Category: British names
Yesterday, to launch British Baby Names week on Nameberry, Eleanor Nickerson identified the five strongest current naming trends in the UK. Today we zero in on the popularity of individual names on both sides of the Atlantic, seeing which names have shared success and which haven’t.
We Yanks sometimes tend to have a bit of an inferiority complex, feeling that the Brits are a step or two ahead of us in both trends and specific names, although it is something of a two-way street, when you consider that a strictly American name like Jayden has found its way onto the UK Top 30, and Madison is in the Top 70.
So just how close are the two cultures when it comes to name popularity?
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.
I love the day once a quarter or so that I allow myself to wallow in the London Telegraph birth announcements. Britberries regularly admonish me not to take the names in the Telegraph to mean anything about typical British baby-naming behavior: Those are names chosen by mostly upper class families, they say, and are examples of a rarefied taste.
Point taken, but I still can’t help but be struck by how different many of the names are from what you’d hear in similar stratospheres of American society: on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, say, or in Beverly Hills.
There are dozens of names that are mentioned over and over in the British birth announcements that are nowhere near as fashionable here. But they’re attractive names, traditional yet quirky, excellent choices for any American parent — or British, Australian, or Canadian one, for that matter — who wants to emulate the English upper classes.
Prime examples from the recent crop of British names:
How would you describe your favorite name style?, asked a recent Nameberry Question of the Week. Do you prefer cool names? Classic? Stylish? Or what?
Which put me in mind of trying to characterize my own name style. You might think that we at Nameberry were born knowing our personal name styles, since we’ve made a life’s work of classifying names into styles and helping other people figure out what kinds of names they love.
But like the shoemaker’s child, I’d never really defined my own name style until Linda posted this question. I definitely like vintage names, I decided, along with names that are a bit unusual. Cool names, but not too cool. Classy, yet quirky.
And then the right term for it came to me: Eccentric Aristocrat. You know, the kind of names that might belong to madcap lords and exotic baronesses (baronessi?) dashing around the countryside in yellow roadsters, drinking champagne and weekending at castles.
Yes, it’s a little bit British, but it’s also kind of Eurotrash and pretty F. Scott Fitzgerald and Edith Wharton sophisticated American too. Eccentric Aristocrat names hint at a Russian count as a grandfather, a Scottish pile as an inheritance, ancient relatives who have to be honored with highly unfashionable names – except now that you think about it, those names are actually kind of cool.
Regular readers of Nameberry will recognize the Eccentric Aristocrat in many of the names that, not coincidentally, are favorites on this site: Violet and Jasper, Flora and Felix. Those are the kinds of names that I’d choose for my own children. (The fact that I didn’t choose those kinds of names for my own children is another story, one that starts with my husband’s name style being more Solid Midwestern than Eccentric Aristocrat.)
A few rules on what makes a name an Eccentric Aristocrat:
2. It must have a distinct gender identification, but not a conventional one. The name Inigo is clearly male, while India plainly female. Yet Inigo might just as well design clothes as play football, and India seems as appropriate a name for an international financier as for a supermodel.
Is this another case where the Yanks will follow the Brits in baby-naming trends and revive such previously verboten Grandpa names as Harvey, Arthur, Leon, Walter and Stanley– all once considered distinguished in their day? Or similar in style name like Gilbert, Murray, Ralph, Howard or Ernest?
Which, if any, of the names of this genre would you consider?
Would you choose it only to honor a relative with that name? And/or only as a middle name?
If you did use one, would you consider it cutting-edge or pleasingly retro or perenially stylish?