You don’t get many opportunities to give someone something that’ll define them for the rest of their lives; short of bottling them. When you name a child it seems as if you hold their entire future in your hands. ‘Shall we call her Marigold… and hope she does?’ ‘Do you think Isaac will have a future in management consultancy?’ And there are no rules to guide you.
Willenkate have settled, fawningly, on great-granny’s daddy’s name. Okay, it was never going to be Keith or Kevin, Jermaine, Marius or Gaylord. But I’d hoped they’d have the courage to go for a romantic royal like Arthur or Lear. Perhaps, a sense of humour would prevail with a future King Dom, Kong or Kee. Or how about that regal expletive: ‘king Hell? But no. It’s George.
He still gets to choose a different ‘regal’ name when crowned; so my hopes for King Dong I are not entirely dashed. But ‘George’ came quickly by royal standards, ‘William’ took a week, and ‘Charles’ remained nameless for a month. This was definitely a name-in-waiting rather than a ‘let’s see what he’s like before we settle on a…’ name.
Still, you’d better think hard if you’re coming up with a name that might change history or describe an era. Would an ‘Andrew’ see off the putative Scottish dissolution? What about ‘Jock’? Will George VII wipe out Victoria, Edward, Elizabeth, Charles and William in the long view of history? Will future historians simply lump together the 18th to 21st centuries as ‘Georgian’? After all, it’s not like we’ve broken new cultural ground since the romantic period.
Even if most of us aren’t defining an epoch when we name our children, it’s just as treacherous, a minefield of politics and politeness. It’s often the first battle a couple have, unaware that everything from then on will be a repeat of this original conflict played out with the same blow and parry, smile and snide, and ever relentless compromise. In this ‘Baby X’ Factor, you are the judges and the try-outs are sung before your foetus has even developed earlobes. It’ll hear the taut music of your voices running through the baby name books as if you really haven’t already got a name in mind and you’re perfectly open to suggestions, honest.
In turns, you throw out the names of previous lovers, significant stalkers, the unpleasant, insane and ridiculous. You’re bursting to promote your favourite but you know you can’t mention it too early; right now you have to make it look like you’re taking their idea of ‘Crispin-Aloysius’ seriously. By the third trimester, the competition has begun in earnest as, just like Prince George, August relations loom – Who needs be honoured? Who paid tribute to? Who looks good for some school fees? – before consigning the most likely to the ‘middle name’ roster because, unlike the Mountbatten-Windsors, there’s just too much shit involved in prioritising one partner’s family over the other.
Before long it’s the semi-finals and the fighting gets dirty. You’re down to a short list of names that both of you will just about tolerate and now you’re going to pull them apart in case they lead to teasing: ‘kids are cruel,’ after all. Something else which little Prince George won’t have to worry about, already possessing the perfect answer to, ‘Oh yeah? You and whose army?’
Now is the time to vote off your partner’s ludicrous pet names. ‘But Richard will be Dick!,’ ‘Oh poor Titania!’ Those already suffering bully-baiting last names pay special attention. Ed Balls, think twice before you call your daughter ‘Rosie’, Mr. Dover don’t call your boy ‘Ben’ and please, Mrs. McKracken, don’t even contemplate ‘Phil’.
Should you go for a traditional name that might give a child security; or an eclectic one for individuality? Worst case is the unusual name that everybody else is going for – too many Nigellas really do spoil the broth.
Then, around the birth, a couple of contenders make the grand finale. Almost invariably, they are competing suggestions from the two judges. So now it’s a battle of wills. Who really wears the trousers? The countdown for the legal ‘registration of birth’ time-limit ticks away. If you blink, you capitulate, your mooted name disappears as if it was never there. The votes are counted and verified and before the first nappy has time to be rash, your baby’s sporting a name that suddenly seems inseparable from your own.
Or, if you’re as foolish as me, a name which the grandparents find so objectionable, they use, ‘your child’ or ‘darling’ for the next fifteen years. But, like my daughters, Roxana and Jezebel – historically both queens and whores – you can be sure your child will take the name, fit into it as if no other were possible, and do things with it you never dreamed of.
Marius Brill’s hilarious novel How to forget is available in all good book shops.