Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Come on parents, surely there's life left yet in Brian

The list of most popular names just released by the Office for National Statistics holds no surprises at the top end, with Jack again confirmed as the name most commonly given to newborn boys in England and Wales, closely followed by Mohammed (or variations of Mohammed, such as Muhammad), then Oliver, Thomas, Harry and Joshua. Still pre-eminent among girls names is Olivia, followed by Ruby, Emily, Grace and Jessica.

More interesting are the names that have slipped out of the top 100. Riley, the highest climber on the boys' list, was the 33rd most popular name during the past 12 months, yet there is no longer a place for plain old Andrew. Similarly, that fine English name Victoria loses its top 100 ranking, officially less popular than Maryam at 99, and Esme at 100.

The highest climber among girls' names is Lexi, up a mammoth 40 places. So I phoned the only Lexi I know, a fragrant mother of five, to see if she could explain this. She speculated that it might have something to do with Amanda Holden, the Britain's Got Talent judge, calling her daughter Lexi. That is how unusual names become more widespread; my friend was herself named after the Hollywood leading lady Alexis Smith.

All of which brings me to my own name, embodied by some splendid men, yet still a mystifyingly rare choice in maternity wards throughout the land.

Not even the marvellous exploits of the West Indian cricketer Brian Lara and the Irish rugby union captain Brian O'Driscoll have made the name fashionable, so it might be unrealistic to hope that the current Greatest Hits tour by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys will imbue Brian with a new cachet, 30 years after it appeared to have been buried forever by Monty Python.

I suppose I should be flattered that the Pythons glorified my name in their 1979 masterpiece Life of Brian, but the suspicion lingers that they were simply thinking of something silly.

Certainly, on the three or four occasions that I have interviewed Michael Palin and John Cleese, I have wondered whether they were concealing giggles underneath their polite facades.

Whatever, the time has come to sound the klaxon for Brian, and indeed Trevor and Colin and Keith, all of them irreproachably solid British names long overdue a revival.

In recent years, of course, there has been a revival of names once considered irredeemably old-fashioned, names such as Alfred, Albert, Edith and Mabel.

Indeed, the recent evolution of girls names in particular will, I predict, yield the phenomenon two or three decades from now of trendy young women called Agnes and Betty visiting their liver-spotted grandmothers Britney and Elle.

But even in an ironic, or possibly post-ironic sense, there has been no surge of Brians, Trevors, Colins and Keiths, which to be frank, although not Frank, seems to me like a crying shame.

And we have female counterparts too. Where are the baby Gillians, Barbaras, Doreens and Janets?

So I would like to appeal to Britain's (an anagram, after all, of "It's Brian!") prospective parents: do not let these great names die.

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