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Why on earth do parents want to give their children silly names?

We should return to the days when children were named after saints rather than following the example of celebrities

By on Monday, 6 May 2013

David and Victoria Beckham with their children Romeo, Cruz and Brooklyn Photo: PA

David and Victoria Beckham with their children Romeo, Cruz and Brooklyn Photo: PA

I do about 40 baptisms a year, and oddly I have never ever had to baptise a Kylie, or even a Jason. I have not been keeping a record, but the most popular girls names seem to be Olivia and Grace, and the boys names are all what you would expect, traditional names, with a few ‘comeback’ names from the past, like Joseph.

The opening of the baptismal rite is the question put to the parents: “What name have you given your child?” Baptism is not a naming ceremony. And that is good news. Otherwise one might be left with the difficult choices facing registrars in New Zealand, who have the power to refuse to register certain names if they are deemed offensive. There is no list of banned names, so the discretion rests with the registrars, who, according to this report are all following the same playbook.

Why on earth, though, do some parents want to give their children silly names? It may have something to do with our celebrity obsessed culture, in which case the blame lies with the initiators of the fad, Mr and Mrs Bob Geldof, and Mr and Mrs David Beckham, among others.

The sad truth remains that once upon a time we were all named after saints, or heroes from antiquity, as was once a legal requirement in France. And in having a saint’s name, we had roots of a sort. It is still common in Italy to find that Christian names are linked to a certain region. Everyone called Calogero, in my experience, is from Sicily, though I find to my surprise that Saint Calocerus was a second century martyr from Brescia in the north of Italy, at least according to Wikipedia. However, recourse to Italian Wiki brings one face to face with San Calogero the sixth century hermit much venerated in Sicily.

Sicily is of course a great place for saints, but the localism of Christian names is common to the rest of Italy as well. Maurizio (Maurice) is a Piedmontese name (after another martyr of Roman times), and Gennaro (Januarius) is still common in Naples, though it has spread to Kenya, thanks to Italian missionaries, as has Consolata, the Madonna venerated in Turin.

It is rather sad that we English do not have this custom. True, a few of us are called George and Edward after our national patron saints, but it is simply impossible to go up to someone and say “So tell me, Wilfred (or Cuthman, perhaps,) where exactly do you come from in West Sussex?” Are there any people in the north east, perhaps, called Bede? Not many, I fear. Are people from Chertsey often called Erconwald? Come off it! But it is a sad reflection on our rootless existence.

Once in Africa, I met a priest who had a Scottish surname, and an unusual Christian name. “So,” I said, “You come from Floriana?” He ought not to have been surprised. Everyone ought to recognise the name of Saint Publius, Malta’s first bishop, and patron saint of the parish Church of Floriana. He was thrown to the lions, which always fascinated me as a child, and which his statue graphically illustrates.

Being named after a saint gives you a patron saint. Having a name from classical antiquity, as I do, leaves you a little adrift. My three elder brothers are all named after saints, but I have to do with an Empire-builder. Frankly, I feel cheated. But not as cheated, I suspect, as some children in contemporary Britain (but not New Zealand) will one day feel.