The new importance of being Ernest (or Hilda)

By Keith Newbery

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


It’s fascinating to watch children’s names evolve over the years in a slow, kaleidoscopic combination of unlikely vowels and consonants, with changes dictated by fashion and, I suspect, a certain inability to spell correctly.

This leads to many wonderful variations on outlandish themes, which means I can hardly wait for the County Press baby picture competition each year.

It always produces a feast of extravagant names and the increased popularity of the hyphen merely ensures our pleasure is doubled.

Surely it can only be a matter of time before we hear about the first set of twins named Milly-Mae and Molly-Mitenot.

The tendency these days for the surnames of both parents to be used on birth certificates means some kids are destined to go through life with four names as a matter of course.

I presume the intention is to gatecrash a social stratum which was once the sole preserve of the well-heeled and/or aristocratic, in an effort to make kids sound posh.

But what if he or she goes on to become famous?

I imagine athlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson and footballer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain curse their parents every time they come face-to-face with a queue of autograph hunters.

And what if people so thoroughly hyphenated should get married and decide to do unto their progeny what their parents did unto them?

It means we are only a generation away from children named something like Madison-Rae Oxlade-Chamberlain-Johnson-Thompson.

That’s why it came as something of a relief to learn from a

study carried out by that some less complicated

and splendidly old fashioned names are returning to prominence.

Shortened forms of staunch old British monikers are particularly popular, with Jack, Charlie, Freddie and Archie leading the way. Apparently, it’s called "the Alfie effect".

However, some other names, according to the survey, which analysed millions of birth records from 1905 to the present day, have been declared officially extinct.

Foremost among them are Fanny and Willy (which is a blessing on so many levels) while Bertha and Blodwyn have fallen from favour because, I suspect, they instinctively invite the adjective "big".

Officially on the "endangered" list are Horace, Harold, Doris (my mother will not be amused) and Ethel, while others such as Clarence, Cyril, Maud and Nellie are considered "at risk".

So come on you Island mums, I expect to see the birth announcements’ column in this newspaper filled with names such as Gertrude, Gladys, Hilda, Herbert, Ernest, Sydney and Walter in the months ahead.

We must all do our bit to ensure great British traditions are retained for as long as possible.

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