Thursday, 12 June 2014

The Lady Guide to Modern Manners: 13 June

Bizarre names for children are all the rage these days, but is that always a good thing? Thomas Blaikie advises

Written by Thomas Blaikie
Dear Thomas,
Should we throw up our hands in horror at the modern mania for weird baby names? Recently, I’ve heard of babies called ‘Divine-Grape’, ‘Masthead’, ‘Willow’ and ‘Consuela’. Where will it end?
Annabel Crawford, Dover

Dear Annabel,
My goodness, what adventure in your neighbourhood! You may have come across Kim Kardashian, who was expensively married for the third time recently. She is a celebrity. Her daughter is called North, whose father is Kanye West, the man dear Kim married. All celebrity weddings require the couple already to have children; otherwise, who would be the bridesmaids? But that’s not the point. The child’s full name is ‘North West’.

Just about everything is wrong with this. Nobody wants to sit in a north-facing room, or garden in a north-facing garden. The worst wind comes from the north and a north-westerly is only marginally better. ‘North West’ is not actually distinguishable as a name. The child might get confused with a compass.

Celebrities have led the way with odd names. Celebrity o‡ffspring have been called ‘Thatcher’, ‘Calico’, ‘Diesel’ and ‘Sailor Lee’. Perhaps most outstanding is ‘Audio Science’, the sprog of little-known actress Shannyn Sossamon. It’s hard to withdraw the accusation that these names reŒflect the vanity of the giver and their desire to make it clear just how divorced they are from reality.

I do see, though, that parents might seek alternatives when the choice is predictable and so many names are deemed either posh or common. After all, you could end up with ‘Kim’, which I don’t like because it sounds like ‘skin’. There’s also a reasonably venerable hippie/ alternative tradition of unusual names that gave rise to ‘River Phoenix’, and ‘Tiger Lily’, the daughter of Michael Hutchence and Paula Yates. Nobody, as far as I know, has ridiculed the parents of wellknown playwright, Timberlake Wertenbaker, for calling their daughter thus, and Wystan Auden, otherwise known as the poet WH Auden, always said he’d be furious if he came across anyone else called ‘Wystan’.

A common objection is that the child in question might not live up to its bizarre name, although Auden did. Not all though. I once knew a baby called ‘Jupiter’ but by the time he was 18 he was called something else. But who’s to say that a person won’t be dampened, if not crushed, if allotted a dreary ordinary name?

In France until 1993 you could only select from an approved list of names. Even now the registrar might object to your choice but rarely does. Let parents be free to choose but don’t pick a strange name just to be di‡fferent. There has to be a better reason. Unusual can be a triumph: think of the glory of ‘Isambard Kingdom Brunel’.

Please send your questions to or write to him at The Lady, 39-40 Bedford Street, London WC2E 9ER


Do you have to? Especially if they forge in and say, if you’re a grannytype, ‘Got the kettle on, dearie, have we?’ Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink. They have been known to hint at biscuits or even cake as well.

I feel rather as I do about tipping black-taxi drivers in London – meanspirited. Why all these hot drinks for the plumber or leccie the second they are through the door? Can’t they self-coffee or tea at one of the international chain shops that is bound to be round the corner? Best to be decisive, have a policy and stick to it. Either you’re offering or you’re not or you suggest they help themselves.

Maybe if it’s a long job or they come at dead of night you could relent. But really, I don’t think you have to automatically press a mug into the hand of absolutely everybody who crosses your threshold on a paying basis. You might not have the right kind of beverage available. Or you might be just too frantically busy. Of course, I shall still dither about this and experience guilt all the same.

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