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  –Artwork from the Guardian newspaper

“Okay, Meg, Hannah, and the Sebs, let’s go!” I call out.

I’ve got this little group of four children to watch over during my daughter Meg’s class field trip to Hemingford Grey, where L M Boston, the author of the Green Knowe books, lived.  Along with Meg and her friend Hannah, I’ve been given two Sebastians, which means I only have to remember two names, assuming I remember Meg’s, which I usually do (joke).

The teacher who made up these groupings could have made it even easier on me;  I could have had four Sebastians in my group.  In Meg’s class of 68 kids, there are 4 Sebastians.  All I can say is that “Sebastian” must have been big in 2002-2003.

There are also several “Oliver”s, “Charlie”s, and “William”s, and an “Isabel,” “Isabelle,” and “Isabella.”

It’s funny how names become popular.  When my older daughter, now 17, was young, I noticed a lot of Alexander-and-Nicholas siblings among her US friends, always with Alexander first (to distinguish them from the Nicholas and Alexandra of Romanov fame, I wonder?).  All the boys seemed to have a name beginning with the letter “J”:  Jeremy, Jason, Justin, James, Jake, Jonah, Jackson, Jeremiah, Jordan, Jacob, Jonathan, and the ever-popular Jack.

Four years ago, when my younger daughter Meg, then five, was in Reception at an infant’s school near Crich, Derbyshire, in her class of twenty children there were two “Ruby”s, two “Megan”s, and even a “Tallulah.” “Ruby” is now the 7th most popular girls’ name in the UK, and we’ve come across a Ruby and a Tallulah here at Meg’s school in Cambridge.

I’ve pulled together data on popular baby names in the US and England and am listing it below. As with all data, it depends on what you use.  Garbage in, garbage out, say the social scientists.  With that in mind, I pulled my data from the UK government National Statistics for popular baby names and from the US Social Services Administration, both from 2010, for which comparable data is available.

But again, it depends on how the data is presented, and even this official government data is a bit suspect.  For example, in England the name “Mohammed” comes in 17th, but according to one source, if you put all the variant spellings of this name together, it would be the fourth most popular name.

—————GIRLS————                          ————-BOYS—————

ENGLAND                 US                            ENGLAND                US

1. Olivia               1. Isabella                       1.  Oliver                  1.  Jacob

2.  Sophie            2.   Sophia                       2.  Jack                    2.  Ethan

3.  Emily              3.  Emma                         3.  Harry                  3.  Michael

4. Lily                  4.  Olivia                          4.  Alfie                    4.  Jayden

5.  Amelia            5.  Ava                             5.  Charlie                5.  William

6.  Jessica            6.  Emily                          6.  Thomas               6.  Alexander

7.  Ruby               7.  Abigail                        7.  William                7.  Noah

8.  Chloe              8.  Madison                      8.  Joshua                 8.  Daniel

9.  Grace              9.  Chloe                         9.  George                 9.  Aiden

10. Evie               10.  Mia                          10.  James                 10.  Anthony

#s 11-20 among English girls are: Ava, Isabella, Mia, Maisie, Daisy, Poppy, Isabelle, Ella, Freya, Charlotte

#s 11-20 among English boys are:  Daniel, Jacob, Ethan, Samuel, Joseph, Dylan, Mohammed, Noah, Lucas, Oscar

(As for the US names in 11th to 20th place, the US Social Security Administration at the time of this post doesn’t list more than the top 10 names.)

With US girls, Isabella reigns supreme, but new entrants such as Ava and Mia are quickly rising, and Madison, a name you never hear in England, is holding her own.

In England, “Olivia” comes in first for girls (with “Oliver” for boys), but I wonder what has spurred the popularity of “Poppy” (16th among English girls) and “Freya” (19th), and does the fact that “Daisy,” “Poppy,” and “Lily” are in the top 20 signal a trend to flowery names, at least in England?

Among US boys, Jacob is at the top, but Jayden, a name I’d never heard of 10 years ago, has reached the #4 spot.  I know both female and male American children who are called Jayden or Jaden.  The Biblical Jacob, Daniel, Michael, and Noah all appear in the top 10.

In England, Harry Potter no doubt helped along the name “Harry” (#3);  Prince William probably gave a boost to his name (7th);  and “Alfie” apparently comes from a character on the TV nighttime soap opera “Eastenders.” And the uber-English name “George” is 9th on the list for English boys but appears nowhere in the list of the most popular American names.

In general, there’s quite a bit of overlap between the US and England, especially among the girls’ names, what with all the Sophies, Sophias, Isabells, Isabellas, Chloes, Olivias, and Emilys.

Now back to Sebastian, dear Sebastian. I’m beginning to think that it’s one of those names whose popularity is driven by social class, as in upper class.  It’s clearly #1 among the boys in Year Four in Meg’s tony school here in Cambridge, UK, but in terms of overall popularity among baby-naming parents in 2010, it’s only 58th, and in both 2002 and 2003 it again didn’t make the top 50.

So although I had two boys of the same name in my little group, they weren’t the same boy, and I needed to distinguish between them, at least in my own mind.  When one of them wouldn’t stop making noise in a church, I privately dubbed him Sebastian-who-was-a-bit-naughty, and of course the other was Sebastian-who-wasn’t-naughty.  SebastianWWABN needed some watching, whereas SebastianWWN didn’t, so that’s how I handled my two Sebastians.

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