Jack of all trades - and all classes

Goodbye Tracy and Wayne, says Ruth Picardie. Today's parents have other aspirations for their kids

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It's one of the most important decisions you'll ever make. You muse idly on the subject for years, argue bitterly for nine months, agonise for weeks. Hundreds are rejected. A handful make the shortlist. Then, at last, you and your partner agree - on a name for your new baby.

It's also probably the biggest statement you'll ever make about who you are and where you're going.

So, Gabriel is rejected as too biblical, Nathaniel too American, Raphael too effeminate. But how about Jack? A solid, unpretentious name belonging to a cute, sturdy boy and a good, strong kind man - Jack the Giant Killer.

When he grows up, he'll be sexy and alluring and just the right side of rock'n'roll, like Jack Nicholson, or the firstborn of beautiful people such as Gabriel Byrne and Ellen Barkin.

Sadly, your son Jack will be in a classful of Jacks. According to figures just released by the Office of Population Censuses and Surveys, Jack was the most popular boys' name in 1995. It is closely followed by Daniel, Thomas (last year's number one), James, Joshua and Matthew.

The top girls' names, meanwhile, are Jessica, Lauren, Rebecca (last year's number one), Sophie and Charlotte.

This is shocking stuff, not just for the parents of baby Jack. For where are the Sharons and Traceys who once inhabited every Essex joke? Where are the Wayne and Waynetta, inventions of that skilful social satirist, Harry Enfield? Where, in short, are the modern working-class names?

Where, too, are the soap wannabes and aspirant starlets?

The only starry name to make the top 100 is Jodie (46), as in Foster - a conspicuously brainy film star who went to Yale. These days, the rich and famous have all been Oprah Winfreyed, exposed as sexual abusers, alcoholic, bulimic, too screwed up to emulate.

What the new top 50 says about the values, fears and aspirations of mid- Nineties Britain is, first, not that we live in John Major's classless society, but that today nobody wants to be working class.

Girls will still smoke in the toilets and get pregnant in their teens, but at least they'll have an exotic name like Jade (number 19).

Mid-Nineties Britons want their daughters to be frilly and ultra- feminine, demure and rather posh - Jessica and Sophie and Charlotte - and definitely not strong, achieving types (Margaret does not make the list).

Actually, they would quite like their daughters to be Victorian - an era when parents really did stick to a proper class of names. They can either be parlour maids - Amy (7) and Molly (47) - or demure little girls such as Alice (18) and Grace (41).

Cutting-edge parents call their daughters Ellie ( straight in at 40) and Abbie (new at 44) - moresugar and spice, from the days when little girls wore long hair and dresses and were seen and not heard. Feminism? Forget it. The original version of these little girls didn't even get the vote.

The other new girls' entry is Kayleigh, which sounds suspiciously like Kylie but is in fact one of those faux-Celtic names that have ripped through the boys' chart like the wind up a kilt.

Racing up the charts are Liam (up five places to number 12) joining Connor (17), Callum (23), Kieran (26) and Sean (44), Cameron (new in at 46) and Reece (another new entry at 48) - and this has nothing to do with Scottish and Northern Irish fertility rates, since the chart only applies to England and Wales.

While England has become a grey place led by a grey man (though John does appear at number 39, and Tony is nowhere), the nation's parents hope for wild, macho, independent, heather-scratched sons, who doubtless will want to have nothing to do with their frilly Victorian daughters.

Silly, aren't we. Perhaps that's why, this year, hoping for a New man and a feminist, I named my baby son Joe - a solid Biblical carpenter type - and my daughter Lola - a floozy straight out of a Kinks song.

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