I’M no Shakespeare scholar but I found a quote from Romeo and Juliet quite apposite this week.
In Act Two, Juliet tries to tell Romeo that it doesn’t matter what his name is and she would love him anyway. The famous (often misquoted) line is “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But I think Juliet is wrong, very wrong. Names do matter.
If they didn’t, why would companies spend a small fortune on marketing and branding? Why is so much care and attention lavished on names that convey the essential attributes of a company or a product?
Just look at what happens when you get it wrong, when something is lost in translation. The first two are old favourites of mine, the third I came across only recently.
When General Motors launched the Nova car in Spain, they failed to realise that the name could be taken to mean ‘won’t work’ and, going the other way, I always smile when I see Bimbo bread in Spanish supermarkets.
The third example of extra and unintended meanings being attached to a name came about with the ill-fated American car the Pinto. Ford, looking to the burgeoning market in Brazil, were surprised when sales fell way below expectation. Not so surprising when it was revealed to Ford executives that pinto was Brazilian street slang for small male private parts.
So yes, I think names do matter.
On a personal level, your name is a sign to others, conveying subtle signals about your age, background and maybe your ethnic origin.
The reason names are on my agenda is that newspapers and websites keen to fill space in the summer ‘silly season’ have been publishing the annual baby names bulletin by the Office for National Statistics.
Obviously, the list is for 2013 and in many ways it doesn’t really offer much of a change from the previous year, with most of the top 10 most popular names for boys and girls in England and Wales remaining the same.
George got a bit of a boost thanks to a certain royal baby.
In the girls' list, Amelia, Olivia and Emily occupy the top three spots, while for the boys, Oliver, Jack and Harry were the most popular names last year.
Back in the days when I was in the position of having to choose baby names with my wife, the popular names for girls were Victoria, Rebecca, Katie and Louise. These days three of those don’t figure at all and Katie sneaks in at 79.
If you meet someone called Rebecca these days, there’s a good chance she’s a thirtysomething.
And pity the poor Keiths out there.
It’s a long, long time since Keith figured on anyone’s list of favourite names. And it plumbed the depths when the name Keith figured in an episode of the anarchic television cartoon comedy Family Guy.
The question asked of ‘hero’ Peter Griffin was: “What’s the most unattractive male name?” And the answer was, of course, Keith.
I wonder if we are given an unusual or ‘posh’ name we live up to it. You don’t see many kids called Tarquin, Tobias or Rupert hanging round street corners where I live, and rumour has it that Gideon was too posh even for our very own Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne.
According to the fount of all human knowledge, Wikipedia, Mr Osborne was originally named Gideon Oliver, and changed his name to George when he was 13.
In an interview in July 2005 he said: “It was my small act of rebellion. I never liked it. When I finally told my mother she said, ‘Nor do I’. So I decided to be George after my grandfather, who was a war hero. Life was easier as a George; it was a straightforward name.”
And this from a member of one of the oldest Anglo-Irish aristocracies and heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy.
If Mr Osborne took the decision to change his name, one wonders what those babies lumbered with some of the more ludicrous names last year will be doing when they are 13.
Inspired (if that is the right word) by popular TV series Game of Thrones, last year saw 50 girls called Khaleesi and four called Daenerys. There were 187 Aryas, five Sansas and three Catelyns. For boys there were 11 Gregors, six Tyrions, four Brandans but, perhaps most surprisingly, 11 Theons (Theon is a rather treacherous and unpleasant character).
I suspect the department that handles name changes by deed poll may be quite busy in 18 years or so.