Melanie McDonagh: Why Tyler, Paige and Chelsea strike terror in the classroom

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The Independent Online

Funnily enough, not all the names fraught with horror are working-class identifiers. Chloe, for instance, is, if anything, middle class. Chelsea (or, as here, Chelsie - or even Chelsy) may be the name of Bill Clinton's only child and, nearly, of Prince Harry's girlfriend, but that too is out. So is Poppy, as in Jamie Oliver's little girl.

As it happens, I too share just such sentiments. I would have to work really rather hard to transcend my instinctive suspicion of a Kylie or Wayne, but I also have negative feelings about Rufuses, Tristrams and Sophies, for unfair reasons of class prejudice. Where I take issue with the list is where it identifies, quite clearly, Irish origin. What's wrong, then, with those admirable and ancient names, Declan and Kieron (except that's not how I'd spell it)?

On the whole, though, the teachers' views appear sound. In Tudor England, boys seem usually to have been christened either Thomas or John, which may have been monotonous but left little scope for embarrassment. Until recently in France it was forbidden to baptise a child by any name that did not appear in the calendar of saints. It strikes me as an approach that any parent with his child's well-being at heart, ought really to adopt. And yes, Melanie features in the calendar too.

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The proceedings of Swindon Council, perhaps unjustly, rarely make much of a stir nationally, but the contribution of the deputy mayor, Dr Owen Lister, to a debate on the treatment of severely disabled children is an exception. Dr Lister, a retired family doctor, was reflecting on the cost to the council of educating handicapped children - £3,000 a week - and blurted out: "I would guillotine them." Not surprisingly, his comments went down badly with his fellow councillors, one of whom compared him with Himmler. Even his considered comment that "the only difference between a terminally ill patient and a severely handicapped child is time" hardly redeemed matters.

Subsequently, he attempted to reinterpret his comments, but it seems to me Dr Lister is guilty of no greater unpleasantness in respect of disabled children than those parliamentarians who, in 1990, during the last review of the 1967 abortion laws, decided that severely handicapped children could be aborted right up to birth. If anyone can point out to me the moral distinction between infanticide by guillotine and abortion of an eight- or nine-month-old foetus, I should be obliged.

That particular provision of the abortion law affects only a handful of foetuses each year, but it should cause us a few moral qualms. The curate Joanna Jepson, who, in 2003, raised the case of a foetus aged over six months, who was aborted because of a cleft palate, discovered that 26 foetuses had been aborted on these grounds in the three previous years. Eugenics is perhaps the politest description for the practice.

A week ago, the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, unveiled the statue of a legless and armless woman, Alison Lapper, on the empty plinth in Trafalgar Square, and applauded the positive image of disability she presented. Quite so, but did anyone else brush aside the thought that, if conceived now, she would be lucky to survive to birth?

There's something remarkable in our celebration of those who transcend their disabilities while simultaneously upholding the law that would have allowed them, fully developed, to be done away with. Dr Lister is merely more tactless, not less moral, than some of our most distinguished public representatives.

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The recently published biography of Max Clifford, celebrity publicist, may have escaped the notice of readers, so let me share his claim that James Hewitt's affair with the late Princess Diana began in 1982, not 1986 as he previously maintained. Indeed, Mr Hewitt obligingly underwent hypnosis - conducted by Tony Rae, chairman of the British Council of Professional Stage Hypnotists - on telly to prove his veracity.

In case you hadn't discerned the significance of the date, Prince Harry was born in 1984. In Mr Hewitt's previous account, his relationship with Diana started after the prince was born. In this version, their affair was merrily under way when she became pregnant, but he says they suspended relations during pregnancy because it seemed more respectful.

I hate to steal any of Mr Hewitt's remaining thunder, but since there are grounds for believing that he was not the first to enjoy the princess's extramarital favours, it may be that he is not the only old flame of Diana's who can reassure us that he is not the father of the third in line to the throne.

There is a lot to be said against DNA testing, since it does away with a woman's ancient privilege of being the only one really to know the father of her children. But with people like Mr Hewitt in circulation, perhaps it's just as well that there are independent ways of proving that the prince's paternity is not in doubt.