The English Pedant – What did you call me?

The most popular name for girl babies in Trinidad and Tobago is, apparently, Cherelle. That’s a sort of Frenchified version of the British name Cheryl, which was itself an anglicised version of the French Cherie. Confused? It gets worse.

I recently came across an American actress called Aunjanue Ellis, and it took a few seconds of brain contortions to work out that this was a misspelling (or the parents might call it an alternative spelling) of the French word Ingenue, meaning an innocent or naive girl.

Like those tattoos in Arabic that no one else knows the meaning of, there is an air of mystery about this lady’s name, even though I bet she’s sick to death of having to spell it for people.

The giving of wacky names is one of the irresponsible (as opposed to dangerous) abuses of parental power. Any parent knows that thinking of a good name for a baby is often very difficult: you can think of a thousand you don’t want, but not a single one that you really like.

Perhaps that is why, after a few beers, people think it would be acceptable, or even a good idea, to call the poor unborn mite something ridiculous.

Clearly in California, where Aunjanue was born (and it also seems to be the case in the Caribbean) you can name a baby what you like. In other parts of the world, though, the registrars would have put their foot down.

For instance, there’s a British TV miniseries called Doctor Foster (which is brilliant, by the way; only about six episodes but well worth a look), the star of which is Suranne Jones. She’s not Suranne on her birth certificate, though, because the registrar was of the opinion that it wasn’t a real name, so her parents were persuaded to make it officially Sarah Anne, and if they wanted to call her Suranne as soon as they left his office, that was okay with him.

Well, we all have our foibles, and this guy obviously took his job quite seriously. He’d have had a fit, though,  if he’d worked in the West Indies, where making names up is not unusual. Mum has three friends called Camille, Cordelia and Esther? We’ll use bits of each: we’ll call the kid Camcorder.

The friends are Dilys, Sandra and Margery? Why, Disandry, of course. A name isn’t going to kill you, even if the disease might. And anyway, it’s not common in this part of the world and no one knows how to spell it, so where’s the harm?

How different the world would be if royal families were not inherently conservative. Imagine if Prince William and Kate  had exercised their right to use names they heard in St Lucia on holiday, rather traditional ones like George and Charlotte. They’d have been locked up in the Tower of London at the first mention of Prince Jayden and Princess Jordan.

You might think Bob Marley would have gone down the silly-name route, particularly as he had so many to christen – at least 15 “acknowledged” offspring, plus, we are led to believe, a number of unacknowledged ones. But no, the Marley tribe includes  a Karen, a Stephanie and a Julian, while even eldest son Ziggy was actually christened David, but called himself after the David Bowie alter ego Ziggy Stardust, and everyone else went along with it.

My digital encounter with Aunjanue Ellis came at the same time as George Clooney and his wife Amal introduced their newborns, Ella and Alexander, to a quiet round of applause by traditionalists the world over.

What, no Moony  Junie Clooney? No Goliath Hairy Greek-looking  Smoothguy?

After all, even if the registrar objected, they’re a rich and famous couple – and she’s a lawyer – so they could have found a more understanding official.

But how are poor little Ella and Alex going to feel when they meet other celebrity kids such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s daughter Apple, let alone North and Saint, children of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian?

You can hear the Clooney twins whining when they get home: “Moooom! How could you? I sound so boring!”

The world title holders of the parent-imposed name are the children of Live Aid organiser and professional agitator Bob Geldof and his late wife Paula Yates, who gave us Peaches, Pixie and Fifi Trixiebelle, and when Yates went off with singer Michael Hutchence, she quickly produced Heavenly Hirani Tiger Lily.

Interestingly, it didn’t take David Bowie’s son Zowie long to ditch that millstone, plus his Dad’s self-chosen surname, and become plain old Duncan Jones.

Perhaps when this generation of hilariously-labelled children are running the world they will introduce new naming regulations whereby aggrieved youngsters are entitled, at the age of 18, to rename their parents.

Were that to happen, there could well be a split between the complimentary and the insulting. There might also be a 10-year cooling-off period to allow for age-induced understanding and mellowing, because names given in the heat of the moment could be regretted later.  For every King, Hero and Legend Smith there would be a Grumpy, Tyrant and Knowall, while the mothers would be split between Angel, Bestfriend or Precious and Jailer, Prude and Thatissounfair.

 

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.