Unlike most people I know, I've never taken exception to Jamie Oliver. I always thought he seemed a decent cove and, in contrast to other celebrity cooks, did not have a face you immediately wanted to slap, or a kitchen you wanted closed down. This was partly because I've never sampled one of his programmes, recipes, books, DVDs, or gadgets, but mainly because I knew nothing about him.
But that all changed last week. His wife gave birth to a son and they named him Buddy Bear. And this poor little chap will, I learned, be a brother to Poppy Honey, Daisy Boo, and Petal Blossom. Thus did Mr Oliver identify himself as a berk – one of the growing band of parents who call their children preposterous names. It is, I think, a form of child cruelty; not exactly worthy of a call to social services but a warning of sorts that all about the upbringing may not be as it should.
Jamie, as his parents had the sense to name him, now joins Australian soap star Ingo Rademacher who called his son Peanut; Geri Halliwell (a daughter, Bluebell Madonna); US actress Shannyn Sossamon (a son, Audio Science); Jordan (daughter, Princess Tiaamii); Frank Lampard (a daughter, Luna Coco Patricia); and US magician Penn Jillette (a daughter Moxie CrimeFighter). Nor is this nonsense confined to the celebrity classes. A few years ago, a geek in the US called his second son Version 2.0, football fans regularly name sons after their favourite team's entire squad of players, and, in New Zealand there are instances of sons called Satan and Triple M Rogue.
Why do they do it? Ego, mainly, I suspect. Unable to bear the thought that anyone as unique as themselves should have a scuffed-kneed son called Tom or a skipping-rope holder of a daughter called Susan, they foist upon their offspring a name no other parent would dream of using. "See us, with our son called Vigilante Express, we're characters us. We're special. We're imaginative. We don't do ordinary." Not even, apparently, if it means that your unfortunate child has to carry through life a name which tells everyone that they meet one salient fact about them: they have ludicrous people for parents.
Also, one notes, such parents have a tendency to name girls as if they were fairies in some Victorian children's story (apart from Oliver's nursery-book names, the late Paula Yates called one daughter Fifi Trixibelle and another Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily, Sting's is Fuschia, and Will Smith's is Willow Camille Reign). What's going on here, with these infantilising, equality-sapping, fluffy, pink confections? Are the parents themselves still stuck at the thumb-sucking stage, or are they willing their daughters to be little dressed-up, frilly-frocked dollies all their lives?
Through most of history, nearly everyone was content to choose for their child a name drawn from a list of the unexceptional. Fashion would change the range of options over time, but your first name was just that: a name, not a badge or a burden. The exceptions are telling: fundamentalist Puritans of the 17th century, with their sons called Perseverance and Lamentation, and daughters called Obedience and Humiliation; members of evangelical cults with a fondness for Ezekiels and Obadiahs; and superannuated hippies with their Rivers and Moonstones and Sunbeams – all these instances prove that calling your child by an oddball name is not so much a statement of individuality as an unwitting self-diagnosis.
But what of the children, doomed to declare their ridiculous name to each stranger they meet, and at every airport check-in, bank and bureaucrat they encounter? We have good news. As small recompense for sniggering at their names, we give them another name, that of an organisation which can help. It is called the UK Deed Poll Service. Use it, kids, use it.