And it's OJ and Poor Di up front, with Myra close behind

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As is customary at this time of year, I have been calculating the popularity of first names for boys and girls during the past 12 months. Not, of course, based on their occurrence in the births announcement, which would be far too easy and of no interestto anyone except other new-born babes. No, my lists are based on the frequency of the appearance of a name in the headlines and the news.

Over the years this has proved an excellent guide to the real popularity of grown-up names and to the way in which they can climb and fall so swiftly in appeal. For many years, the top girl's name was Maggie. Now it is not even in the top 50. There was atime when, unlikely as it may seem, Sting, Kylie and Madonna were popular names. No longer. Other names that have hit the top 10 and vanished include such far-fetched monikers as Koo, El Tel, Del boy, Winnie and Pop (as in Pop Larkin). Gone, all gone

2 Major (-)

3 Terry (7)

4 Jonathan 'n' Charles (-)

5 Robert Louis (-)

6 Gerry (9)

7 Mohamed Al- (-)

8 Bruce (-)

9 Boris (5)

10 Silvio (-)

The first thing to say about this most unusual list is that almost all the names are newcomers - no sign of old favourites like Helmut, Gazza, Gary, and so on.

The victory for the name OJ is almost entirely due to the trial in America of a man called Simpson who is not, apparently, a member of the Bart Simpson family but a player of American football, the game which is a cross between Rugby League and police riot control.

There is nothing new about a set of initials winning the day (the South African name PW has done well on previous occasions, and this year the initials PJ were at number 15), but I cannot help feeling that it may not hold on to its title next year.

Major was a most unexpected number 2, as it is not really a first name at all. However, it is the name by which Mr John Major is always known, as nobody would have the faintest idea who John was if he were called that, and this year there have been several other notable majors to back him up in notoriety, notably Majors Hewitt and Ferguson. Gerry, Boris and Silvio are all popular among politicians, while the literary world is responsible for the winning position of both Jonathan 'n' Charles an d Robert Louis. Terry has been made popular by a number of people, including Venables, Waite and Major-Ball.

More exotic names that came close without quite making it included Yasser, Diego, Ayrton, Jose-Maria, Armando and Shane. Albert did well till two months ago, then vanished with the Irish political crisis. The name Tiny also vanished at about the same time.

And so to the top 10 girls' names of 1994, as follows: 1 Poor Di (1)

2 Virginia (7)

3 Diane (-)

4 Hillary (-)

5 Fergie (2)

6 Camilla (3)

7 Myra (-)

8 Teresa (-)

9 Joanna OBE (-)

10 Shula (-)

No sign here of old favourites such as Squidgy, Edwina and Norma. Poor Di is still the most common girl's name by a long way, but Diane is a new appearance on account of a famous case involving athletics and drugs. (If anyone could remember Chinese athletes' names, there would be a good few Chinese record-breakers in the top 10, I wager. And it is noteworthy that three of 1994's top names - OJ, Bruce and Diane - owe their presence to sporting scandals).

Myra makes its first appearance for some time, and so does Teresa, thanks to the impact of Mother Teresa Gorman, the saintly Tory MP. The name Rose came in at number 16, which was a great surprise to us here, as there is no female called Rose who had been in the news this year. Eventually, we realised that it was the name of the British troop commander out in Bosnia which had been scoring so well! The name Patsy entered at number 17, which is extraordinary as (like Shula) it is a fictional name, and theactress who plays Patsy came in at number 9 as well.

Well, that's the excitement over for last year. Next year's predictions? Hard to tell, but two great girl's names to watch out for are Mo and Gro Harlem (crazy Norwegian name!) A boy's name to watch? Well, it's a rank outsider at the moment, but I have afeeling that it's worth putting a few bob on Newt.

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