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 Pogba and value for money

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


Ludicrous, Dave. Insane. £100m. A hundred million nicker for a player. And a player who’s not yet the finished article.

Yes, I know if someone is stupid enough to give you that sort of money you would be equally stupid to turn it down, but really. Paul Pogba. If he’s worth that much, what would Pele be worth if he was playing today? What’s Messi worth?

That’s just taking people for a ride, exactly, Baz. You’re old enough to remember when Trevor Francis became the first million pound player, aren’t you? Dave was in nappies and I wasn’t much older. 1979, wasn’t it? And Francis wasn’t worth the money either. He was a prodigy at Birmingham City – they used to call him Superboy because he was playing in the First Division at 16.

But was he worth a million? I think you’ll find even he doesn’t think so. The football world was aghast – yes, it is a funny word, and probably not the right one, but you know what I mean. People were shocked. They were still recovering from Jimmy Greaves being signed by Tottenham for £99,999. They did that, Baz, because they didn’t want him to have the pressure of being the first £100,000 player. So they paid a quid less than that.

Like you see in the supermarket, everything is a penny below a landmark price to make it seem less expensive. Did I pay a tenner for that bottle of wine? Did I hell. Bargain, mate, £9.99.

But Pogba, you see, isn’t afraid of that. His agent isn’t, anyway, and he’s getting millions out of the deal too. I tell you, boys, that’s the racket to be in. Never mind working for a living, doing something worthwhile. Like being a referee, Dave, yes. My former career contributed to the wellbeing of this country. In a modest way, I agree, but professional football provides enjoyment for millions of people and it has to be played in the right spirit, so the people who ensure that, like myself, are making a contribution to society. You could call it a form of philanthropy.

And now I’m teaching people to drive. It’s a life skill. I’m helping to keep the world moving, but in  a safe way.

Cheers, Gary, bottle of Pils please. Czech Republic if they’ve got it.

So anyway, getting back to the point, if Mino Raiola, the superagent, had Baz on his books, how much would he get for him? Veteran centre half, unflappable, hard as nails,  has been known to score goals from corners. Got to be getting on for the price of a bottle of wine, don’t you reckon? What do you think, Baz? Are you worth a Chilean Merlot or a magnum of champagne?

Pogba. I’d have offered Juventus a case of Chianti. Yes, I know you know what that is because I explained it when Hannibal Lecter said it in Silence of the Lambs. He had someone’s liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti. Can’t have been a footballer, then, old Hannibal. Cos if he had been he’d have had some carbohydrates with it. Pasta or rice . Not mashed potatoes, Baz. Because they just don’t, mate.

Well, you could have it on top of a mound of spaghetti with the beans on the side. They’re known as broad beans in this country. No, I don’t like them either.