Name and shame

21st June 2013 at 01:00

I'm only a couple of weeks from my due date and the baby names book is still gathering dust on the shelf. Saddling a child with a name for life is a tricky business. By the time you have put in a few years in the classroom, you have a mental list of names you could never use because they have been responsible for too many grey hairs and sleepless nights. Take into account the fact that the person supplying half the DNA may want a say in the business and you're left with decidedly few names in the centre of the Venn diagram.

There is a theory that a name can help make or break a child's success in life. In fact, I know several teachers who swear you can sort a class into ability groups just by looking at the list of students' names. I'm sure the success thing isn't true but there is no getting away from the fact that, when it comes to early phonics acquisition, Tom and Ben have a definite advantage over Siobhan and Aoife, while poor Ptolemy is always going to struggle to learn his alphabet.

And it is not just children who struggle with phonics. A teacher friend was confronted by an angry parent at the end of her child's first week in school who complained that "our Gooey" had been called by the wrong name all week (the child's name was Guy).

Some countries have rules about the naming of children. In Germany, the name must show the gender and must not affect the well-being of the child. In Denmark, parents must choose from a list of 7,000 government-approved names. Luckily, in England no such restrictions exist, which means we often come across the weird and wonderful in our classrooms. One friend who taught in a school down South had, in the same class, a Soda-pop, a Princess and a child called "Untitled number 1". His parents - clearly unwilling to commit to a name - had called his younger siblings "Untitled number 2" and "Untitled number 3". The other children called them Unny 1, Unny 2 and Unny 3.

I've developed my own system for checking whether a name can be put up for consideration or not. See how many famous people are called it and score a point for each nice one and deduct a point for each nasty one. Adolf is obviously at the bottom of the scale. George is neutral because Osborne, who holds the purse strings in the UK government, and Clooney, with his Hollywood glamour, cancel each other out. And not even the fact that he was an archangel and, for his swimming exploits, the most decorated Olympian in history can save the name Michael for anyone working in education in England. As education secretary, Michael Gove has sent a perfectly good name plummeting down my points system.

Luckily, I'm not without help in making my decision. A group of children in my class spent a wet playtime conducting an impromptu survey, the end result of which was a top five list for both boys' and girls' names. Top of the girls' options was Skye. The favourite for a boy was Prince. I promised the children I would bear their choices in mind but I have a feeling they may just be disappointed.

Jo Brighouse teaches at a school for children aged 4-11 in the Midlands of England.

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