What’s in a name? 0



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Shakespeare in Romeo and Juliet observed, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I’ve been looking at the 10 most popular girls and boys names given to babies born in Australia last year and there can be no denying that the names the Royal Family give their various and increasingly frequent offspring are having a strong influence.

Last year there were 298,200 babies born in Australia and one in 10 of those were given one of the top 10 babies’ names.

Charlotte was, once again, the top girl’s name in 2015 with 1,737 female tots given this moniker. That had been the most popular name in 2011-2013 before briefly losing to Olivia in 2014. Princess Charlotte of Cambridge was born in May, 2015.

The top boy’s name was Oliver with 2,189 choices although I somehow doubt this reflects any republican sentiment. The original republican, Oliver Cromwell, ruled briefly as Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland and Ireland in the 17th century and had Charles I executed. Cromwell was such an awful bloody (in every sense) puritan bore than when he died Charles II was invited back and the fun resumed.

Indeed, Prince William’s popularity first placed his name in the top 10 in 2001 and since then the popularity of the name has grown. It was number one in 2011, the year of the royal wedding and maintained that position in 2012. It still ranked in 2015 as a very solid number two.

George, the name of Princess Charlotte’s older brother, climbed in popularity from 71st in 2012 to 36th in 2015.

Given that most parents — well, mothers at least — are likely to be under 40, those dedicated to keeping Australia a monarchy may well be able to take heart from these statistics. After all, naming your baby is an important decision.

Remarkably, a new trend in babies’ names is emerging.

Today’s parents are not choosing names of their own generation but, rather, century-old names. I am very glad that, at long last, Jason and Kylie have fallen from favour.

For example — Jack climbed to number three last year after a period of long decline from the 1920s to the early 21st century. Ethan and Thomas have staged a comparable return to popularity. Will Joseph and Walter return to popular acclaim?

For girls, Grace was a popular name prior to World War I before becoming almost extinct by the 1980s. Last year, Grace was number eight. Ava has also returned from the almost dead to rank number four last year. How long before we see the return of Edith and Thelma?

The top 10 girls’ names in 2015 were Charlotte, Olivia, Amelia, Ava, Mia, Sophia, Chloe, Emily, Sophie and Grace. Grace pushed Ruby. The top 10 boys’ names were Oliver, William, Jack, Noah, Thomas, James, Jackson/Jaxon, Ethan, Lucas and Lachlan. Lachlan pushed Alexander from the top 10.

The emerging trend is that parents are choosing softer-sounding girls’ names and firmer sounding boys’ names through the use of vowels and consonants. Half of the top 10 girls’ names end with the letter ‘a’ while on the boys’ list, the majority of the top 10 end with a consonant sound — apart from Noah.

Last year seven new boys’ names entered the top 100 list — Spencer, Jesse, Arlo, Harley, Darcy, Jett and Lewis entered at the expense of Bailey, Mitchell, David, Aaron, John, Phoenix and Antony. Nine new girls’ names appeared on the top 100 list in 2015 — Aurora, Billie, Eve, Daisy, Aisha, Leah, Gabriella, Maryam and Maggie pushing out Lexi, Jade, Indie, Pippa, Amelie, Amber, Elise, Natalie and Lacey.

Almost unbelievably, my name — Russell — has been in more or less terminal decline since 1950, the year after I was born. I absolutely refuse to accept any cause and effect relationship. Mind you, I would not be a bit surprised if my name was revived by sensible, aware and intelligent parents quite soon.

I checked what my name is supposed to mean — the consensus is that it is French in origin. Quelle horreur! — and it means red-headed, which I’m not. Mummy and father would not have knowingly given me a name which had a French origin as they both, in their different ways, loathed the French. Mummy still does as a good Continuing Presbyterian should.

I rather like the definition given in the hipsters’ dictionary of choice, the Urban Dictionary — “The best penis in the world” as in “Russell the love muscle”.

I don’t think I will be telling mummy that anymore than I will tell her about the French origin of my name. I’m not sure what would appal her more.

The American actor and comedian WC Fields observed, sensibly I think, “It ain’t what they call you, it’s what you answer to.”

Like Shakespeare, Fields had the first name of William so, perhaps, is the alleged Royal influence a bit overstated?

Do you know the history behind your name? What does your name mean? What do you think about what Russell has to say?

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Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

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