The Most Popular Names in the UK

For many reasons that are sometimes easy to understand and sometimes very hard to understand, each year certain names given to new-borns by their parents are more popular than others. Many studies have been conducted to determine the most popular names for children in a given year. Oftentimes, these names are linked to popular culture or current events.

For example, many children are named after members of the royal family, especially new members through marriage and new births. For some reason, exposure to the name puts it in parents’ minds and when it comes time to pick names, they go with what they remember. This is understandable. The most recent data available on this phenomena is for 2013.

Popular Boy’s Name

Most Popular Boy’s Name

In the UK in 2013, Oliver was the most popular name for a boy. In 2012, Oliver was the third most popular name. It has moved up two places to take the top spot. It is not quite clear why the name has been gaining so much popularity. Perhaps an investigation of the name might help.

The Origin

The name Oliver is a name derived from Old High German. One of the earliest uses was by one of Charlemagne’s possibly fictional knights Oliver. Some have suggested the name comes from Latin, Oliverius, but this seems unlikely. In fiction and reality, most of Charlemagne’s paladins were given Germanic names so it seems unlikely that Oliver would have a name of a different origin.

The possibly fictional knight, Oliver, appears in several poems and stories dealing with Charlemagne. The most notable of which is probably The Song of Roland. In the story, Oliver is a close friend and advisor to the main character Roland. Oliver, however, is one of Charlemagne’s twelve close friends and advisors.

Some have linked the name to the olive tree which is seen as a Roman symbol of divine wisdom. Whatever the exact origin of the name might be, it was introduced to the island of Great Britain during the Norman Invasion in 1066. The armies of William II of Normandy, many of which were comprised of Germanic speakers, brought the name to the island as they occupied and integrated.

Famous Olivers

The prevalence of the name Oliver in the UK is somewhat odd considering the most famous Oliver might, in fact, be Oliver Cromwell. Cromwell was an English leader during the first half of the seventeenth century. Cromwell was born into the middle class but remained fairly unknown for quite a long time. In his forties, he was elected to parliament. During the English Civil War, he fought on the side of the Parliamentarians who were nicknamed The Roundheads. Cromwell took the nickname “Old Ironsides.” However, once he became prominent in the interim parliament, he quickly became despotic. He forcefully disbanded Parliament, set up his own Parliament, which elected him as Lord Protector of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland. He was known for being very dictatorial and aggressive, but effective. Because he was so effective, he was voted as one of the ten greatest Britons of all time. However, his brutal moves against the Scotch and Irish Catholics have been sharply criticized in Scotland and Ireland. Therefore, he is quite a controversial figure.

Another prominent Oliver was Oliver Goldsmith, an eighteenth-century Anglo-Irish poet. Goldsmith is best known for a novel titled The Vicar of Wakefield. Also, he is assumed to be the writer of the children’s story, The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes. This story is the origin of the common phrase, “goody two shoes.” In his home of North West London, a primary school and a street are named after him. A lecture hall at Trinity College is also named after him.

Popular Girl’s Name

Most Popular Girl’s Name

In the UK in 2013, the most popular girl’s name was Olivia. This name is obviously the feminized version of the popular boy’s name, Oliver. In 2012, the name was seventh on the list of most popular baby names for a girl. A year later, it moved up six spots.

The popularity of the name is not quite as questionable as the popularity of Oliver. It is thought that the name was first coined by William Shakespeare in his play Twelfth Night.

Unlike Oliver, however, Olivia is thought to be a Latinate name. It is likely that Shakespeare sought to feminize the name Oliver, but it is also thought that he meant to turn the word olive into a feminine name. The olive was thought to be a tree symbolizing divine wisdom.

Well Known Olivias

One of the most well-known people named Olivia in the UK is Olivia Harrison, the widow of the late Beatle George Harrison. Born Olivia Trinidad Arias in Mexico City, she moved to the United States when she was very young.

She grew up in Southern California. After high school, she began working as a secretary at a record company, where she met George Harrison. Obviously, the Beatles are very popular and well known in the UK, so the wife of a Beatle is going to have a very popular name.

Olivia Manning, a prominent twentieth-century novelist, was also a famous bearer of the name. She published her first novel, The Wind Changes, in 1937. Her trilogies about war were considered very good recounting of World War II.

Picking a Name

When picking a name for a child, it is always very tempting to pick something that is currently very popular. Names like Oliver and Olivia tend to be pretty safe since they are hundreds of years old and do not seem dated.

However, some names, especially those based on pop culture, can become very dated very quickly. If you were to name your child after a popular figure in fiction, you run the risk of that piece of fiction becoming a relic of the past. Then, your child’s name will be considered something from a bygone era.

Also, if you name your child after someone else’s fictional creation, you link that child to that piece of fiction. If the writers or creators of that popular culture decide to take the character in an undesirable direction, your child could be forever linked to something undesirable.

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