It’s a giant responsibility, naming a child—and it is usually undertaken in a matter of a few sleep-deprived minutes. There you are, hovering round a birthing pool witnessing the first moments on earth of an entirely new human being. There’s all sorts of viscera knocking about, the baby is squashy and tiny and purple-faced and has a very intriguingly shaped bonce, you haven’t slept since the night before last, and yet before you know it it’s crunch time for the name. It’s a—hang on—what is it? It’s a—yuk—no, I think that’s a… it’s a BOY! And the clock is ticking.
At once, the girls’ names you’d thought of are no use. Too late you realise that you never did get round to talking very much about boys’ names. But it has to have one. So as soon as the gas and air has worn off, there you are trying to remember what you kind of liked when you were idly spitballing boys’ names over a cheese sandwich two months ago before you got distracted by that night’s episode of Homeland.
It’s as the result of just such a process that my third child, born on Christmas Eve, is called Jonah. From a nominative determinism point of view, that’s high risk. Dude might end up getting eaten by a fish. And what’s more, as a friend who confessed to having nearly called her son Jonah reminded us, Jonah is a byword for bad luck: in the original story being eaten by a fish was what passed for yer man catching a break.
That don’t bother me none. It’s only my wife who prevents me from giving my children the sort of names 17th-century Puritans liked to give their children: I’d love to have a little girl called Sorrow.
But you can be free of superstition and still think the decision important. The name you give your child will profoundly affect him or her. It will cause all sorts of assumptions to be made about them in terms of class but also of character; it will determine, with subtle psychological effect, their place on the register at primary school; it will in many cases condemn them to a lifetime of misspellings or mispronunciations or, in the case of my daughter Marlene, both; and—though this is probably not the most important thing—it will determine whether or not Katie Hopkins lets her kids play…