families were having great difficulty in finding something suitable.
Consequently children were given names like ‘Comfort’ and ‘Kipling’ and so on, taken from supermarket products. The enterprising Beau has so far made £50,000 by offering parents a list of five names and, very importantly, their meanings before a final decision is made.
My husband Brian and I are in great company, though. I have it on good authority that the Queen’s nickname within the royal family is ‘Brenda’ and that the Prince of Wales is known as ‘Brian’, good, solid working class names fit for royals. Between you and me, I always thought my name meant ‘Princess’.
Well, I can dream!