BBC News

Beckham baby: Why the middle name Seven?

By Caroline McClatchey
BBC News Magazine


David and Victoria Beckham have named their fourth child Harper Seven. Does their unusual choice of middle name reflect a modern trend?

The Beckhams' sons are Brooklyn Joseph, Romeo James and Cruz David, but for their first daughter, the celebrity couple have decided to hold back on her first name and go freestyle for her second.

As with the birth of their boys, the papers and internet are buzzing with theories on why the Beckhams chose Harper Seven.

Harper has become an increasingly popular name in the US, where the family are now based. It was the 887th most popular for a girl in 2004 but rose to 119 last year.

image captionThe Beckhams knew they were having a girl

Seven has been the focus of speculation. There are suggestions it was because she weighed 7lbs 10oz, arrived at 0755 LA time and was born in the seventh month, but the number also has great significance for her father, who played number seven shirt for Manchester United and England.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a middle name is a forename other than a first name, occurring between a person's first name and surname. So "middle name" embraces both a maiden name retained in the child's name as well as an additional "Philip" or "John" after the first name.

Naming conventions vary from country to country but in the English-speaking world, middle names are often a relative's name, usually old-fashioned and highly embarrassing, or a family surname.

There can be more than one. British musician Brian Eno is actually Brian Peter George St John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno, while Canadian actor Kiefer Sutherland is Kiefer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland.

Julia Cresswell, author of several books including Naming Your Baby, says middle names were not as common in the past. She says they were a "status thing" and if a husband married a better-connected wife for instance, they made sure her surname passed to their child.

"It tended to be used by those who had family connections.

"It then became a classy thing to do to give more than one name to your child. People have had middle names for centuries but it is only since the 20th Century that it's become the norm for nearly everybody."

She points to the Royal family, with their "stream of names", as a good example of it being an "upper-class thing" - Prince Charles is followed by Philip Arthur George, while Prince William also has the names Arthur Philip Louis.

But Cresswell says their purpose has now changed.

"Growing populations and growing mobility mean you need to distinguish yourself. That's why we use so many different first names these days. There were only a dozen names in regular use in the distant past.

"If you Google John Smith, you get hundreds of hits. Google John Seven Smith and you are not likely to find more than one."

A middle name can be a good safety net if a child hates their first name. And sometimes the initial letter of a middle name becomes very much part of the person, such as former US President George W Bush.

image captionLucky number Seven? A girl after three boys

Family psychologist Dr Pat Spungin says some people adopt their middle name to mark a new chapter in their life or because it is a better representation of "the new them".

The Beckhams are not the first to call their child after the lucky number Seven - US rapper and actor Andre 3000, also known as Dre, has a son called Seven. In the TV comedy Seinfeld, George Costanza wanted to call his baby Seven.

And Cresswell points out that there was a character called Seven of Nine in Star Trek Voyager, but she doesn't "have the Beckhams down as Trekkies".