While Australia does have a class system, it’s a flattened-out one, with fewer social divisions, and a large middle ground. Class is more fluid and less structured here than some other places. Of course, that doesn’t mean we are free of all status markers and snobbery – including name snobbery.
So if we don’t have an upper class, do we have upper class baby names? I don’t think so, because any particular name is used by a wider variety of people than you might suppose. Although in our imaginations, poor people have children named Jaidyn and Tayylah, and rich people send Agatha and Lucius off to St Barnaby’s or the Kindergarten of Higher Consciousness, in real life it is a lot less stereotypical.
When you register your baby name, the registry doesn’t ask for your family tree or your bank balance. They won’t ever say, Look, I think Peregrine is out of your price range. Might I suggest something more affordable, like Cooper? All names are equal, because they cost the same amount to register. No matter how humble your circumstances, you can give your baby any name you want – elegant, serious, trendy, sassy, bold, or eye-raising.
And because all names are equal, they won’t make any difference to your own social position, or to your child’s. A poverty-stricken family won’t receive an invitation to join the Yacht Club just because their daughter is named Agatha, and a Jaidyn born into wealth will have just as privileged a life as if his name had been Lucius.
Although some people fret that their baby’s name needs to sound like a doctor, a judge, a professor, or a prime minister for them to succeed, in real life surgeons are named Kellee, chief justices are named Wayne, academics are named Tiffany and Brandy, and prime ministers are named Kevin. Not only does your name not indicate where you came from, it doesn’t indicate where you are going either.
However, it’s fair to say that some names have an upper class image. I don’t think Australia is significantly different from other English-speaking countries when it comes to what names may be perceived as upper class.
Names Which May Be Seen as Upper Class
Here are just a few ideas as to what I think sounds “upper class,” what others may perceive as upper class, or that I have noticed upper-middle class people choosing. I am not recommending these styles of name, or suggesting you use them.
- Historical surname names for boys eg Forbes and Monash
Names Not Obviously One Class or Another
Many names that have been highly popular for a length of time – by their nature, popular names are “of the people”; it’s easier for a name to remain very popular if many groups of people use them. Names like Charlotte, William, Chloe and Lachlan could belong to almost anyone, and do.
- Hickster names – those that are fashionable-sounding yet slightly countrified, like Mayella and Elroy. Even after reading the birth notices carefully, looking for clues as to which kind of families choose these names, I still don’t know.
- Extremely rare or obscure but genuine names – due to the fact they are almost never heard of, they don’t have any social context to put them into. You may only meet one Harmon in your whole life – so how can you generalise about the name?
What names do you think have an upper class image? And do you think there is any such thing as an upper-class name?