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As the summer holidays wane and the new school year opens, it seems appropriate that I should be reviewing a blog written by a schoolteacher.

I “met” British Baby Names through Mer de Noms, which has it listed on its Blog Roll. I was impressed by the official-sounding title and the quiet confidence it denoted (I did consider calling my blog Australian Baby Names, but wasn’t sure I could live up to it). For some time I thought BBN was the net presence of a book, magazine, or a company of some kind. I kept waiting to be sold something, and although that hasn’t happened yet, it does make me secretly wonder if a book, magazine, company, or product are in the pipeline.

The subtitle to British Baby Names is Trends, Styles and Quirks, and the trend-analysing, stylish, and quirky blogger behind British Baby Names is Elea (a homophone of Ella). Elea is from Coventry, an English city you may connect with Lady Godiva; like her compatriot Lou at Mer de Noms, she comes from Britain’s heartland. This part of the world clearly breeds fabulous name bloggers.

What do you expect from a blog on British baby names? Perhaps you think of the elegant and slightly over-the-top names from the birth announcements in The Telegraph. Or maybe you think of medieval names, or glorious Victoriana. You might want to know which names are currently popular in England, Wales and Scotland, or seek name data from previous centuries. You could be interested in Celtic and Gaelic names, or drawn to names from English literature.

So often are our expectations disappointed, and yet at British Baby Names, you get all this, and more. Let’s run through some of the goodies on offer.

Name Lists

I urge you to check out Styles, which divides names into useful “style codes” that Elea has devised. Thus we have such intriguingly-named lists as Upright Elegance, Resonant Roman, and Funky Clunky. If you like a name on one of the lists, chances are you will find yourself approving several others in that style.

The Themes list allows Elea a chance to do some research, and use her imagination. Here you may find lists of Gods and Goddesses, Non-Floral Nature vocabulary names, and scientific Butterfly Names. I feel that some of the Meaning lists, which includes flowers, colours and birds, could sit comfortably under Themes as well.

British society embraces many cultures, and at Cultural Origins we have lists such as Cornish, Manx and Scottish Clan names, but also French and Arabic ones. Surely a list on Indian names is coming …

There are also lists of literary characters, and names of British and European royalty. Just started this year are names connected with each month – I’m looking forward to seeing this series unfold.

Names of the week

Elea adds a fresh name each Saturday, alternating between genders, and there are currently 36 names. Each listing gives the origin, usage, namesakes, variants and pronunciation. There are also middle name suggestions, sibset suggestions and nickname suggestions. Each name is placed in the context of different name style lists, and suggests names in similar styles. These appear accurate, judging by own reactions; however, I seem to like all the names and all the different name styles, so I may not be the best test candidate.

Name Data

A name nerd’s dream – lots and lots of lovely name data! You can see the Top 100 for each decade beginning in 1904 (I’m not sure it’s ever explained why it starts in 1904), comparing each name’s rank with that of 2009. So we can see that some of the “great grandparent” names are popular now, such as Ruby, Isabella, William and Matthew, but inexplicably, equally nice names like Sylvia, Audrey, Edmund and Harold don’t seem to be cutting it (especially odd as Audrey is Top 100 here and in North America).

There’s also the current Top 100 for both England/Wales and Scotland. Along the left hand side, you can go straight to the combined spellings for girls and boys, hyphenated names, and also name combinations from the century-ago 1911 census for more spiffing middle name ideas.

There are Categories to choose from down the right-hand side – one of the most interesting and useful is Sibling Names, which looks through the historical name data to see which sibling names were chosen to “go with” names as varied as Cinderella, Erastus and Ivanhoe.

Another of my favourites is the T’was Ever Thus series, in which we see that there is nothing new under the sun. I’m sure these cross old newspaper writers are the direct ancestors of people who peevishly air their pet name grievances on the Internet. Here we see one from 1900, bringing out that ancient chestnut, that children will be horribly bullied if called something outlandish, such as Angelina.

Elea has been blogging industriously for almost a year, passing her 200th blog post around last Christmas. British Baby Names is powered by Typepad, a platform which produces very sleek and professional-looking blogs. Leaving comments is easy, as there are so many different ways to sign in, and you don’t need to respond to a captcha each time you comment on a post. Elea is very good at answering her comments in timely fashion too.

If you would like to follow BBN on Twitter or Facebook, there are two easy-find buttons to press, and you’re there. These do seem to be used differently – Twitter is for receiving notice of blog updates, while Facebook is for chatting and getting interesting snippets of name information which don’t get blogged about. You can subscribe to the live feed by clicking on the tiny orange RSS symbol displayed when you open each Category.

Elea has recently had a change of image, giving BBN a classic monochrome background with discreet polka dots, and featuring an old-fashioned perambulator, such as a trim little nanny may have nimbled around a London park at the turn of the last century.

Everything is perfectly organised, beautifully presented, and meticulously researched. I have to restrain myself from picturing her classroom as pin-neat with clearly written charts on the walls, and children with very clean faces sitting at desks arranged in an orderly fashion. Her report card gets an A+ with lots of gold stars and elephant stamps.

There is a definite English “style” on British Baby Names that I think Anglophiles will find extremely charming. It’s everything we expect from “proper British names” – whether they be elegant as a white glove, wild as a moor in a Bronte novel, or eccentric as a Hyde park speaker.

A little known fact about Elea is that she has a romantic connection to Australia, and it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that this English lass with the love of field and coppice running in her veins will one day make her home in our wide brown land. Should this occur, I have no doubt that she will in short order produce a blog called Australian Baby Names as perfect, beautiful, and meticulous as BBN. I couldn’t hope to be put out of business by a better blogger.

Q & A with Elea

Name?: Eleanor Lauren Margaret. The first two were already on my parent’s short-list, when my great-grandmother, Margaret, died a few months before I was born. I was given Margaret to honour her.

Name you would like to have: I’ve always been happy with my first name as it is classic, hard to date, and has lots of nicknames. I considered having Lauren removed and just being Eleanor Margaret. My reasoning was that Margaret has family significance, while Lauren just felt like a run-of-the-mill 1980s name. Having three middle names never bothered me, but it used to annoy me when the last one would get chopped off on forms – leaving me with just Lauren, my least favourite middle. Being simply Eleanor Margaret, or Eleanor Margaret Lauren, would, I felt, have solved that problem. I once mentioned to my parents that I wished Lauren wasn’t one of my names and they looked rather shocked, replying, “But I love Lauren.” Seeing that they both genuinely loved the name restored my feeling of ownership for it.

What began your interest in names?: I remember choosing Barbie dolls and Polly Pockets based on their names alone, and looking avidly at the names on the Edwardian-style figurines in the Argos catalogues. Around the age of 8, I named an imaginary [future] daughter Aurora Ariel Belinda Liesl Fenella Esme Roberta – all names from favourite books and films. By the time I realised names had meanings, I was hooked.

How did you start blogging?: For many years I have enjoyed researching names in historical sources or picking through the official statistics. (I seem to have a thing for name related spreadsheets ). I used to post various findings on different forums, but then would spend ages trying to find them again when I needed to refer to them. Eventually, I started to catalogue some of the posts, and the idea of a blog really grew from there – mostly as a place to store my general musings (which probably explains why the content bounces all over the place with no real set theme). It staggers me that people actually read the posts, let alone make time to comment. For so long my name obsession has been my closeted secret.

Your favourite blog entry on British Baby Names: My posts tend to range from familiar subjects that I want to indulge in, to topics I have only just discovered and am desperate to explore. The post on Victorian floriography is a good example of the latter. It was something that I had only been vaguely aware of, but once I started researching I became fascinated. As far as serials go, I very much enjoy writing the Names of the Week, and researching the Finds from… entries.

Your pet naming peeve: I’m always saddened when people tell me that they were given their name/middle name because their parents “couldn’t think of anything else/couldn’t agree so they compromised on something they didn’t hate/didn’t bother to give a middle name because they ran out of ideas after naming the older ones.” I’ve heard all these before, and, sadly, it is usually these people who dislike their name. Mostly, because they feel the name was chosen with very little thought, sentiment, or care.

I also find it unsettling that Dylan for a girl is acceptable, but Evelyn for a boy is considered cruel. I have no problem with gender-bending, but I find it sad that our society only swings it one way.

Your favourite names: I have a particular passion for Celtic, Greek and medieval names. The favourites I’ve been nursing for the past few years are Endelyn and Merewen for girls, and Jago, Macsen and Aidric for boys.

Names you dislike:  The -son names (Madison, Addison, Emerson) for girls. I’m very visual with names so the “son” part always leaps out at me and looks incongruous.

Names you love but can’t use: Persephone was once my favourite guilty pleasure. These days I see it less as guilty, more as actually quite usable. There are certain names that I love but have been used by, or are too close to, family/friends names to use: Livia, Amelia, Charlotte, Sabina, Juliet.

Your future children’s names: There is only one name that I have had semi-set in my mind since I was a teenager – William Rhys. It honours several family members, and I still love how it looks and sounds.

The one piece of advice you would give to someone choosing a name for their baby: My overall advice would be that people choose a name that has some resonance or significance for them. Whether it honours a loved one, has a particularly apt meaning, is a much loved name, or just makes you happy every time you say it, if you love it and find it significant, chances are your child will too.

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