I was on a crowded bus last week which fell into incredulous silence when a young mother admonished her toddler daughter to "sit DAAAAAHN, Boadicea."(no word of a lie.). Looks were exchanged, and there was an outbreak of furtive sniggering as everyone suddenly scrutinised the child's pushchair for signs of giant blades protruding from the wheels.
I mused that at least perhaps the kid can shorten her name to 'Bo' (not great but better than the full-fat version) when the inevitable teasing by her peers begins, and then reminded myself that in a class peppered by Chardonnays, Chanels and Chyennes, nobody was likely to raise more than an eyebrow at little Boadicea. And I hoped that at least the kid might grow into a statuesque flame-haired Amazon, and at least not be at physical odds with such a demanding and evocative name. Because like it or not, that name is going to bring about some very primal psychological responses in those who hear it, the kind that stay with you for life no matter how you consciously try to resist or deny them.
I am as guilty as hell in this matter (despite having been given an absolutely ridiculous first name of my own by my misguided parents.). I will maintain that I have never met a man called Alan or Colin that I like, due entirely to very early associations formed in childhood after having encountered disagreeable examples of both. When doing some further research on this matter, I felt actual relief that no babies at all were given the name 'Clifford' last year, purely because I met a boy called Clifford who I hated beyond reason at a holiday camp when I was ten, and a second in my teens who was equally obnoxious and therefore set the seal of evil on that name as far as I was concerned.
In fact, I have a whole list of names that evoke immediate, seemingly irrevocable pre-judgements in me when they arise, and a load more which instantly throw up slightly more benign but very specific images. For example:
Keith - pale blue eyes and yellow teeth.
Graham - wiry red hair, likes E.L.O, good at maths.
David - blond and popular, despite being sensitive.
Andrew - hearty with a booming voice, sporty, dull.
Thomas - always has a runny nose.
Gary - flash, with a bad haircut; can't dance but thinks he can.
Michael - altar boy.
Timothy - spoilt, with a snub nose and freckles.
Tom - big feet.
Alan - loudmouthed bore with barrel-chest.
Colin - anaemic, lank greasy hair.
Nigel - snide mother's boy.
And for the girls:
Catherine - all boys fancy her.
Sarah - pony club princess.
Jackie - tart.
Mary - spots and sweaty hands.
Laura - tomboy in ankle socks.
Claire - bit of a swot.
Carol - moody redhead.
Debbie - cheerful airhead.
Sandra - blousy, large bosomed.
Maria - enigmatic, secretive.
Sheila - has at least four younger siblings and babysits a lot.
Pamela - never stops talking.
This is not a scientific survey and is the result of my own stewed subconscious alone. I sincerely hope that any others reading these lists will come up with flashcard responses of their own which are at complete odds with mine. My conscious, adult mind knows full well that it has been presented several times with confounding examples of all these names (maybe not 'Nigel'.). I've had patients with all these names, friends with a few, and even one boyfriend (I'm not saying which name.).
Several of the ones in my list are currently 'in retirement' until the wheel of fashion takes another turn and brings them back into vogue (probably for the generation after next.). Only 23 Keiths were added to the world (well, the UK) last year to up the stock of greasy pale babies, and there were a mere 16 Jackies to provide the next crop of gum-chewing, lovebite-toting teens. I was surprised to see there were just six Shirleys (thin legs and frizzy dark hair, since you ask), whereas back in junior school there were three in my class alone. Ten years ago my friends were all having babies called Max, Joe and Lily; now you can't move for Olivias and Olivers. Interestingly, none of these names evoke any associations in me - they produce no 'flashcard' responses at all, as they weren't around when I was a child busily laying down illogical emotional associations. And my own name remains stubbornly classified under 'funky-quirky', having neither declined nor increased significantly in popularity since I was born. I dread to think what associations might well be evoked in my childhood classmates, if I'm the only one they've ever met. Good grief. That's a responsibility I don't even want to think about.