The art of naming babies

From Apple to Ziggy an American bestseller lists the monikers that can scar a defenceless baby for life. There's a fine line between expressing your individuality and cruelty to children, says John Walsh - so be warned
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The Independent Online

What possessed Angelina Jolie to call her adoptive children Maddox and Zahara? How weird is it that the popularity of the name Alfie fluctuates with the ratings of EastEnders? What, apart from lack of imagination, possessed George Foreman to call all his five sons George (and his daughters Georgetta and Freeda George)? Can it be true that babies in the American Midwest are routinely named after shops, like Armani and Timberland?

Things are getting a little screwy in the baby-naming marketplace. No longer are we content with the Jacks and Emmas, the Toms and Emilys, of yesteryear. Inspired by the ludicrous excesses of pop, football and movie celebrity, we have silently written the ancient commandment, Thou Shalt Not Embarrass Thy Kids By Saddling Them With a Crap Name. Now, you cannot move for Apples and Xerxeses, Raffertys and Clytemnestras, Peaches, Rainbows and Daisy Boos.

Somebody must call a halt to this. In the US, Joe Borgenicht's book, What Not to Name Your Baby, has become a runaway bestseller. It's a spoof on the wilder shores of modern nomenclature, but its success shows that parents are concerned about scarring their babes for life with the wrong name.

We share their concern. Here's a checklist, for the modern British parent, of names that are uncool, unacceptable or carry the wrong subliminal message.


Adolf Inexplicably plummeted in popularity in UK after 1938.

Ashton Suggests unfeasibly handsome but smug young git, pulling faces with dim squeeze in Photo-Me booth.

Beauregard Means "good-looking" in French. Shortened to Beau. Unwise to land this on your child if you are Mr and Mrs Tye, Peep or Ling-Green.

Benedict Acquired a certain cachet after it was adopted by the Pope. Means "well-spoken" in Latin. But what if your child grows up a shy, tongue-tied recluse? Makes you think, eh?

Benito Ben not good enough for you? You have to saddle the kid with the memory of Italian dictator, jutting jaw, comical delivery and (the last photo) meat-hook through guts?

Bingo Returning to popularity because of renewed interest in PG Wodehouse and Bingo Little. May encourage playground cries of "House!" and "Two Fat Ladies!"

Brooklyn Was your kid conceived in New York? No. You were in Croydon. Stop fooling yourselves.

Bono Don't even try it, mister. There's only one feckin' Bono and there always will be. (Sings) "I got pride in the name I got..."

Bonzo It's a dog, OK? A cartoon puppy, invented by the Sketch in 1922. It's not cute. It's not human. It's not a good idea.

Brian As in Life of Brian. The kid will be a figure of fun. Also associated with football, due to popularity among managers (Clough), players (Robson; the "y" variant) and commentators (Moore).

Cruz Hmmm. A boy's name. Yet he will be doomed to hear, "What? As in Penelope?"

Freddie Flintoff and Ljungberg have made it too popular. Stand outside any private school in London, shout "Freddie" and watch them galloping by like a herd of wildebeest.

Jenson Whizzy, fast-paced, go-getting name, which also suggests clapped-out, overpriced 1970s babe-magnet driven by onanists from Woking.

Jesus Pronounced "hay-soose". May lead to attack of monomania in his 30s. Strong possibility of Messiah Complex.

John Excellent name. Suggests a chap who is brave, enterprising, rich, ruggedly handsome, sexually dynamic and amazingly cool. Unfortunately, also means "toilet" in US. Unfortunately, also common as muck.

John Paul Catholics will be impressed. Everyone else will think of wizened Polish octogenarian painfully contorted on throne, struggling to hold conversation with Mick Hucknall

Jordan Remember Jordan Chandler, playmate of Michael Jackson? There used to be several male Jordans around. But no longer. I wonder why that is.

Justin Not a happy choice. Too many small-penis jokes ("I'm not sure, darling, but I think it's just in"). Also, dubious role-model of that chap in The Darkness

KayCee Unless you can guarantee he'll want to do a little dance, make a little love and get down tonight, it's best avoided.

Leonardo Once a proud homage to Renaissance artistic genius and inventor. Discredited by publication of The Da Vinci Code, the name's now more associated with pug-faced brat drowning in freezing Atlantic.

Leslie Androgynous and indefinably creepy. Shortened version even worse: see L Dennis, Sir L Patterson.

Maximilian Why don't you just call him Enormous Loadsamoney and have done with it?

Mohammed Name of great Arabian prophet (570-632) is in Top 20 boys' names in the UK. Probably asking for trouble if you and his mother are white Caucasian Protestants (see also Buddha, Yahweh, Shiva, Beelzebub etc).

Monty Instantly conjures up three looming shadows: yappy-voiced field marshal, elderly TV comedy and fat predatory filmic uncle. Like the Spanish Inquisition sketch, a little too effortfully wacky.

Osama Not really the name you want yelled out in the playground at Dulwich Hamlet Mixed Infants Academy.

Prince A well-born youth. One who aspires to kingship. The heir to greatness. But also means tiny purple-clad rock guitarist formerly known by a squiggle.

Rebel Name chosen by Sin City director Robert Rodriguez for one of his four sons. Virtually guarantees child will grow into bald loss-adjuster in rayon suit with home in Chipping Norton (see also Rocket, Rogue and Racer).

River Classic dreamy-hippie choice, along with Leaf, Sunlight etc. Ignores fact that most rivers are noisome, dangerous waterways full of burger cartons, raw sewage and supermarket trollies (see also Estuary, Harbour, Dockyard Doris).

Romeo You think it's romantic to call the baby after teenage Veronese roughneck who sleeps with 13-year-old and poisons himself? Oh-kay... And think of those conversations: "I'm Romeo." "But Romeo, why art thou Romeo?" etc.

Rufus Forget your admiration for Mr Wainwright. Do you expect your son to have a red face? Red hair? Do you expect him to grow a red beard? So why give him a name that means "red-looking"?

Satchel As Woody and Mia called their son, in tribute to Louis Armstrong. Fatally associated with schoolbags, though.

Science Be my guest, but don't blame me when he spends his life wholly unable to understand Boyle's Second Law of Thermodynamics. (See also Geography, Trigonometry, Applied Maths etc).

Stuart Which Stuart king would you like him to emulate? The one pushed around by his boyfriend? The one who got his head chopped off? The one who shagged freelance fruit-sellers?

Travis He'll spend his formative years with hair gelled into a Hoxton fin, with some very drippy songs washing round his head.

Tudor Not a good period for male role models. Either neurasthenic weeds or syphilitic monsters with six wives.

Tyler Named after the architect of the Peasant's Revolt, the editor of Wallpaper* magazine or the shadowy anarchist of Fight Club? Fatally associated with grouting.

Ziggy You're stuck in a timewarp, eternally orbiting the summer of 1972 with David Bowie's doomed alter ego. At school, your son will rapidly become Piggy.


Apple What were Chris and Gwyneth thinking? Apples are full of negative qualities - hard cores, thin skins, giving people the pip... Will be forever associated with trendy Sixties shop that went spectacularly bust.

Bina The lovely-but-miserable heroine in Madonna's first book, The English Roses. "Beaner" unfortunately also school slang for whack on the head.

Bona St Bona of Pisa, a 12th-century pilgrim, was canonised in 1962 by Pope Paul XXIII as patron saint of air hostesses. Bit close to US slang for a hard-on, and UK gay theatre-speak for "good".

Candida Yes, GB Shaw wrote a

play about a lady of that name. Yes, it's Latin for white, and therefore pristine. Yep, it's the female of Candide. But there's no getting past the intimate itching problem. See also Chlamydia.

Cassandra Rodney's nice girlfriend in Only Fools and Horses. But believe it or not, there's an earlier Cassandra, daughter of Priam, king of Troy. Apollo gave her the gift of prophesy but not of being believed - hence, a shrill doom-merchant to whom no one pays attention.

Chardonnay Over-produced grape variety, making popular but bland white wine with disgusting undertaste of buttered biscuit.

Cirrhosis I know it sounds nice. I know it's got "rose" in there somewhere. But will draw attention to size and hue of your daughter's liver.

Clementine Fine, provided it's pronounced "tyne" not "teen". Your charming child is not a satsuma.

Concepta We know she was conceived. We know it was you who conceived her. Jolly well done. Stop bragging about it.

Daisy Boo Leave it out. Do me a favour. Of all the bleedin' nerve. Sling your hook. Know what I mean?

Desdemona Othello's "white-ewe" babe and wife, strangled in Act V. Interestingly, an anagram of "de mean sod".

Dido Aeneas's wife and queen of Carthage in Virgil's epic. You know she killed herself, don't you? And "to act dido" means to play the fool. Also name of narcolepsis-inducing singer. Not a terrific pedigree.

Elodea Popular in Barnes-Richmond area. Apparently the name of Canadian marsh-weed. Can't, however, escape the fact that it sounds like Jamaican greeting.

Goneril Unlikely to be benevolent and caring offspring in your dotage. Also, carries whiff of sexually transmitted disease.

Ikea Very flat, hard to make anything of, and comes with baffling instructions. Also, carries faint pong of Swedish meatballs. There'll be enormous queues to enter her at midnight.

Imogen Sounds fine at first, but unfortunately redolent of both gin and Immac depilation cream. Also, makes people wander off humming "Imogen there's no heaven..."

Jordan There's Jordan Baker in The Great Gatsby, of course, and that Middle Eastern country with Queen Noor and... Nope, can't think of a thing wrong with this one.

Keira Charming, delightful, bright-eyed, clear-complexioned, Home Counties name which everybody, from Vogue magazine downwards, will spell wrong

Kerry Name of terrier dog with silky blueish coat. Also, Irish county with supposedly thickest inhabitants. (How do you tell the Kerryman on an Irish oil rig? He's the one throwing bread to the helicopters.)

Kylie I'm sorry, but your daughter just won't have the arse to go with it.

LooLoo You can picture her, can't you - wacky, zany, Lambrini-drinking madcap who always ends the night voiding her stomach in the eponymous lavabo.

Paris It's all pissoirs, honking Citroëns and menacing Algerians, isn't it? Although lately eclipsed by dim hotel heiress keen on ad hoc film-making.

Poppy One of several floral, Victorian serving-wench names back in vogue among younger daughters of Chelsea swells. See also Daisy, Ivy, Rosie.

Regan Keen on putting people's eyes out. Older acquaintances will confuse name with John Thaw's gravelly cop in The Sweeney.

Roxie Roxie Hart, currently played by Brooke Shields in Chicago in the West End. Go ahead, provided you don't mind your daughter being called after a murderess and a fleapit New York cinema.

Scarlett Think Johansson. Mmm. Think O'Hara. Mmmm-hmm. But think also Captain Scarlet, Will Scarlett as in Robin Hood, and scarlet woman in Book of Revelations.

Sienna Once meant "famous Tuscan city with magnificent Duomo". Then meant "burnt brown pigment". Now means only "peasant-skirted actress duped by love rat".

'What Not to Name Your Baby' by Joe Borgenicht is published today (Pocket Books, £5.99). To order your copy, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897