Anything that starts with a Z

Just how far can our search for ever-more bizarre names go? Cayte Williams despairs
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Nineties will be remembered for all manner of exciting things: the Internet; the euro; Baywatch. But it will also be remembered as the decade of the Fancy Name. Not only do we have more varieties (and names for) basic commodities - just think of ham, cheese, bread and water - but we have more design labels than ever before. Even the humble old Hoover has been upgraded to a Dyson.

It was no surprise, then, that the 1998 top 50 babies' names in England and Wales were stuffed full of Fancy Names. The top 10, once full of stalwarts like Sarah, Claire, Richard and David, now reads like a contestant's list from Blind Date. Say hello to Chloe, Lauren, Callum and Joshua.

No stone is left unturned in the search for Fancy Names. Traditional Celtic (Dylan, Reece, Connor and Ryan), biblical (Jordan, Jacob, Aaron and Adam) and, er, Friends (Phoebe and Courtney) have all had a huge influence on the nation's birth certificates. In fact, the glamorous world of telly could account for the number one girls' name, Chloe (there's a hot nurse in Casualty and a chick in Home And Away with that very name), while there is the depressing argument that the UK's favourite boy's name is a tribute to Leonardo Di- Caprio's shrimp-in-the-water impression, Titanic hero Jack Dawson.

That's Jack, not Dawson. The latter will be next year's favourite when the sequel comes out. You may laugh, but one of the nation's most popular surnames was a new entry. No question that the new-found popularity of Owen has more to do with Michael the World Cup Striker than an interest in Welsh names. The name Michael itself is just too boring these days.

No doubt infant education will catch on. There was a time when one's first printed sentence was a simple read: "Janet and John have a pet dog called Pat. Pat ate the bacon from the table." No doubt the 1999 version will read, "Bethany and Nathan have a Dandy Dinmont terrier called Kieran. Kieran ate the pancetta from the stripped-wood, stencilled bench."

The irony is that Fancy Names are so popular now that those special little Chloes and Megans will go to big school in a class full of other little Chloes and Megans. And believe me, there is no fun in that. When I was 15 there were three other Catherines in my class (apparently there was a spate of naming your kid after some over-emotional Bronte bint). I concocted a shortened version with my friend one breaktime at school, and since then people have mistaken my name for anything from Sri Lankan to Welsh (a colleague once asked if my name was "professional Celt" whatever that means). Now I'm back with the masses: with all those Kaytes and Caits and Caites.

Still, there is safety in numbers. At least daft names are no longer in the minority, so people called Georgia (no. 12) no longer have to suffer. "When I was at school there was no one else in my class with the same name," says 24-year-old Farrah Stephens. She was named after the Charlie's Angel and Seventies pin-up, Farrah Fawcett-Majors. "By the time I was 15 everybody had forgotten about Charlie's Angels and I just had this stupid name. In the end I started using my middle name, Diane."

But it needn't be a handicap. Sharanne Basham-Pyke, an IT consultant who has a sister called Zara and a nephew called Zeb, has stuck by her name. "It's given me loads of confidence, really," she says. "You can't really take a back seat with a name like Sharanne. The only thing I would say about having an unusual name is that you can't keep your head down and pretend it's not you, which you can do if you're called Jane Smith. Even teachers remember me from school because of my name."

Which, of course, would only happen to a girl now if she were called Sue.