Pastimes: Year of the Newt

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The Independent Culture
It has been a momentous and well-defined year. Indeed, with 75 defining moments compared with only 27 last year, 1995 may fairly be described as the year of defining moments. Or you could call it the Year of the Newt. We shall come to that later. First, the defining moments. We have had several in Bosnia, almost as many in Ireland, and a not inconsiderable number in both the Conservative and Labour parties. There was even one in the ENO production of Don Giovanni.

Our figures are based on a count of occurrences of the phrase "defining moment" in the pages of the Independent and Independent on Sunday throughout the year, and the comparison with last year shows that 1995 was either a remarkable year or, more likely, that "defining moment" wins the Cliche of the Year award.

However, our primary concern today is not with cliches but with names. For this purpose we have consulted a representative sample of the daily and Sunday press, from the Sun to the Sunday Times, to see how many times certain names have appeared in 1995 and to assess the trends by comparing the figures with those of 1994.

Table 1 lists the results for the most significant women's names of the year. The figures represent the number of distinct articles in which each name appeared, with the final column giving the percentage change from 1994 to 1995. As is immediately apparent, the most striking features are the huge rise in Silvana and the drop in Hillary. While we should be cautious in extrapolating on the basis of a single year's trend, it is worth mentioning that if these rates are maintained, Silvana will overtake Hillary around the middle of 1997. The slow decline of Margaret and Virginia were, perhaps, only to be expected, but the rise in Madonna is a little surprising.

The large rise in Divine is particularly interesting. It is up by 570 on the previous year, though the word "Brown" was only found in 463 of these. The steady rise in Norma suggests that she could hold off the growing challenge from Cherie for another couple of years.

Men's names (see Table 2) show considerably more volatility with Orenthal multiplying more than sixfold and Ratko and Newt also more than quadrupling in number. Slobodan, Eric and Tony have also had good years, but Vladimir, Boris and Boutros have faded badly. While the women's names, for all their individual performances, changed little in relative order, it is interesting to see Newt storming past all of Boutros, Slobodan, Vladimir and Ringo, despite the last of these making a considerable comeback.

Newt also features at the top of our final table of life-forms of the year. Its 348 per cent rise is way ahead of the computer viruses in second place. Pigs, as might be expected in this Chinese Year of the Pig, have also snorted ahead, though not nearly as fast as ostriches.

Mad cows are still numerous, but somewhat down on last year. The hippopotamus is increasingly endangered, but it is good to see the aardvark as the one stable feature in these turbulent times.

Table 1

Women's Names

Name 1994 1995 change

Silvana 31 82 +165

Divine 980 1550 +58

Cherie 250 385 +54

Gillian 1899 2826 +49

Rosemary 1245 1835 +47

Camilla 993 1190 +28

Norma 663 750 +13

Madonna 1387 1449 +4.5

Diana 5092 5299 +4.1

Margaret 7831 7454 -4.8

Virginia 4404 4102 -6.9

Hillary 916 696 -24

Table 2

Men's Names

Name 1994 1995 change

Orenthal 5 32 +540

Ratko 118 541 +358

Newt 199 892 +348

Slobodan 203 429 +111

Ringo 218 362 +66

Eric 5040 7510 +49

Hugh 4407 6028 +13

Tony 18608 24272 +4.5

John 75448 80201 +4.1

Boris 2036 1787 -4.8

Boutros 427 309 -6.9

Vladimir 901 634 -24

Table 3


Beast 1994 1995 change

newt 199 892 +348

C-virus 61 136 +123

ostrich 226 329 +46

pig 2091 2520 +21

giraffe 155 181 +17

virus 1569 1678 +6.9

goat 801 840 +4.9

aardvark 17 17 0

mad cow 341 325 -4.7

hippo 91 57 -37