This week has seen the release of the hotly-anticipated ONS list of the most popular baby names. As ever, there are very few surprises – Oliver and Amelia topped the list for boys and girls respectively, for the third year in a row; Pop culture has affected naming trends (there are 69 girls called Khaleesi, for example); the Daily Mail is whining because there’s lots of babies called Muhammed, and all over the country, mums and dads to be are unhappy. They’re either complaining that their chosen name is too popular, or that it doesn’t even appear in the list.
That’s why I wanted to look at the importance of popularity when choosing your baby’s name – who does it matter to, and why?
It didn’t matter to us. As soon as we picked a Welsh name, I had an inkling that it wouldn’t be common for the entire UK, but I thought we were picking a fairly common Welsh name. Celyn is a nature/object name meaning “holly”, and has the same sort of feel as Seren (“star”) – the #1 name in Wales, now shooting up the ranks in England too. It didn’t really register with me, and I never even thought to research the popularity of the name.
I’ve always wanted unusual names for my children, from when I was six or seven, deciding what to call them. My tastes may have changed slightly from then – having three daughters called Summer, Autumn and Wynter isn’t part of our life plan – but even when I got pregnant, I liked unusual names. When we decided on Celyn, however, I loved the name so much that the fact I thought it was a really popular name didn’t matter one bit.
When she’d been born and named and we were starting to take her out and about, people would comment on how unusual her name was. It wasn’t just English-speaking people, who didn’t know what “Celyn” meant – everyone would say how unusual (but pretty) it was to meet a Celyn. Curiosity got the better of me and I had a look at the ONS statistics – and it turns out that Celyn is actually an uncommon name, even in Wales! I think around 30 were born the same year as SB; even fewer this year.
Maybe it’s the “-yn” ending; traditionally masculine in the Welsh language. Maybe it’s the propensity of non-Welsh-speakers to mishear it as “Karen” or mispronounce it as “See-lyn”. Maybe it’s just that they don’t want their child to have an uncommon name?
That’s one fear I’ve never really understood. I get the urge to give your child an unusual name; I totally understand the feeling of not wanting your child to be one of six or seven in the class, to forever be known as “Oliver C” or “Amelia T”. That’s not to say I judge parents who choose popular names; I just understand why people go for the less popular ones. Fear of names that are too uncommon? I just don’t get it.
It’s probably because my name is uncommon – or at least, it was when I was growing up. I was twelve before I met another Madison – and even then, she was a tiny baby, and her name was spelled wth two “d”s. I’ve never met another one my age or older, and even today, when people try to guess my full name (I pretty much exclusively go by Maddy), they guess Madeleine. They’re always surprised to hear Madison.
Sure, I never found my name on personalised cups/door signs/hairbands. As a six-year-old, it was frustrating, but as I got older, I learned to love my unusual name. It’s always a talking point with people. Even before I left work, I’d sit down with customers in appointments and they’d ask me what Maddy was short for, and it was a real conversation starter. Sometimes it’s nice to be different.
SB is unlikely to find items with her name on either, but her name will be memorable. Her name will stand out in a sea of top-ten names, the way mine did when I was younger. It’ll be a conversation starter. It might even open doors for her.
Classic names will always be in style. People see them as good, solid, sturdy names. Your child will be easy to buy gifts for, because there will be a stream of items with their names on it. They won’t have to deal with misspellings and mispronunciations.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal taste. I don’t think a name can be too popular, nor do I think it can be too uncommon.
Be proud of your child’s name. Whether you picked it out of a hat or made it up yourself; whether it’s number one on the list or doesn’t even appear – celebrate it. It’s part of what makes your child absolutely unique.
Do you think the popularity of names matters? Did you go for classic, top 100 names or something a little more out-there when it came to naming your children?