The name ‘Nigel’ is now extinct – yet another thing we can probably blame on Brexit

In Australia, the name Nigel is so deeply unpopular that it’s used as shorthand for someone without any friends

Victoria Richards
Tuesday 19 October 2021 12:21
<p>‘Nigel Farage was a fiercely outspoken foghorn for leaving the EU’ </p>

‘Nigel Farage was a fiercely outspoken foghorn for leaving the EU’

Can you name any famous Nigels? No, me neither. Except for.... yep, you got it. The only Nigel I can genuinely name off the top of my head (though I will admit to singing XTC’s classic 1979 classic while I write this piece, “Making Plans For Nigel”: We’re only making plans for Nigel /We only want what’s best for him / We’re only making plans for Nigel / Nigel just needs that helping hand) is... Nigel Farage.

Research released this week by the Office for National Statistics has revealed the most (and least) popular baby names in England and Wales, and the name “Nigel” has officially been deemed extinct. The data showed that not a single baby was named either Nigel or Carol in the whole of 2020 – sad times. Or is it?

Let’s look at some reasons why this might be the case – starting with my original challenge: if you can’t name any Nigels, other than the obvious, then he’s likely the figure that immediately comes to mind. We’re all in the same boat; including brand new parents. If “Nigel” was on their shortlist, then they’ll likely be thinking about what that Nigel is most famous for: Brexit, of course. As the former leader of the Brexit Party (and before that Ukip), Nigel Farage was a fiercely outspoken foghorn for leaving the EU. And who wants to name their new baby after such an obvious disaster?

So what has Brexit brought us today? Not much good, when you consider that the current food shortages we’re experiencing have been branded “permanent”, with shoppers warned we will never again enjoy a full choice of items; and the recent fuel crisis kept us all queuing and irate, with Brexit deemed “a factor”, according to Grant Shapps.

Firms are facing a post-Brexit, post-Covid recruitment crisis “across the board”; there is significant unemployment in some areas of the country and Christmas might well be cancelled. Is it any wonder that new parents aren’t exactly rushing to name their babies after one of the most divisive architects of Brexit?

After all, research shows that your name can have a long-lasting impact on your personality. David Zhu, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at Arizona State University, who researches the psychology of names, told the BBC that because a name is used to identify and communicate with an individual on a daily basis, “it serves as the very basis of one’s self-conception, especially in relation to others.”

US psychologist Jean Twenge found in the 2000s that people who didn’t like their own name tended to have poorer psychological adjustment; and one study even suggested that the name you’re given as a child might affect how people perceive the shape of your face. A German study in 2011, included in the BBC report, found that people with names considered unfashionable at the time (such as Kevin) were more likely to be rejected, and another piece of German research discovered bystanders were less likely to help out a stranger with a negatively rated name.

With all of this in mind (as well as the image of the “man of the pub” failed MP and former MEP/Ukip/Reform UK leader), now imagine calling your precious, cute newborn baby.... Nigel.

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In Australia, the name Nigel is so deeply unpopular that it’s used as shorthand for someone without any friends; a colloquial term for someone who is considered a “social misfit”. Apparently, it comes from the fact that the name was unusual in the 1970s – and begins with “n”, as does the term “no-mates”. Eyes on that.

Of course, names wax and wane in popularity; and we should all take these trends with a pinch of salt. Just as we were apparently calling our kids after Game of Thrones characters in 2019 – with 560 of more than 4,500 babies who were named after the hit show called Khaleesi, and 163 named Daenerys (according to the United States’ Social Security Administration), we’ll probably keep seeing the data skew towards whatever is popular – and unpopular – at the time the data was collected. It can, and does change regularly, unless you’re called Oliver and Olivia (the names have just topped the list for the fifth year in a row).

Just as his namesakes have all but disappeared, Farage has also threatened to leave the country, telling his LBC morning breakfast show listeners that “if Brexit is a disaster”, he’ll “go and live abroad”. Make those plans, Nigel, make them! There’s no “if” about it – the way things are right now, we’d barely notice the difference.

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