Toni, Tyla, Shiraz, why?

2nd September 2005 at 01:00
The start of term throws up a raft of new names. The register is now full of gender uncertainty and hyphens, writes Geoff Brookes

The start of a new school term brings forward a host of new pupils and their names for teachers to learn. We look at the register and we wonder immediately, "Why do they do it?" You will see a Jordan, a Daryl, maybe a Leigh. And you won't have a clue whether they are a boy or a girl.

It is all very modern. But you can't help thinking about what sort of burdens their parents are forcing them to carry into the future. I mean, can you imagine a grandfather called Tyler? Of course, if it is Tyla then she'll be a grandma. But if it is Taylor? Don't ask me.

The world is changing. But is it for the better? You knew where you were when it was all Brians and Dianes. Now it is Jaime and Christy and rampant confusion. All the old certainties have gone.

Girls would appear to be the more likely victims of bizarre flights of fashion. I don't know where Shanice has come from but I imagine the mother of Shiraz has spent too much time in the off-licence.

There is always the issue of odd spelling. Krystle is a particular favourite of mine, though I have been recently taken with Chelsey. A mother told me that she called her boy Niclas because he would find it easier to spell. She wanted to call her next child K-Lee for the same reason but they wouldn't let her. She had to compromise with Kay-Lee.

And what is it with names with hyphens? Does it reflect a crisis of indecision in front of the registrar? They are the sort of names that make my spirits sink, especially if they include those three little letters - Lee. Lee-Ross, Lee-John, Jimmy-Lee. Why are they always so naughty? Why are they always fighting?

With girls it can be different. Katie-Beth's mother will usually phone up to complain that her daughter isn't getting enough homework. Toni-Louise will sport a bizarre hair style. The gender of Sammy-Jo will probably remain the subject of some debate.

Old-fashioned names, however, have now become very bad news. The last girl I taught called Maggie was totally bananas. Any boy called Albert or Fred seems to be consumed by an inner rage and spends his days in the learning advice department. I am sure there is an academic paper to be written here.

Certainly boys named after boxers - Tyson, Cassius, Rocky - usually have too much to live up to. Boys who are named after footballers are suddenly frozen in time. Eric had a particular reference when Mr Cantona was strutting his stuff. But today?

Now, when I watch some expensive foreign import laying waste to the Premiership and basking in immoderate adulation, my heart goes out to some poor little lad who will be saddled for life with a foreign name, barely understood.

What are we doing when we choose a name? Are we trying to say something about ourselves? Or are we locking a child into our family traditions and setting them up for the future? Clearly we are going to have to find roles for Chesney and Chardonnay. The latter is a perfect example of the way in which life imitates what passes for art.

I just cannot imagine anyone called Shane writing a definitive guide to Shakespeare's sonnets. He is normally a boy who I once taught who has recently been arrested.

We carry our names with us and people expect certain things from us on the basis of our name. Some names have stood the test of time, others suggest an ignorance of history and tradition. Sadly we have a generation of young mothers that is losing touch with its own history and instead responds to the insidious whisper of the television. Where will it end? My own name now seems to be washed up on the shores of history along with Keith and Ted and Ken.

I remember last year when Ma Davies turned up to complain about a bullying incident that hadn't happened yet. "I'm telling you Mr Brookes, if anyone lays their hands on our Loretta..."

I had met Loretta. It was hardly likely that anyone would ever consider taking the risk. But I smiled and offered reassurance. Ma Davies relaxed and, smiling, introduced me to the new addition to the family, a whimpering infant lost in the folds of her generous bosom. "This is our Billy-Bob. No one is going to mess with him." Suddenly my school had been transported to the swamps of Louisiana.

On reflection it is not entirely dissimilar to some of the challenging parts of our catchment area. Perhaps they have got naming right and I need to get up to date.

Geoff Brookes is deputy head of Cefn Hengoed comprehensive, Swansea

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