No more baby Nigels in the UK? Mod­ern par­ents are miss­ing out

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFESTYLE - By NIGEL REES

The name Nigel has long been flirt­ing with ex­tinc­tion, but 2017 is the year that has fi­nally seen it off for good. Ac­cord­ing to the Of­fice for Na­tional Statis­tics, there were no lit­tle baby Niges born in Eng­land or Wales in 2016 — bad odds, con­sid­er­ing there were three Elvises and 1,000 Jax­ons. Whether Nigel Farage is to blame for its nose­dive in pop­u­lar­ity did not fea­ture in the re­search.

My par­ents did, I know, put a good deal of thought into nam­ing me Nigel. Their first choice of name was Guy but they feared that, come Nov 5, I might get ragged about it. Very con­sid­er­ate of them.

I was per­fectly happy with what they came up with and was al­ways rather pleased to have a name which, when I was at school in the 1950s, had very rarely been be­stowed on my con­tem­po­raries. There was only one other boy who had it; in those days, there was no one par­tic­u­larly fa­mous called Nigel. There was the steam lo­co­mo­tive en­gi­neer, Sir Nigel Gres­ley, I sup­pose, and the au­thor Nigel Kneale, who in­vented Qu­ater­mass. Oh yes, and Nigel Den­nis. But that was about it.

I noted that there was a copy of Sir Wal­ter Scott’s novel The For­tunes of Nigel on my par­ents’ book­shelf — a book that gives a pointer to the heroic ori­gins of the name, which seems to come from the Gaelic Niall, mean­ing cham­pion or black. There was a pre­his­toric Ir­ish king called Niall Noígíal­lach or Niall of the Nine Hostages. Good­ness me.

So all was well and good and I was happy to bear a rar­ish name and, in those days, no­body seemed to poke fun at my moniker.

But I be­gan to sense that the tide was turn­ing when it was sug­gested I do a ra­dio in­ter­view with Mick Jag­ger. From the mo­ment he said, “Of course, I’ll have a word with Nigel,” em­pha­siz­ing the first syl­la­ble in his trade­mark drawl, I could tell my name had stirred some kind of deeply unin­spired state within him. The in­ter­view it­self passed in a sim­i­lar vein.

Oth­ers, how­ever, were more taken with the ap­pel­la­tion: Tony Cur­tis seemed highly im­pressed to ac­tu­ally meet some­one who had the same first name as Nigel Bruce, the Bri­tish ac­tor who went to Hol­ly­wood and played Dr Wat­son, and I was quite happy that a small but no­table clutch of prom­i­nent ac­tors — Havers, Hawthorne, and Stock for ex­am­ple — bore my name, and still the ca­chet was not tar­nished.

How­ever, some­what dark un­der­cur­rents rose to the sur­face in 1979 when an XTC al­bum had on it a song called Mak­ing Plans for Nigel — a tune cov­ered 20 years later by Rob­bie Wil­liams. It seemed to im­ply that the Nigel in ques­tion was a some­what nice mid­dle-class child whose par­ents saw that his des­tiny lay in the steel in­dus­try, or some­thing. Ei­ther way, it pointed to one thing at least: that the name was fi­nally mak­ing its mark on pop­u­lar cul­ture.

Men like the im­mensely gifted punk vi­o­lin­ist Nigel Kennedy and Nigel Mansell, the cham­pion rac­ing driver, fol­lowed. Then, sud­denly, we had a prom­i­nent politi­cian with the name — Nigel Law­son — who was ob­vi­ously so in love with it that he called his daugh­ter Nigella af­ter him­self.

And then another would-be politi­cian came on the scene, that would dev­as­tate the would-be Nigels of the land — Nigel Farage him­self — and that re­ally may have caused peo­ple to think twice about giv­ing such a name to their chil­dren.

It’s sad that the name has been all but pul­ver­ized by Bri­tish par­ents, but if peo­ple want to turn their back on it, that’s fine by me. Be­sides, I have since con­sulted the on­line Ur­ban Dic­tionary as to its cur­rent mean­ing, where a Nigel is de­fined as “a name for a per­son who is ‘un­be­liev­ably fan­tas­tic that ev­ery­one should know ... Your at­tempts to re­sist his sex­i­ness will be fu­tile. Although rare, it is pos­si­ble to be­come preg­nant from hav­ing a con­ver­sa­tion with a Nigel.”

I hope they are not mak­ing this up and ridi­cul­ing the name — not least be­cause, as the cur­rent trend for Ma­bels and Elsies show, old fash­ioned la­bels have a way of com­ing back in vogue. We Nigels are in­deed nice, re­flec­tive peo­ple — for the most part, that is — and I’m sure that in 20 years’ time, there’ll be a new wave of bounc­ing bonny Niges top­ping the baby names list.

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