A boy named North West
As another pair of celebrity parents contemplates the gift of a novel name for their offspring, it's worth considering if the label we're given as infants has a bearing on the person we will become.
Mixed emotions greet reports that Kanye West is considering calling his first child North. It's a good joke, from a slightly unexpected source (neither the rapper nor his possibly even more famous partner, Kim Kardashian, are best known for their self-deprecating sallies, although the title Kanye is supposed to be contemplating for his new album, I Am God, is said to be "half tongue-in-cheek").
And North, who is due in July, would certainly be following in an established tradition. Mr and Mrs Peace, Mr and Mrs Christmas, Mr and Mrs Gallery, for example, sat down, had a good think and decided to call their respective offspring Warren, Merry, and Art, while Mr and Mrs Beach realised too late that a popular diminutive of Alexander is Sandy.
You will also doubtless remember the robust brand of parenting employed by the father of the Boy Named Sue. As a Lancastrian, too, I am proud to see Kanye and Kim emulating Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, who named their son Sean Preston. But I'm not quite so sure about another suggestion which has followed the West news, It's Grim Up North.
Names, though, are important. True, Shakespeare had Juliet doubt it in the matter of her Romeo - "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet" - but we know what happened to them. And first names especially so; people react to them even before meeting their bearers, judging them by those they have known and not always loved.
Moreover, researchers have found that reactions to names are based on unconscious associations of startling simplicity. So we will think someone is likely to be successful if he or she has a name given to royalty, that a woman is likely to be attractive if she has a soft, feminine-sounding name, that a boy or a man is likely to be attractive if he has a hard, masculine-sounding name.
For those who argue for the inspiring evolution of our species into rational sophisticates, it gets worse, I'm afraid. We think someone is likely to be lucky if their name sounds like "luck" and has the same number of letters. So Jack is thought to be luckier than other men, while Lucy is thought the luckiest name for a woman.
This research was carried out by Prof Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, whose surname points to another fascinating phenomenon - nominative determinism, the influence names appear to have on choices.
Work in the United States has, for instance, discovered that women called Florence had gone to live in Florida, men called George to Georgia, and that people were more likely to go into jobs with associations with their names. Thus, among many other examples, Mr C Ensor, the chairman of Bedford Borough Council's standards committee, and Mr Peter Atchoo, the pneumonia specialist.
My own researches into the name Jack, Britain's first name of choice for boys over the past 20 years or so, show a distinct trend. Famous Jacks tend to be generously gifted but attractively human, with mercurial careers: outlaws and buccaneers like Jack Sheppard and Calico Jack; writers such as Jack London and Jack Kerouac; sportsmen like Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey; actors like Jack Nicholson and Jack Black. All seemingly taking their nominative cue from Jack the Giant Slayer and Jack the Lad.
It will be interesting to see if all these young Jacks now growing turn us into a larkier, less reserved nation.
Meanwhile, Kanye and Kim, I have some further, slightly more balanced and understated suggestions for what in any event is likely to be a lively, spotlighted life:
- Go West
- String West
- and, my favourite, from that popular London station, Penge West.
Charles Nevin is author of Jack: Stories of Britain's Favourite Name