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Last Friday night in London was the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics, and wasn’t it a corker? I got up at 5.30 am on Saturday to watch it, and was glued to the screen in wonder, and sometimes fits of laughter at its cheekiness. Our own Lou from Mer de Noms was front and centre for this historic event, as she is volunteering at the Games over the summer. She chummed up with her seatmate, a friendly Londoner named Osama, who you can hear on her video of the event.

The Australian flag bearer during the Parade of Nations was basketball star Lauren Jackson. She is the first female flag bearer from Australia for quite some time, as the last four standard-bearers have been male. Indeed, beach volleyball player and five-time Olympian Natalie Cook threatened to boycott the ceremony if a woman wasn’t chosen. I’m not sure whether her threats influenced the decision-making or not, but during the ruckus which followed, it turned out that the men’s basketball players fly business class, while the women’s national team, which have a higher ranking worldwide, has to fly economy, due to lower funding.

Maybe there was an uncomfortable feeling amongst sports administrators that female athletes were getting rather ripped off. This neglect is an utter disgrace, because Australia has been blessed with scores of talented sportswomen, and without them, our medal tally at any Olympics would look pretty lame. I think choosing a female flag-bearer was the absolute least that they could do.

Lauren Jackson was an admirable choice. The daughter of two national basketball players, and the granddaughter of another, she has been playing since the age of four and competing since six. She joined the under-20 national team when only 14, and the women’s national team at 16. She plays for the Seattle Storm in the WMBA, and has also played basketball in Russia, Spain and Korea. Widely acknowledged as Australia’s best basketball player, London is her fourth Olympics, and she has three Olympic silver medals so far. Can she make it gold in 2012 with the help of her team? Only time will tell.

The name Lauren began life as a male name, a short form of Laurence. However, that all changed with Hollywood star Lauren Bacall. Born Betty Joan Perske, she was working as a fashion model under the name Betty Bacall when Nancy Hawks, the wife of director Howard Hawks, spotted her on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar. Once she passed her first audition, the elegant socialite Nancy took her under her wing and taught her how to behave, speak and dress for success. Nancy also changed her name from girl-next-door Betty to the more stylish Lauren.

Lauren Bacall’s first movie, the wartime romance To Have and Have Not, came out in 1944. At this time, Lauren was #772 for boys on the US Top 1000. The very next year, Lauren had entered the US charts as a girl’s name at #355. Lauren wasn’t a popular boy’s name (it had never been in the Top 500) and Betty Perske’s screen name finished it off. It hasn’t charted for boys in the US since 1989.

In Australia, we were obviously just as taken with Lauren Bacall, and the name Lauren was #357 for the 1940s in New South Wales. It rose through the 1950s and ’60s, and took off during the 1970s, to become the #9 name of the 1980s in New South Wales, and the #5 name of the 1980s in Victoria. Perhaps as Ms Bacall’s career gracefully waned, the name became less closely associated with its famous namesake, helping its popularity grow – or maybe it was a matter of a generation who had grown up watching Bacall becoming parents.

Because of its high popularity, there are many successful Australian women named Lauren, and many of them seem to be involved in sport, such as sprinter Lauren Hewitt, netball player Lauren Nourse, and Olympic gymnast Lauren Mitchell, who was covered at Ebony’s blog, babynameobsessed. In the field of entertainment, we have Lauren Newton, daughter of Bert Newton, singer Lauren Buckley who competed on Australian Idol, and Lauren Brain, who is a member of Dave Hughes‘ radio show.

Lauren maintained its Top Ten status for the 1990s, peaking as the #7 name in New South Wales, but dipping to #8 in Victoria. It has been declining since then, and last year it disappeared from the Top 100 altogether as it dropped to #109. This puts us out of step with the rest of the English-speaking world, because Lauren is still Top 100 in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, England/Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland.

It’s a shame that we have tired of Lauren so easily compared to other countries. Part of the reason may be because its fortunes were closely tied with its twin name, Laura. Both names rose at the same time at similar rates, and fell at similar rates too. Laura is currently #118 – just nine places lower than Lauren.

It seem unlikely that Laura and Lauren can stage a comeback – but if Lauren lifts even a little in the rankings next year, I will attribute it to the Olympian Lauren Jackson.

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