Sunday, 14 October 2007

From the Sour archives of the Grapes

I've been arranging my archived Sour Grapes columns into folders marked Used, Unused and You Musta Been Fuggn DRUNK, and I came across this little gem, written coincidentally on this very day, in September 2004. Enjoy:


What well-known word means "Lord's Grace" or alternatively, "Yahweh is gracious"? That's right: the word is Ian and it's my first name. You couldn't ask for a better one – a solid two syllables contained in merely three letters (I discount those affected aesthetic over-achievers with their Rococo variations like Iain as making too much of a good thing). Everyone can pronounce it, which is important in an international milieu like what we live in. Great Ians in history include Ian Hunter out of Mott the Hoople and Ian Anderson out of Jethro Tull.

You could say the same about Emma, which happens to be the most popular girl's name in Belgium, according to a table produced by the National Insitutite for Statistics last week. Emma, whose name means "whole" or "universal", was the mother of Edward the Confessor as well as the eponym of the popular Jane Austen novel, but it's taken her some time to jump to the top of the list, where she stood in fourth place two years ago. Famous Emmas include actress Emma Thompson and Baby Spice.

Emma is top, too, in Flanders, but only sixth in Brussels, where Sarah rules the roost. Sarah was, of course, the wife of Abraham in the Old Testament. Interestingly, she was originally called Sarai, until God told Abraham (in Genesis 17, 15) to change it to Sarah. He didn't explain His reasons, but then that's God for you. Outside the Bible, the name is redolent of great examples from showbiz such as Sarah Bernhardt, who only had one leg and once played Hamlet, or Sarah Brightman, formerly Mrs. Andrew Lloyd Webber.

They're a religious lot in Brussels when it comes to naming their sprogs: the top-ranked boy's name is Mohamed, the name of the Prophet of Islam. In second place comes Adam – the name with the longest pedigree of all, from the Hebrew for "man" with a clever pun on "adamah" meaning "earth". Other famous Adams were Adam Ant, a dandy highwayman, and Adam 12, a TV series of the early 70s.

Thomas takes the first slot nationwide for boys with 721 votes, maintaining his long-established lead over Lucas. Thomas is himself a Biblical figure: the doubting disciple nobody had heard of up to his first appearance in John 20, after which he was never heard of again. He's thought to have founded the Coptic religion, though. His name lived on in such illustrious examples as Thomas More, a philosopher, Thomas Cook, a travel agent, and Thomas the Tank Engine, a tank engine.

Lucas, meanwhile, bubbles under in Wallonia and across the nation as a whole, where he holds steady in second place. Lucas comes from the Greek Loukas, meaning someone from Lucania, in Italy – not to be confused with Loukoum, a type of sweetmeat. Luke was the third of the Gospel writers, reputed to be a physician. Lucas passed his name on to the likes of George Lucas of Star Wars fame, and Lucas the company that makes car headlights.

More interesting, perhaps, is the number of new arrivals on the NIS's list. There are now little girls being pushed around in buggies with names like Roxy, Puk, Princesse, Jazz and Gypsy. The first is a cinema (it may be a bingo-hall by now), while Jazz is a perfume by Yves Saint-Laurent as well as the noise you get when you mistreat a saxophone. Gypsy Cream is a kind of biscuit. Oddball boys' names include Duke, Ozzy, Prince and Ramses, after an order of nobility, the lead singer of Black Sabbath, a Leprechaun of Pop and an Egyptian pharaoh, in that order. There have been numerous famous Dukes and Princes in history, two notable Ramseseses, but only ever one Ozzy.

In a future Sour Grapes, perhaps several years from now, we'll examine the phenomenal rise in the ratings of names like Edelweiss, Heavenly, Jersey, Tallahassee, Amazone, Cordoba, Valencia, Barcelona, Kenzo, Chanel, Mexx and Dior. Or maybe not.

Download the full list of Belgian forenames from (in Dutch) or (in French). If you must.

Postscript: Those links do actually still work, though the documents concerned have been updated to 2006, which is pretty good going. That means, of course, that I now have a subject for my column in two weeks time, since this week's will be about statues. So this has been a profitable exercise not only for you, which was entirely predictable, but also for moi.

So I can add that to my blogging income for this year. Things are looking up.