23 August 2012

What's in a Name?

Information released by the UK Office of National Statistics has revealed that the most popular name among boys born in 2011 was Harry.  Obviously, the high profile of one of the members of the British Royal Family (even before he was photographed nude in Las Vegas) has helped keep the name in prospective parents’ minds, but many people genuinely believe that the name you give a child will have a direct bearing on their future careers.

In the recent past, parents have tended to name their children after figures who have assumed popularity in the year of the child’s birth.  Thus it was that when the Australian soap opera Neighbours hit the UK screens in the 1980s there was a sudden upsurge of children called Kylie (after, of course, Kylie Minogue who began her path to stardom as a plastic character in that apparently addictive series).  Around 10 years later we suddenly had vast numbers of Kylies coming into the examination room; the fact that we get none now (it was the 965th most popular girl’s name in the UK during 2011) tells us that a, the name has lost its lustre and, b, those who named their daughters Kylie in the hope that they, too, would become popular stars, were sadly misguided.
Having named our daughter Prisca, we are met with amazement in some quarters when we tell them she is named after nobody and that the name came to us more-or-less out of the blue.  “What does it mean?”, I am often asked, to which I reply “It means beautiful daughter whom I love very much”, which usually keeps the silly questioners quiet, but occasionally prompts the even sillier response, “Is it the same as Priscilla?”.  “No”, I reply, “to call my daughter Priscilla would be to wish her ill” (And you have to think a  bit to work that one out).

But, going down the road of naming a child in the hope that it will live up to the imagined qualities inherent in the name, got me thinking about the most popular names for musicians.  If you want, say, your son to be a great composer, do you call him, for example, Wolfgang after the great Mozart?.  Well, the answer is no.  On my database of composers, there are only six others beyond Wolfgang Mozart - Wolfgang Helbich (born 1943), Wolfgang Thoma (born 1950??), Wolfgang Carl Briegel (1626–1712), Wolfgang Fortner (1907–1987), Wolfgang Rihm (born 1952) and  Wolfgang von Schweinitz (born 1953) – and frankly not one of those can be regarded as a major figure in musical creation.  As for the name Mozart, so popularly used to promote bad music schools (as in “Little Mozarts” – uuurrrghh!), there are only three composers with that name, Wolfgang, his father, Leopold, and his son Francis Xaver.  Bach is the most popular composer surname, but only the most desperate seekers after good fortune would consider destroying the entire family heritage in the vain hope of emulating the great Johann Sebastian.
But there we have what is, undoubtedly, the most popular composer’s name; Johann.  There are 181 of these, and of its variants there are 142 Johns, 70 Johanneses and 32 Jeans; 425 on my database alone.  Franz and its various national variants comes next (134) followed by George and its derivatives (109), William (92), Anton (86) and Thomas (46).  And where do these names come in the UK list of popular boys names?  John comes in at 94th, Francis 298th, William 7th, George 9th, Anthony 148th and Thomas 6th. It really does not look as if British parents have much hope that their sons will turn into great composers; although the chances of them becoming members of the royal family are even more remote.

1 comment:

  1. And in case any of your readers have not seen it, the following observation was deemed the best one-liner at the Edinburgh Fringe:

    "You know who really gives kids a bad name ? Posh and Becks."

    Well, isn't that funny ? And true of course.
    Sorry to lower the tone of your blog.

    Yours Dr Peter