The English Pedant – When names become fashionable

Why do certain names catch on while others don’t? A primary school teacher told me a few years ago that suddenly her school, in a poor area in the north of England, was full of Jordans and Kayleighs. Several years on, research has shown that youngsters with such names are far less likely to be at university than people called Josh and Daisy.

Kayleigh, of course, can be traced straight back to the rock band Marillion and their huge hit single in the early 80s. But Jordan? Why?

There was no influential man with that as a first name at around Kayleigh time, and the Scottish footballer Joe Jordan was hardly a cult figure. Michael Jordan? He’s American and a basketball player, so he wasn’t all over the papers and magazines and broadcast media in the UK.

Josh and Daisy are simply names that went out of fashion for a few generations and were then reassessed and popularized. It’s the same with Daniel and Joseph and Rebecca and Rachel. Not many of those were christened in the 1960s and 70s, but suddenly they had a revival, mainly shortened to Dan and Joe and Becky.

These are all biblical names, which is perhaps strange in these unbelieving times, but you can bet your life most of the young parents have no idea what the namesakes were well known for in the Bible. It is probably just coincidence that the current list doesn’t include such catchy names but dubious characters as Jezebel (seductress, murderer, worshiper of idols) and Delilah (cut off Samson’s hair as he slept lovingly in her lap and thus removed his extraordinary strength).

Muslims are more than happy to call their children Mohammed, and the word Islam crops up in names (Cat Stevens, the English singer-songwriter, converted and was known as Yusuf Islam, although he dropped the last name recently, perhaps because it raises the subject of religion when it doesn’t need to be raised).

Why are there quite a few Jesuses  (pronounced hayzoose) in Spanish-speaking countries but none in English-speaking ones?

Perhaps it feels blasphemous or appears to be tempting fate in the UK, US, Australia etc. to call a child after one considered perfect and who was crucified at the age of 33.

Even the clunky old grandparent names such as Mabel and Ruby have undergone a bit of a revival, with the male side not quite so keen, but the occasional Walter and Wilfred is creeping in.

J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan was responsible for a spike in popularity for the name Wendy, which came to the author’s attention when his young daughter couldn’t pronounce “friendly”.

Several years of living in the Caribbean have shown me that names don’t have to be traditional and can be completely made up. Anything that sounds good is fair enough out there, while in the UK,  registrars and ministers are likely to object. The English actress Suranne Jones, for instance, who made her name in the soap Coronation Street and recently won awards for Doctor Foster, was christened Sarah Anne because the minister politely informed her parents that Suranne wasn’t a real name.

The name-pedants’ vigilance hasn’t stopped Jonathan being spelled Jonathon, perhaps because people are used to seeing the word marathon. And talking of the Olympics,  the same contingent must be bracing themselves for a flurry of requests, such as to call boys Trayvon, as sported by American athlete Trayvon Bromell. Then again, the world’s most celebrated athlete, Usain Bolt, hasn’t had his name lifted by hosts of adoring fans. Nor have Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Usain Smith? Trayvon Carruthers? Zinedine Johnson? You just never know.

Ref! On football follies

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


A farce, Dave. A farce. Ludicrous. Who’s the best national team in Europe? Well I’m sorry, but it’s not Portugal. Well obviously that’s what the records are going to show, and that is precisely my point. But actually, that’s not what the records are going to show. It’s what the Portuguese are going to say the records show. But there is a difference between the winners of a tournament  and the best team.

Yes, Baz, as you are struggling so manfully to articulate, it calls into question the very nature of the knockout competition. It’s a nursery school attitude. “Play nicely with the other children, and it’s Kayleigh’s turn to win this time, so let’s give her a big clap. No, Jordan, snakes and ladders is not the devil’s game, it’s a game that shows us what life is like. Good days, bad days.”

Who should have won in my humble opinion? It should have been a France-Germany final. That was the best match, wasn’t it? The two best sides.

But the actual final turned into the bloody Cristiano Ronaldo show. I’m hurt. No, I’m okay. No, I’m really hurt. I’ve been very brave, haven’t I, Mum? Can I have chicken nuggets for tea?

So off he goes, and even a pillock like him is allowed to shed a tear at such a turn of events, but then he thinks he’s the coach, so he’s on his feet – on his injured leg – screaming and shouting from the technical area. You’re right, Dave, if I’d been the real manager I’d have told him to bloody sit down and behave. But he’s bigger than the rest of the country, isn’t he? You can be nice and say they’re not a one-man team, but they’re one-man country in all honesty. And that one man should not be getting chicken nuggets for his tea. He should be getting a red card from his Mum, straight to bed, unplug the internet and take the light bulb out.

Yes, I suppose I would make a strict Dad, but that’s not such a bad thing, is it? No, there’s no chance of that now, Baz. I’ve had the snip. Couple of weeks ago, as it happens. Well, Jody doesn’t want kids, and if you’re firing blanks that’s one less thing to worry about, isn’t it?

Cheers, Gary. A glass of red wine, mate. As long as it hasn’t been open for three weeks waiting for some mug to finish it. Yes, tell Derek I said that.

So, the football was nothing to get excited about, although Sissoko had a good game early on, didn’t he? And the other highlight was when crybaby went off and Quaresma came on with his head shaven apart from a very artistic light brown feather shape in his hair. Quite impressive. You’d have to be a bit of a donut to walk around like that, but for an international footballer it must seem like a fashion statement. I bet his girlfriend thinks it’s lovely. I bet she plays with it while he’s… you know.

And England was represented in the final of Euro 2016. Mark Clattenburg and the boys officiating. Yeah, he’s a good mate of mine, Clatts. And he controlled the game pretty well, I thought, didn’t you? You were aware that he was there, but he let them get on with it. Yes, Baz, of course the players can make it easy or hard for you, but they also know who they’re dealing with. They’ll have been briefed about the ref. He’s a bit of a rebel himself. Remember when he got in trouble for shooting off on his own after a match to go to an Ed Sheeran concert? Well, the ref and his team are supposed to travel to and from the ground together so they can account for their movements and actions.

Yes, load of cobblers, but there’s always someone coming up with a new regulation when something goes wrong. It’s easy to be wise after the event, isn’t it, lads?


Ref! On neutrality and haircuts

The candid thoughts of former Premier League referee Colin Preece, as recorded by our eavesdropping mole in the Duck and Peasant.


Evening lads,

I notice no one is wearing football regalia this evening. Well, you can’t sit there wearing an England shirt during a competition we’re no longer involved in, can you? So at the moment we’re neutral. And what a boring thing that is, isn’t it Baz?

Well, Dave, because Wales have made it quite clear that they’re delighted we’re out, so I’m not supporting them. And they’re not good to watch, anyway.

Well, as it happens, and I was kind of dreading the question, I’m supporting Germany now. Because they’re the most fun to watch. They play the best football. Plus – and this is important – I know most of their players. Not personally, no, although obviously I met a few of them during my refereeing days, but we all know Schweinsteiger cos he’s been around for years and he’s now spending the twilight of his career at Manchester United. I don’t think they expected it to be twilight when they paid all that money for him, but he hasn’t set the Premier League on fire.

So there’s him, and Toni Kroos, who everybody thought would be joining United a couple of years ago but he didn’t. And the goalkeeper, he’s a good ‘un. Mats Hummels at the back. Julian Draxler. Funny, though; they don’t seem interested in coming to England or going anywhere else. They’d rather stay in Germany. And that may be part of their strength.

Anyway, they’re worth watching, aren’t they? Better than Italy, and I must say I enjoyed the penalty shootout. You could see the nerves in their knees, some of them. Heaving it wide like some hungover has-been in the Dads’ penalty tournament on a Saturday morning, end of the season. Yes, I’ve done a few of them. Get a lucky one top corner and the boy thinks you’re a genius, but the next one reveals your true caliber. Trickles out of play and you’re clutching your thigh, hoping nobody noticed.

Cheers Gary, I’ll have a Lowenbrau or something else unpronounceable. Something from the fatherland, mate. None of your brewed-in-Rotherham rubbish with a German-sounding name.

No, I agree, Dave, let’s have a Germany-Portugal final and have them embarrass Cristiano Ronaldo, that would be a bonus, wouldn’t it? Misses an open goal and a penalty – now you’re talking, mate. Germany six, Portugal nil.

And at the end, when they’ve handed out the medals they can have a prize for the worst haircut. Have you noticed the western European players tend to look relatively sensible – maybe a bit too short around the sides, but still – and it’s the eastern Europeans who look like they’ve just nicked a fiver out of their mum’s handbag and gone to get the stupidest haircut they can find, dyed blond just to exaggerate it?

And a special mention for Axel Witsel of Belgium, who’s rocking an afro with sort of shaved bits over the ears so it looks like a badly fitting wig.

Just pull it down a bit, Axel. Well, twist it, then

Oh, we can do best beard too. And the runner up will have to be the captain of Iceland, what’s his name. Somethingssson, yes, that’s him. With his my-grandad-was-a-viking look. He must have choked when he saw Joe Ledley – Wales, Baz –  cos he’s got the same thing only in black and he’s had his hair cut to look like he was run over by a lawn mower. Ah, the abiding memories of a neutral football fan.

You see? In Eastern Europe we have many cool hairdressers also