The vicar took a deep breath, then went for it: "Honor Ruby Love, I baptise thee in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." There was a ripple of mirth among certain members of the congregation when the vicar intoned "Love". My own family behaved pretty well. Perhaps the months between the birth and christening had inured us to the rich confection of my niece's name. Besides, we'd had our cheap laughs. When my little brother phoned in late November and announced, "Honor Ruby Love Pelling", I couldn't help responding, "World Peace Harmony Hairspray Pelling", while my older brother jumped in with "Honor Love Obey".
Not that we were ones to laugh: Honor's dad has staggered through life under the vast word-edifice of Hereward Reginald Beechey Pelling. And Rowan Dorothy is a wayward yoking of the strange and the mothballed. Then there's my youngest sibling, Dorcas – a name I thought so ugly when I first heard it that I cried in disappointment. Mind you, it could have been worse: my father was desperate to call her Boadicea because of the Iceni queen's spirited performance in dispatching foreigners.
My parents' determination to make our names badges of individuality raised eyebrows at the time. Such wanton flamboyance among the lawn-mowing Middle Englanders of Sevenoaks was regarded with suspicion. You were wilfully exposing your offspring to the satirical talents of the school bullies and tacitly suggesting that your plebeian Hereward was the equal of a blue-blooded Torquil. Which was pretty much what my parents did think. Our names were hard proof of their touching belief in our potential; they thought we would grow to fill them. They were aspirational for us before brazen aspiration for your children became the done thing – the national obsession – and people played Mozart to month-old foetuses.
Three decades later, a random scattering of my friends' children yields an Orkney, a Jackson and an Alabama Rose. Customers of my mother's pub have spawned two Madeleines, two Oscars, a Thomasina Lily, and the world-beating Marla Florence Queenie. Everyone's doing it. The spirit of the age backs the individual as a force beyond any social grouping. When TV ads announce, "you're unique, you're incredible", I half-expect them to continue, "you've called your children Teapot, Artichoke and Buzzard". The late Paula Yates, as it turns out, was a prophet for our times with her restrained Fifi Trixibelle and Peaches.
The new naming game is eroding social boundaries. The middle classes haven't only purloined Amber and Peregrine, they're gunning for Arthur, Daisy and Fred. Below-stairs names are now firmly in the parlour, leaving the working classes to snaffle up William and Chloe. The Essex girl love-interest in Tony Parsons' new book, One For My Baby, calls her puddingy child Plum, after a willowy blonde snapped sipping champagne in the society pages of a glossy mag. The real-life inspiration for this jeu d'ésprit, Plum Sykes of US Vogue, will be turning in her Manolos at the thought of council-estate namesakes. Pop star and footballer names have done their time, but the It-girl craze is still in its infancy. While there's still a posh tit to be flashed in The Sun, I predict a bumper crop of Victorias, Taras and Lizs.
I just hope new parents examine every ramification. A name isn't just for baptism, it's for life. The Gorans and Davinas of 2001 will be the poor little sods of 2002. I speak from experience: all the other Rowans are male and I've spent a lifetime responding to, "I thought you were a bloke". Dorcas has her name shortened to "Dork", and Hereward, as a little boy, couldn't quite pronounce his own name because of an infant lisp. When he got lost, aged four, in M&S, the following announcement came over the tannoy: "Will the mother of little Herod please come and pick him up from Customer Services."
The safest option may be to follow J M Barrie's and the Lawsons' example, and invent your own name. What could be more resonant of lovely womanhood than Wendy or Nigella? Or you could mimic the outrageous social confidence of my Old Etonian publisher, James Maclean, and call your little boy John.Reuse content