Ian Clayton column - What’s your name: Nutella, Kylie, Thierry, Muhammed?

Thierry Henry
Thierry Henry

What’s in a name?

I got into one of those pub discussions recently – you know the ones where someone quotes a strange, barely believable fact, that is either designed to wind you up, astonish you or just downright dumbfound you.

I’ve been involved in so many of these over the years, invariably when I’ve had a couple of pints, and I know from experience that if you dig a little bit under the surface you find that this astounding fact is either an urban myth being recycled for the umpteenth time, or, it’s been made up almost on the spot to add weight to an argument that everyone has got bored of.

So, there I am, sipping a pint of bitter, when I’m asked “Do you know what the most common boy’s name in Britain was last year?”

And before I can say, “No, I have no idea what the most common boy’s name was last year!” this bloke next to me at the bar blurts out “Muhammed! Now what do you think to that!”

Again I know from experience when people in bars ask you “What do think?” they very rarely wait for you to think about anything, because they don’t really want to know what you think, they just want to see how you react to what they have just told you. True to form, when I paused to consider what I wanted to say, this bloke said “Ahh ahh, you didn’t know that, did you?” I agreed with him, I didn’t know that, but told him that I wasn’t sure that this could be true.

I asked:“Where did you get that information from?” He said: “Are you calling me a liar?”

I said: “No, I am wondering how you came to know this fact.”

He said: “I know for a fact it’s true, I read it in the paper, so it must be.”

I was about to ask him which paper he had read this in, but before I could, he turned on his heel, walked down the length of the bar and tapped somebody else on the shoulder to ask him the same question he’d just asked me.

When I got home I needed to satisfy my curiosity, could it be true, that Muhammed is now the most popular name for a boy in Britain.

I consulted a chart published by something called “Baby Centre” which each year compiles lists of the names parents give to at least 50,000 babies born in this country.

I found out that not only is Muhammed not the most popular name, it is not even in the top ten, it is in fact fifteenth most popular, just behind Joshua and Noah and just in front of Leo, Archie and Riley.

The three most popular boys name in this country remain, as they have been for the last few years, Oliver, Jack and Harry, quite old-fashioned names really that seem to come back every now and again and these are mirrored by the top three girls names which are Olivia, Emily and Sophia.

While I was doing my research into popular names, I came across a series of maps of America which showed the most popular girl’s names by state in the USA over the past six decades.

If you are, like me, in your middle 50s, but from America, the chances are that you will have someone in your family called Mary, for that was the most common name in most of the states at the beginning of the sixties. Mary was replaced by Lisa for most of the rest of the flower power decade, but by 1970 and for the next 15 years Jennifer was easily the most common name, before Emily made a comeback.

Back in England, it is fair to say that Muhammed and its derivatives Mohammed and Muhamed are rising in popularity, but the Office of National Statistics also tells of a steep rise in some unusual names. The office reports that there are at least 20 people in this country called Draco, Sirus or Bellatrix.”

And in the year when Arsenal had their invincible season in 2001, 51 boys in London were given the name Thierry.

On the football theme, since the Beckhams named their fourth child Harper more than 350 sets of parents have followed their lead.

Now, in 2007 when Under My Umbrella got to number one, 281 girls in this country came to be called Rihanna. There was a similar spike in the popularity of the name Kylie throughout the 1990s. They should be so lucky…

I read in the paper recently that a young girl in France was rescued from being named after her parents favourite breakfast spread. The French authorities ruled that Nutella” is not a proper name to give to a child.