For most people outside of the UK, “British Names” are typified by the old Victorian legacy of Empire and afternoon tea, or the ethereal mystery of ancient Celtic folklore. The stereotype often favours rarefied aristocratic favourites such as Percival and Araminta, or tongue-twisting indigenous Gaelic choices like Aonghus or Caoimhe.
If you look at the most popular names that are actually used in Britain today you will see a much more varied picture. Like other Western countries there is a large influence from film and television, a popular cult of celebrity, and a growing awareness of global fashions (yes, we have many Neveahs and Jaydens, too). And yet, even in our modernised naming practices, British trends still manage to make a subtle nod to history in a style that feels quite unique.
1. Resurrected Edwardians
The Four Generation Rule is in full force in Britain at the moment, reviving long lost Edwardian gems. Current Top 100 favourites in England, Wales and Scotland include Ruby, Eliza, Florence, Harriet, Martha, Matilda, Arthur, Oscar and Stanley, while lower down the ranks names such as Beatrice, Dorothy, Edith, Elsie, Albert, Ernest, Hubert and Sidney have seen a large rise in usage in the last ten years.
Some turn-of-the-century favourites have been reinvented with a fresher appeal. Millicent dropped out of the Top 100 after 1914, but has seen a revival in the popular Millie. Archibald also fell out of fashion after 1914, but his diminutive, Archie, has seen a meteoric rise over the past decade.
The Edwardian craze for floral names is also back in fashion. Add up all the spellings, and Lily is Britain’s #1 name for girls. Daisy, Poppy, Holly, Jasmine and Rose also rank in the Top 100, with Violet, Iris and Ivy not far behind.
2. Celtic Charm
Our Celtic heritage is a part of British culture that we are very proud of. Native languages include Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and Manx Gaelic, and all of them have produced a multitude of unique and historic names that Brits love to use.
In the 1950s Sheila, Brenda, Sharon, Fiona, Glynis, Ian, Brian, Keith, Graham, Kevin, Trevor, Patrick, Gareth and Donald were all Top 100 favourites. Roll on to the 80s and Kelly, Kirsty, Sian, Lindsey, Craig, Scott, Sean and Gavin had taken their place.
The Top 100 in Wales also features indigenous creations such as Seren, Ffion, Carys, Cerys, Lowri, Mali, Nia, Cadi and Catrin for girls and Osian, Gethin, Cai, Ioan, Ieuan, Iestyn, Lloyd and Iwan for boys.
3. The ‘EE’s Have It
Classic diminutives are a huge trend in Britain at the moment, and many outshine their formal counterparts. You are far more likely to meet a baby Alfie (#4), Charlie (#5), Evie (#10) or Maisie (#14), than an Alfred (#154), Charles (#62), Eva (#37) and Margaret (#505).
Two-syllable –ie or –y ending names are all the rage, and many fill up the Top 100 rankings:
4. Swift and Sure
Sleek and snappy names are another current fashion in Britain. The second most popular style in British names, after the two-syllable “ee” sound, is the use of slick one-syllable names. Grace, Brooke, Paige, Faith, Skye, Niamh, Rose, Eve and Beth are top for girls; Jack, James, Max, Jake, Luke, Kai, Rhys, Ben, Kyle, Joel, Jude, Sam, John, Cole and Jay are hot for boys.
The trend for two-syllable –ie names, and slick one-syllable names often combine together in a multitude of hyphenated names. The statistics for England and Wales confirms that, in 2010, 9045 girls and 1574 boys received a hyphenated name. The hugely popular Ellie–May, Ellie–Mae and Ellie–Mai, for example, ranked at #205, #265 and #380 respectively.
The data for England and Wales does not include names with a count below three, so a great many hyphen combinations are misses out of the data. Scotland has no such restriction, and their stats show that, staggeringly, 12% of all the girls names, and 6% of boys names, registered in 2011 were hyphenated names.
The overall trend shows that, for girls, Lily, Ellie, Ruby and Lacey are the most common first element, with May, Rose, Grace, Leigh and Ann as popular second names. Alfie, Tyler and Riley are the most commonly hyphenated first name for boys, with James, Jay and Lee as the most popular second names.