The Old Manor

On a recent visit to a friend’s house, Him Indoors and I thought we’d swing by a place we used to rent in Battersea. We were curious to see whether the fruit trees we planted in the front garden had survived.

I say front garden. A strip of earth a metre by 30cm barely constitutes a window box, but still. Undeterred, we had planted a couple of apple trees, knowing that they would probably outgrow the space. To our astonishment they were still there, carefully pruned and trained by the current tenants.

“I wonder if Connor still lives here,” I muttered to Him Indoors. Connor must have been 5 or 6 years old back then. He spent his days tearing up the neighbourhood on a three-wheeled scooter, only to be occasionally apprehended by his mother. She would slam an uncompromising hand on the young man’s shoulder as he hurtled past, spitting expletives at the residents, to shout, “Connor! Stop being so f***ing rude!” Or, at a slightly further distance (multiply the matriarchal decibels by a factor of 50), “Connorrr! Get out of that f***ing tree!”

“He’s probably old enough to go twocking by now,” sighed Him Indoors darkly as we parked nearby. Twocking, for the uninitiated, is a slightly mangled acronym of ‘Taking Without Owner’s Consent.’ Essentially car theft, of which there is a fair amount in south London. Luckily, the car survived the evening and we saw neither hide nor hair of young Connor. Perhaps he was inside. His house, or possibly prison, we just don’t know.

It’s difficult to disassociate names from the named. A bad experience can put you right off, leaving an unshakeable conviction that you will never, ever name your child Alison because of that awful girl you went to school with (names have been changed to protect the innocent.) Consequently, choosing a name for a baby tends to result in going through those of everyone you’ve ever met and avoiding most of them.

There’s no reason why naming a child after an old nemesis would make you love them any less. It might even redeem that name for you in the future. Connor however was a pretty pervasive influence. Two couples I know have named their first-born after him, and I eye these lovable infants with utter suspicion against my better judgement. For those awaiting the news of number two next week (hello Mother), I can tell you one name that is definitely off the list.

How did you choose the names of your children/pets?  Did you avoid the names of old nemesises (nemisi?)

How to name your baby

We haven’t settled on a real name for Little Wilb yet, but I thought I’d share some of the baby-naming strategies I’ve been mulling over recently.  It’s an intimidating responsibility, and one which is not without its pitfalls.

Aside from dropping the poor kid on its head or leaving it at a bus stop, giving a baby a bad name is one of the worst crimes a new parent can commit.  This is after all, the handle your child is going to carry with it for the rest of its life (assuming it doesn’t change it by deed poll out of desperation at some stage) and it will blame you for the name you chose as the root of all its various incompetencies during its teenage years anyway regardless of how inoffensive you thought it was at the time.

Here are a few strategies you could use to try to avoid the most obvious perils on the road to the registry office.

Strategy 1: Choose something popular.

This appears to be a good strategy for avoiding ‘Darius syndrome.’  Darius syndrome is the fate which befalls names which are a bit different but perfectly fine, until somebody of the same name becomes famous and ruins it for everyone due to their astonishing lack of talent/downright evilness.  You might be all set on Darius, having found it in a baby name book and learnt that you are naming your little bundle after a Persian emperor, and then along comes… Darius, and you’re scuppered.  To illustrate this point further, here is a graph of the popularity of the name Adolph (variant of Adolf) in the 20th Century.

If you were naming your child in April 1889, as Mr. and Mrs. Hitler were, Adolph or Adolf would have been one of the most popular names going.  And, if you’d looked it up in the baby book (assuming such things existed back then) you would have been reassured to learn that your baby was to be blessed with the qualities of a ‘noble wolf.’  Not surprisingly the popularity of the name took a bit of a nose dive in the late 1930’s, and has now more or less disappeared out of the charts.

Whilst there’s not much you can do to predict a fascist despot ruining your baby’s name, sticking to popular and somewhat more middle of the road names will probably ensure that your child doesn’t end up with every introduction resulting in a raised eyebrow by the time he reaches his mid-teens.

Strategy 2: Choose something ‘different’.

The down-side of strategy 1 is that you don’t want to go for the same name as every other parent in a 30 mile radius, lest your baby ending up thinking it’s name is actually ‘MattB’ by the second year of school, so as to distinguish him from MattA, MattC and MattD.  But then I heard recently about a girl who was the second ‘Sienna’ in her play-group, so there really is no predicting which direction trends will travel in.  Unfortunately, a ‘different’ name is only different at the point of naming, and if everyone has the same idea, then you’re stuck with a permanent initial stuck on the end of your name for the next 16 years.

Also, when you’re going for different, don’t forget that you may be shouting your chosen collection of syllables 20 or 30 times a day.  It’s worth considering this before settling on Philomela or something equally long and difficult to articulate in a crisis.  Bear in mind that it needs to be easy enough to shout quickly and at volume across Tesco’s car park when your adorable toddler is on the brink of slamming a shopping trolley into somebody’s Peugeot.

Strategy 3: Choose something topical

I don’t know if the parents of the several thousand 18-month old ‘Obamas‘ are regretting it yet, but they have managed to combine the pit-falls of strategy 1 and 2 in one fell swoop here.    You can bet your bottom dollar that there will have been a lot of parents who fancied naming their children Obama following his election in 2008, and those children will no doubt end up as ‘ObamaA’, ‘ObamaB’ and ‘ObamaC’, so as to avoid confusion (see Strategy 2.)  There is also the danger that Obama’s popularity will take a further tumble, and then the name doesn’t seem like quite such a clever idea after all.

Even if his presidency is a resounding success, it’s not like this will rub off on any of the baby Obamas, because we just don’t associate people with their name-sakes.  Do you think of the silver screen stars when you meet an Audrey or a Marilyn?

Strategy 4: Choose something cool.

The best place for picking up cool baby names is undoubtedly your local Apple store.  Have a bit of a mooch around, pretend to be shopping for an iPod or something, but secretly you are looking at the employee name tags for inspiration.

Choose the guys who have chosen to wear long sleeved t-shirts under their  staff t-shirts.  They are undoubtedly the coolest.  If you’re really lucky, you might find one who’s also wearing a scarf, an unfeasibly large pair of headphones around the neck and a baseball cap.  Check out the name on the end of that lanyard, and you’re onto a winner.

I hope I’ll be able to settle on a name myself at some point in the near future.  If in doubt, at least give the poor scrap a sensible middle name, so that they can choose that instead if Griselda doesn’t float their boat.