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Class, baby names, and judgement thereof seems to be a topic under discussion everywhere at the moment. BRW magazine told us how to name our babies like a rich person, Wendy Harmer set high, perhaps unattainable standards for baby names, an American blogger told us how names are done in Old Blighty’s class system, and a random Devonian reality television contestant decided nobody’s baby names were good enough, not even hers. Perhaps the royal baby is the catalyst for all this reflection – he didn’t escape the scrutiny either; the reality TV contestant decided he had a “dog name”.
And then I checked my search engine stats this week, and found that someone had Googled what baby names do upper class australians use.
Strictly speaking, Australia doesn’t have an upper class, because we don’t have a hereditary aristocracy. It’s usual to consider the richest people of a country the de facto upper class, but when we talk of someone being “upper class”, it has connotations of more than mere possession of a large disposable income. Some of the richest families in Australia are from traditionally working class or middle class backgrounds – they’re just regular people with vast fortunes.
While Australia does have a class system, it’s a flattened-out one, with fewer social divisions, and a large middle ground. Class is more fluid and less structured here than some other places. Of course, that doesn’t mean we are free of all status markers and snobbery – including name snobbery.
So if we don’t have an upper class, do we have upper class baby names? I don’t think so, because any particular name is used by a wider variety of people than you might suppose. Although in our imaginations, poor people have children named Jaidyn and Tayylah, and rich people send Agatha and Lucius off to St Barnaby’s or the Kindergarten of Higher Consciousness, in real life it is a lot less stereotypical.
When you register your baby name, the registry doesn’t ask for your family tree or your bank balance. They won’t ever say, Look, I think Peregrine is out of your price range. Might I suggest something more affordable, like Cooper? All names are equal, because they cost the same amount to register. No matter how humble your circumstances, you can give your baby any name you want – elegant, serious, trendy, sassy, bold, or eye-raising.
And because all names are equal, they won’t make any difference to your own social position, or to your child’s. A poverty-stricken family won’t receive an invitation to join the Yacht Club just because their daughter is named Agatha, and a Jaidyn born into wealth will have just as privileged a life as if his name had been Lucius, and will be just as welcome at St Barnaby’s.
Although some people fret that their baby’s name needs to sound like a doctor, a judge, a professor, or a prime minister for them to succeed, in real life surgeons are named Kellee, chief justices are named Wayne, academics are named Tiffany and Brandy, and prime ministers are named Kevin. Not only does your name not indicate where you came from, it doesn’t indicate where you are going either.
However, it’s fair to say that some names have an upper class image. I don’t think Australia is significantly different from other English-speaking countries when it comes to what names may be perceived as upper class.
Names Which May Be Seen as Upper Class
Please note: This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few ideas as to what I think sounds “upper class”, what others may perceive as upper class, or that I have noticed upper-middle class people choosing. I am not recommending these styles of name, or suggesting you use them.
- Classic English-style names eg Thomas and Lucy
- Anglo-Saxon type names eg Alfred and Edith
- Names from European royalty eg Leopold and Adelaide
- Latin and Latinate names eg Rufus and Aurelia; Hugo and Miranda
- Classical names eg Leander and Hermione
- Retro names eg Arthur and Florence
- So old-fashioned that they’re hip eg Reginald and Gertrude
- Vintage-style nicknames as full names eg Monty and Lottie
- Names that have remained in use while never becoming popular eg Theodore and Susannah
- Uncommon Scottish-style names for boys eg Cormac and Fergus
- Uncommon flower names for girls eg Dahlia and Saffron
- Historical surname names for boys eg Forbes and Monash
- Whimsical names eg Huckleberry and Tuppence (while putting the whimsical name in the middle is the prudently middle class thing to do)
- Fashionable “arty” names eg Ziggy and Coco (strike me as more aspirational middle class for some reason)
- Literary names eg Caspian and Evangeline (these definitely seem middle class, as the middle class is keenest on reading)
How Middle to Upper-Middle Class Australian People Tend to Judge Names
Please note: I am not suggesting you follow any of this advice. It is for information only.
- They like names that are spelled the more commonly accepted way. People are really fussy about this for some reason, and even slight changes to a name can bring on eye-rolling.
- Any name that looks or sounds recently “made up” is frowned upon (although it’s fine if it was created a long time ago and therefore has a history behind it).
- If a name has several variations, the simpler one is usually considered more upper class than the more elaborate eg Isabel rather than Isabella, Alice rather than Alicia, Sophie rather than Sophia.
- Classic and retro names are usually considered more upper class than modern classics. However, Sophia is a classic name and Sophie is a modern classic, yet Sophie is more upper class than Sophia – so this does have exceptions, or can be overwritten by another rule.
- Hyphenated names for girls, like Emma-Rose or Ruby-Lee, are often viewed with suspicion. This could be because “double” names are elaborations by their very nature.
- Masculine or unisex names on girls are generally considered downmarket, while a unisex or feminine-sounding name on a boy often has quite a bit of cachet. So Mackenzie on a girl = thumbs down, Mackenzie on a boy = thumbs up.
- It is fashionable to show pride in your cultural heritage, so Lorenzo, Agnieszka, Tevita, Silka and Johannes can be more stylish than Laurence, Agnes, David, Cecilia and John.
- Conversely, many people seem to think that using names from a culture that you don’t have any immediate tie to looks distasteful. I think it’s silly, but it seems to be a widespread idea.
- One or two middle names are fine, but once you reach three or more middle names (and you’re not royalty), you are considered to have gone beyond the bounds of good taste. It’s a little arbitrary, but it does seem to be the rule.
Names Not Obviously One Class or Another
- Many names that have been highly popular for a length of time – by their nature, popular names are “of the people”; it’s easier for a name to remain very popular if many groups of people use them. Names like Charlotte, William, Chloe and Lachlan could belong to almost anyone, and do.
- Hickster names – those that are fashionable-sounding yet slightly countrified, like Mayella and Elroy. Even after reading the birth notices carefully, looking for clues as to which kind of families choose these names, I still don’t know.
- Uncommon nature names – names like Leaf or Snow are hard to place, I think. I have seen these names on children from absolutely everywhere on the social spectrum.
- Extremely rare or obscure but genuine names – due to the fact they are almost never heard of, they don’t have any social context to put them into. You may only meet one Harmon in your whole life – so how can you generalise about the name?
What names do you think have an upper class image? And do you think there is any such thing as an upper class name?