What’s in a name?

BABY-SITTING 1900-STYLE: women holding their youngsters in front of the old lamp-house at the end of

BABY-SITTING 1900-STYLE: women holding their youngsters in front of the old lamp-house at the end of Gorleston’s old Dutch wooden pier. Were the babies’ births announced in the Mercury?Picture: CLIFFORD TEMPLE COLLECTION - Credit: Archant

ON the first day of training, a cub reporter will receive this advice from a mentor: “Names make news!” For readers love stories about people and that, in turn, helps to sell newspapers.

Occasionally the names themselves make news, not the person bearing them. Last month, for example, a national newspaper reported on a survey of names of 65,000 school pupils who had logged good behaviour or received awards for achievement in on-line sticker books used by teachers.

From this, a list was compiled, supposedly indicating the best behaved and the naughtiest scholars. Robert, Jamie, Oliver, Alex, Kieran, Courtney, Rachel, Shannon, Lucy and Amy received the most stickers. Recipients of the least were Michael, Benjamin, Owen, Luke, Kyle, Phoebe, Olivia, Holly, Alice and Bethany.

But the organisers were at pains to emphasise: “Just because a child is called Robert or Courtney does not mean they are going to be angels, just as Michael and Phoebe are not necessarily little monsters. All children are delightfully different.” The list was “a bit of Christmas fun.”

Another website found that parents in 2013 had changed preferences, moving away from Royal family names. Olivia and Oliver topped the girl-boy chart, and television dramas were also inspiring new names, like Skyler, Jesse, Brody, Carrie, Dana and Arya.

A national parenting club declared that although unusual names might be deemed fun, mothers and fathers realised their children would “probably have an easier ride in the playground” if they chose a more traditional name, hence a growing trend for “old” names.

If you prefer official statistics, not fun ones, Harry and Amelia held on to top spots for a second year, with runners-up Oliver and Olivia emerging from nowhere.

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As for George, the name of the new son of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, it remained at tenth but was expected to rise in the next annual survey.

Every January I put a different slant on that journalistic “name names” exhortation by scrutinising those of babies whose births have been publicised in the Mercury’s Personal Announcements pages, seeking trends as parents make their choices which will last a lifetime (even if the new-born grows up to achieve celebrity status resulting in the adoption of a stage name or whatever).

But as always, I stress that the Mercury list is only a fraction of the borough’s new-borns, published usually by parents and grandparents with pride and pleasure. Only the official registrar of births, deaths and marriages has logged them all.

Commonsense makes it evident that our announcements are usually from families long resident in our area, and are unlikely to include any eastern Europeans, for instance, who are now part of our borough’s population. Those incomers have to register births by law.

In case you were worrying about the potentially naughty Michael and Phoebe I mentioned earlier, the 2013 Mercury list has no Michael as a first name...but there was one Phoebe!

Mind you, I had never heard of a Phoebe until a 1940s radio variety show starring Eric Barker and Pearly Hackney included a character called Lord Waterlogged, a Cockney rough diamond who referred to his daughter as “the Honorable Phoebe” - pronouncing it “Feeb”.

In 2013 it was impossible to detect any trends in either boy or girl names locally, with no runaway first ones – those by which a person will usually be called throughout life, as distinct from following names that are seldom used except on official documents and records.

Of the 39 boy first names, only six were bestowed twice (Cody, Henry, Jack, Lincoln, Lucas and Noah). Girls were slightly more positive, with Grace/Gracie used four times to head the numerical list, followed by Sophia/Sophie (3). Mollie/Molly, the 2012 favourite for six families, was a non-runner in 2013.

Following names? For boys, George – the royal baby name – notched four usages but never got into the first-name column; Alexander, James and John had three a-piece. There was no listing for Harry, one of the 2012 number ones.

Rose outstripped the rest to retain first place in the all-names list but, for a second year, was never once chosen as a first name.

Names that stood out for me as “different” – a word not intended to be unkind, but indicating a return of ones from generations ago, perhaps, or reflecting someone in the public eye, or just innovative – included:

Boys: Albert, Arthur, Austyn, Billy, Cody Michael, Connor, Daniel, Harley, Harlow, Hayden Alexander, Hudson, Isaac, Jarred, Joseph William, Joshua, Layton, Leo Beau, Lincoln, Logan, Louie, Luca Edwin, Lucas Andy Chuck, Mason Gerrard, Noah Samuel, Oakley, Orlando, Oscar Louis Austin, Quinn Aldred, Reggie, Riley Jacob, Rocco Tate, Roman, Sebastian Arlo and Theo.

Girls: Alyssa, Amelia, Arabella, Aria, Billie, Boo, Elise, Elouise Sarah, Emily Edith, Esmee Alannah, Imogen Sabine, Gracie Autumn-Lily, Halle Matilda Disney, Hazelynn, India, Isla Teddy Elatheia, Kaylee, Kiri, Lara Joanne, Macey, Maisie Willow, Megan, Millie, Nicole, Olive, Phoebe Neave, Rae, Selby, Shayla, Taia Summer, Talia Mya, Tulip, Valentine and Yvie.

In one September Mercury the births announcements included a clutch of notable ones: Selby Evie, Leo Beau, Lincoln, Hollie Bethany, Mason Gerrard and Joseph William.

Our 2013 announcements included three pairs of twins: Skye Leonara and Amelia Esme, Louie and Isabelle, and Henry Richard and Robert Peter.