Friday, 18 September 2009

Names Names Names

It's that time of year when the Daily Wail and the dim witted forces of the reactionary national right in Britain like to get themselves a little bit worlked up about the increasing popularity of Mohammed as a name choice, and how this is a bad thing (1).

The usual Wail wail is that the popularity of Mohammed and its variants is an index of "the changing face of Britain" - it shows how rapidly the Muslim population in Britain is growing, who "espouse an entirely different cultural tradition from our own," refusing to participate in traditional British past times like "reading Jane Austen or tuning into the Archers," something that "dismays millions of people". If something isn't done, Britain can look forwards to becoming a "divided society, no longer recognisably British," an Englishman's (sic) right to read Jane Austen threatened by a "host of young Mohammeds and Muhammeds" (2).


I'm not going to bother rebutting the Mail's flim-flam - it's opinion, not evidence based. Outside the readership of the Mail and its ilk, I do not think Muslim's quaint fondness for the name Mohammed causes all that much concern. Brits are inherently opposed to conformity. We have special schools for random religions and quasi legalistic institutions like the Beth Din courts. We not only allow the uncivilised folk dwelling at the fringes of our country to speak their barbarian tongue, we encourage it, in the spirit of happy mischief. Our leaders' continual failure to recognise this inherently socially minded individualism and impose its authoritarian desires on our naturally fragmented, incoherent and possibly deviant British way of life is why we always end up hating them, regardless of political stripe.

While calling all your children Mohammed might not fit in with this national oddness, it issn't something we'll get too worried about. It's just odd, and we quite like that. Britain has always used a hodge-podge of names, drawn from various traditions - most of which arrived a lot less peacably and meekly than the current Muslim immigrants. Consider the origins of the first names of British Prime Ministers since WW2:
Gordon Brown - Celtic
Tony Blair and Anthony Eden - Roman
John Major - Hebrew
Margaret Thatcher - Greek
Jim Callaghan - Hebrew
Harold Wilson & Harold MicMillan - Anglo-Saxon
Edward Heath - Anglo-Saxon
Alex Douglas-Holme - Greek
Winston Churchill - Anglo-Saxon
Clement Attlee - Roman
Anyway, there are far more worrying trends in naming to worry about.

How can we get worked up about lots of children being called dull but sensible things like Mohammed or Muhammed, when we live in an age where people get called things like Shanqiria-Odelay and Dasdamanda-Coree-Poppy, I think we can cope with Omar and Mohammed. Let's not forget poor little Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, Violence, Midnight Chardonnay and Number 16 Bus Shelter (3). I think Mohammed would have been preferable in all cases, even for the girls.

And I remember a woman interviewed on One News, whose first name was ... Sincerely. Not Sincere or Sincerity, both of which could make unusual but beautiful names, but Sincerely, as in 'Yours Sincerely.' It's and adverb, you clowns, not a noun. You can't make it into a name, unless you're desperately stupid.

Britain has its own fair share of bad names, and a bad habit of making lovely names sound unbearably ugly. Ethel is a good example. Pronounced in the continental way, Eh-thell, it is quite beautiful, but in the British tongue mangles it to Ithil. Same with Agnes. Continentally sexy An-yes becomes frigidly British Agh-nus. Or worst of all, Hortense. A French sex kitten called or-ten-zay become the ridiculuous Whore-tinz once she crosses the channel. Wrong, very wrong.

However, my personal bugbear is a Kiwi one - I can't abide the way New Zelanders mangle the Gaelic name Catriona. Its pronunciation is similar to Katerina - Cah-tree-un-ah, with equal stress on all syllables. Bloody Kiwis turn it in to Cat-try-owner. And you can't ignore it because Catriona McLeod is always popping up to read the news, inevitably preceded by a hideous mangling of her name. Forget the 'H' in Whanganui, for this bastard ponunciation the whole nation should be shot.
1 - "Mohammed is now the third most popular boy's name in England. So why this shabby effort to conceal it?" by Max Hastings, published in The Daily Mail, 11th of September, 2009. (
2 - ibid.
3 - "'Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii' not a girl's name, New Zealand court rules," by Bonny Malkin, published in the Daily Telegraph, 24th of July, 2008. (


Sanctuary said...

Roman? What is "Roman"?? Perhaps you mean Latin?

lurgee said...

I was thinking more about the culture than the language :P

I speak Latin, you know.

"Ecce! In pictura est puella, nomine Cornelia!"

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