Thinking of giving your child an unusual name? My guide to the pros and cons

The experts agree, Easton West is a good choice from Kanye and Kim

Memphis Barker
Monday 07 September 2015 17:30
No thanks are owed to Elvis for the author's name
No thanks are owed to Elvis for the author's name

My name, why? I’m asked a lot, and the simplest thing to do is take you back to 1989, when two conventionally-named adults, facing the legal deadline for registering their child’s name, were deep in the wilderness of the unknown. They did not share a surname (thanks to a gnarled family tree, we actually all three have different surnames) so wanted my first name to stand on its own. “Casmin” was seriously considered and, mercifully, thought better of. The Great Book of Baby Names had been dolefully cast aside. And then, dawn broke, cigarettes were flung in the air... Eureka. (And there’s a name for his sister!)

It has been a pleasure, for the most part, living under “Memphis”. But there was always a back-up plan. My middle name is Luke, stored like a fifth wheel, to be brought out in case the burden of unusualness caused a breakdown. I don’t know how different things would be if my parents had lacked the courage of their convictions and reversed the order. Luke Memphis Barker – or Luke Barker, I suppose it would be, with the Memphis silent. Perhaps my plumage would shine less brilliantly than it does at this moment.

Or at least that is what baby name experts say, brought out of their laboratories by the news that Kanye and Kim plan to call their second child Easton, as in Easton West. Or East N’ West. Either the merging of two great schools of history, or a truck-stop diner at a junction on Route 66. I shouldn’t make fun. That’s one thing about having an unusual name, your solidarity lies with the Apples and Philomenas. You can point and laugh with all the Johns and Garys, but the laugh is a little anxious. More of a squeak. It could all go wrong so quickly.

In any case, on Easton, the conclave of baby name analysts finds itself in broad agreement. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said one Adam Alter, a professor of psychology and marketing at New York University. “An unusual name ultimately leads to unconventional or creative thinking.” Right-o. I might suggest that Adam is engaging in some creative thinking of his own here, but with a name like Adam what are the chances. “If people treat you as different,” he goes on, “whether because of your name or some other characteristic, you’ll come to feel the difference is real.”

I do feel different, I suppose, but mainly at the moment of introduction. Strangers’ eyes light up. They think Graceland, they hear Elvis. And I have to wait for the steam to pass before gently correcting them. No, I don’t think my parents ever boogied to Jailhouse Rock, and they’ve not done any walking, running – or anything else – anywhere near Tennessee.

"Memphis,” I’m forced to say, smiling as I add another scalp to the pile, “in fact refers to the ancient capital of Egypt.” The Memphis Touch, you could call it: the gift of a wonderful name that turns its bearer into a terrible pedant.

In truth, I hadn’t really thought of Memphis as a name that other people might choose until recently. It was simply a word that meant me. I was Memphis. Nobody else was called it, apart from an American city (and, of course, an Egyptian one), so there was little risk of confusion. Then the Premier League season started up again, and now sashaying down the left-wing for Manchester United you can see someone called Memphis Depay. He wears “Memphis” on the back of his shirt. Perhaps he wanted to be a journalist when he grew up.

Needless to say, I loathe him, and wish a plague of yellow cards upon his head. I was perfectly set to die – however my life turned out – as the most loved, feared and respected Memphis in the United Kingdom. An achievement. Now whenever I’m watching the football, and think for half-a-second that Michael Owen’s commentary is praising the technique of my left foot, I realise I have been totally overtaken by this other Memphis and will struggle to get back out in front.

This might be the most first-world of all first-name problems, I admit. I expect it is hard to sympathise for a Greg or Susannah. So, a sop of comfort. Some names are undeniably better than others (come on, “Memphis”, try it on for size...) but they are just containers. What matters, if anything does, is how you fill them up. Greg Susannah: what a ring it has, if you imagine some loveable Vietnam veteran smoking on his porch. Or try again: Greg Susannah, the loud-mouth office grope.

You don’t fit the name – the name fits you.

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