The most popular first names in Britain today

September 24th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has just issued its annual data for the names chosen last year for boys and girls born in England and Wales. I always use this material to update my comprehensive essay on naming practices all around the world. You can check out the section on British first names here.

I have noted:

“First of all, astonishingly the most popular boys’ name and the most popular girls’ name are essentially the same (Oliver and Olivia) – what is technically known as cognates – and these names have been in the top two for their gender for the last eight years. Is this the case in any other nation? Second, it is striking how traditional most of the names are for both boys and girls, although for the boys it is interesting that the familiar form of names rather than the original version is often preferred – Harry instead of Harold, Jack instead of John, Charlie instead of Charles, Alfie instead of Alfred, Freddie instead of Frederick, Archie instead of Archibold. Third, in the case of boys, four of the top 20 names begin with the letter ‘J’ while, in the case of girls, 10 of the top 20 names end with the letter ‘a’, five of the top 20 names end with the sound ‘ee’, and 11 of the top 20 names contain the letter ‘l’ (in four cases, twice).

On the other hand, the name John (my father’s name), which is the most common male name in Britain, is nowhere in the top 100 names in the 2016 listings, while David – which is the second most common name in Britain – slipped out of the top 50 of names chosen for baby boys born in 2004 and has only just come back (it is currently 43rd). Similarly Margaret – the most common female name in the population as a whole – does not even appear in the top 100 names chosen for girls these days, while Susan – the second most common name in Britain – is not even in the top 100 either.

These observations underline how much fashion shapes the popularity of different names. Fashion is a stronger influence with girls’ names than those of boys. So, for example, in the last decade or so Elsie has soared to 31, Ivy has jumped to number 54, Violet has risen to 65, Bella to 66, Lexi to 85.

It should be noted that the Office of National Statistics (ONS) produces its ranking of the popularity of names using the exact spelling of the name given at birth registration. If one combines the numbers for names with very similar spellings, a very different picture is revealed. For boys, combining the occurrence of Mohammed, Muhammad, Mohammad & Muhammed plus eight other spellings of the names would put it in first place – a reflection of the changing ethnicity of the British population and the powerful trend for Muslim families to name their son after the Prophet. Similarly, if one combines the occurrence of Isabella, Isabelle, Isabel and Isobel, one would find the name top of the girls’ list and, if one took Lily and Lilly together, the name would come third, while Darcie, Darcey and Darcy would boost that name’s ranking.”

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What is this thing we call a nation?

September 23rd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Recently, we have been commemorating the 70th anniversary of India achieving independence from Britain which, at the last moment, resulted in the creation of Pakistan as well as India and subsequently – following a civil war – to the creation of another nation state Bangladesh.

I have just returned from a short trip to Georgia. Except for a short period in 1918-1921 – the subject of a new book by Eric Lee – Georgia was effectively ruled by Tsarist Russia or the Soviet Union for two centuries, before obtaining its independence in 1991.

On Monday (25 September), there will be a referendum in the Kurdish part of Iraq seeking support for an independent Kurdistan. Then, on 1 October, there is due to be a referendum in Catalonia seeking support for independence from Spain.

I live in a country which is four nations – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – for the football World Cup but one in terms of membership of the EU and the UN.

All around the world, one can see complications about what constitutes a nation state and how peoples should decide on the boundaries of such nation states.

Some years ago, I wrote a short essay on the notion of statehood which I feel still poses many of the right questions and offers some useful suggestions for the right answers. You can read it here.

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Election. election, referendum, referendum

September 22nd, 2017 by Roger Darlington

There are a lot of interesting polls going on around the world just now.

Tomorrow (Saturday), there is a general election in New Zealand and the next day (Sunday) there is a federal election in Germany.  In both cases, the incumbent party is a Right of Centre one: the National Party in NZ and the Christian Democrats in Germany.  In both cases, a new leader for the Left of Centre party caused a jump in the party’s popularity which has now – more in Germany than NZ – subsided: Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats in Germany and Jacinda Ardern of the Labour Party in NZ.

Meanwhile on Monday (25 September), there will be a referendum in the Kurdish part of Iraq seeking support for an independent Kurdistan. Then, on 1 October, there is due to be a referendum in Catalonia seeking support for independence from Spain. In both cases, the national government and most of the international community are opposed to the very idea of a referendum, fearing that support for independence from parts of Iraq and Spain could lead to other parts of those nations and other countries wanting to break away.

Fascinating times.

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“Brexit: Implications for Digital Citizens and Consumers”

September 20th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

This paper, published today and written for the Carnegie Trust by William Perrin, a fellow Board member of the Good Things Foundation, considers both the potential risks and opportunities Brexit brings digital citizens and consumers in the UK.

Specifically, it explores: the regulation of the digital sector and telecommunications market; mobile roaming; data privacy and protection; digital innovation; state aid; the labour force; and consumption of digital products and services.

You can access it here.

As a consumer advocate, I was interested in the conclusion:

“There does not currently appear to be a strong citizen or consumer voice involved in helping to shape the UK’s approach to the digital sector post-Brexit and steps should be taken to address this gap as consumer input can provide valuable insight to key issues.”

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A review of “Reality Is Not What It Seems” by Carlo Rovelli

September 19th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Italian theoretical physicist Carlo Rovelli seems to have replaced British academic Stephen Hawking as the foremost exponent of the latest thinking on basic physics in terms which are generally accessible to a non-specialist readership. For those of us who access Rovelli’s work in English, his first popular work was “Seven Brief Lessons On Physics”, but in Italian “Reality Is Not What It Seems” was in fact published first and it is definitely a longer and harder read.

When Hawking wrote his best-selling “A Brief History Of Time”, he was warned by his publisher that every use of an equation would seriously diminish his sales and in the end he only used one (Einstein’s equation on relativity). Rovelli has no such qualms and quotes lots of equations, many of which are not explained but included in case the reader has the mathematics. There is one footnote which runs to a page and a half.

So “Reality” is not an easy read, but Rovelli writes with elegance and enthusiasm and the subject matter is intrinsically fascinating, so everyone will learn something by persisting with the exercise. The Italian scientist presents his work as an historical story, starting with Democritus of Miletus in the sixth century BC, moving on to Isaac Newton, covering Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell, taking in modern giants like Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr and Paul Dirac, and arriving at today’s thinkers such as Hawking and Rovelli himself.

Perhaps the most useful feature of “Reality” is a set of diagrams which summarise the changing orthodox answers to the fundamental question “What is the world made of?” Starting with Newton’s answer of space, time and particles, Rovelli finishes with the single concept of covariant quantum fields. These fields represent what is called quantum gravity which is the latest thinking about how we can synthesise general relativity (which explains the cosmos) and quantum mechanics (which explains the sub-atomic world).

Loop quantum gravity – a theory of which Rovelli is both a leading advocate and developer – has now replaced string theory – which Hawking used to propose – as the best contender for a Theory of Everything (a term used by Hawking and others but not Rovelli).

The Italian concludes: “The world, particles, light, energy, space and time – all of this is nothing but the manifestation of a single type of entity: covariant quantum fields” which are explained as “fields that live on themselves, without the need of a space-time to serve as a substratum, as a support, and which are capable by themselves of generating space time” – so, at the most fundamental level, space and time and infinity do not exist. Indeed the theory raises the possibility that there might have been another universe before the Big Bang and that therefore the Big Bang is actually a Big Bounce – big ideas.

But, as Rovelli concedes, “Am I sure about all this? I am not”.

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A short guide to comparative religions

September 18th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Taoism Shit happens.
Confucianism Confucius say, “Shit happens.”
Buddhism If shit happens, it isn’t really shit.
Zen Buddhism What is the sound of shit happening?
Hinduism This shit happened before.
Mormonism This shit is going to happen again.
Islam If shit happens, it is the Will of Allah.
Stoicism This shit is its own reward.
Protestantism Let this shit happen to someone else.
Calvinism Shit happens because you don’t work hard enough.
Pentecostalism In Jesus’ name, heal this shit!
Catholicism Shit happens because you deserve it.
Judaism Why does this shit always happen to us?
Zoroastrianism Shit happens half the time.
Marxism This shit is going to hit the fan.
Atheism No shit.
Seventh Day Adventist No shit on Saturdays.
Existentialism Absurd shit.
Agnosticism What is this shit?
Nihilism Who gives a shit?
Deconstruction Shit happens in hegemonic meta-narratives.
Christian Science Shit is in your mind.
Moonies Only happy shit really happens.
Jehovah’s Witnesses Knock, Knock, shit happens.
Scientology Shit happens on page 152 of Dianetics by L. Ron Hubbard
Hare Krishna Shit happens, Rama Rama.
Hedonism There’s nothing like a good shit happening.
Rastafarianism Let’s smoke this shit.

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Visit to Georgia (5): Sighnaghi

September 16th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Our third day in Georgia was full of more new experiences. Most of our group took a day trip east of Tbilisi out to the Kakheti region which is the wine-growing district of the country. It was another day of 33F/91F. Our guide was Lasha who had studied at King’s College in London and sported a beard and a long pony-tail.

First stop was a place called Badiauri where we saw how bread is made in traditional round, wood-fired ovens and tasted local bread, cheese and grapes. Next stop was Bodhe where we visited the Monastery of St Nino. This was originally constructed in the 4th century AD on the tomb of St Nino who introduced Christianity to Georgia. We were told a story about a Georgian Jew who was present at the crucifixion of Jesus and brought the Messiah’s shirt back to Georgia (but this might have been an example of “fake news”).

Most of our day was spent in Sighnaghi which is known as ‘The city of love’. Founded in the 17th century during the reign of King Heraclitus II of Georgia, the town has fully preserved fortress walls crowned with 28 watch towers presenting wonderful views of the Alazani valley. At this point, we were so close to Azerbaijan that my mobile phone company sent me a text welcoming me to that country.

The group made camp at a winery-cum-restaurant called “Okro”. Here we were given the opportunity to taste a variety of fine Georgian wines (apparently Georgia is known as one of the very first wine-making localities in world history). Four wines later, some of the group – I will spare their blushes by not naming them- burst into songs, while others fell into enthusiastic dancing (no, dear reader, I did not partake in either activity).

We were really in no state to go searching for a place to have lunch and anyway time had passed, so we remained at “Okro” for some traditional Georgian food and cold drinks. Suitably refreshed, we then walked the short distance to the town’s museum which features 15 paintings by Niko Pirosmanashvili (1862-1918) – known simply as Nikala – Georgia’s self-taught, primitivist painter.

We had left the hotel at 9 am and returned at 7.30 pm, so it was a long day but a very enjoyable one. At 8.30 pm, we were out again for dinner, but chose a place just five minutes walk from the hotel with great terrace views of the illuminated city. “Saamo” would not score highly for speed of service, but the food was good and more wine was consumed.

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Visit to Georgia (4): Gori

September 15th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Another day in Georgia and another set of fascinating experiences.

Five of us – Silvia and I plus Jim, Leslie and David – hired a car to take us to Gori. This is about 80 km (50 miles) north-west of Tbilisi and around an hour’s drive if (as proved to be the case) your driver is crazy in terms of both speed and manoeuvrability. Gori is known for one thing: it was the birthplace in 1879 of one Josef Djugashvili, better known as Stalin (Man of Steel), and his 17 metre tall stature dominated the main square until as recently as 2010.

In 1957 (note: a year after Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin), a large museum was opened in Gori in his honour and, in spite of a minor update in 1979 and an attempt to close it in 1989, it remains open, essentially unchanged in its displays and messages. It must be unique in the world.

We spent an hour and half there, tagging on to first one, and then another, fast-talking English-speaking guide who acknowledged that the place needs a make-over to tell more of the reality of Stalin’s life and crimes – but nobody knows when this will happen.

Meanwhile the museum is a large Italianate building – plus his birth place and his wartime railway carriage – which, as well as being utterly selective in its messaging, is very selective in its slices of history, focussing especially on Stalin’s early years, wartime conferences, and 70th birthday. It is full of photographs, paintings, statues, busts and other iconography commemorating – indeed venerating – this brutal dictator and mass murderer, so visiting is a memorable, if surreal, experience.

Back in Tbilisi, we had a light lunch at a French cafe. All of us except David ordered from the menu but David wanted the lunch special. In an act that reminded us that this was recently a communist country, the waitress (who was too young to remember communism) told him that he was too late for the lunch special. David pointed out that it was a mere two minutes past the deadline and used all his Israeli charm to persuade her to change her mind.

For Jews, it was Shabbat and several of our party went to the Tbilisi Great Synagogue where the women had to go behind a screen. Silvia and I went along for the experience – and to cleanse ourselves from the stains of Stalinism – but we didn’t understand a thing. The evening meal with all the group involved a succession of toasts in the best Georgian tradition.

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Visit to Georgia (3): Tbilisi

September 14th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

Our first day in Georgia was very enjoyable indeed. We are all staying at the Mirabelle Hotel, a small place of just 14 rooms located very centrally on the north side of the river and very close to the imposing, new Sameba Cathedral (built 1995-2004). The group – all friends of Eric and Cindy – have travelled over from Britain, France, Spain, Switzerland, Israel and the United States with the common purpose of attending the launch of Eric’s latest book and seeing a little of this largely unknown country .

Most of us spent most of today looking around Tbilisi. The weather was glorious – clear blue skies and a temperature of 33C/91F. The capital of Georgia is located along the River Mtkvari and there are mountains on three sides. The name of the city comes from the Georgian word for ‘warm’, a reference to the 30 hot springs nearby. The population is 1.4 million – over a quarter of the country’s total populace.

The Old Town (the Kala) is located on crowded slopes and has been occupied at various times by Persians, Tartars, Jews and Armenians which presents an array of architectural styles.

Our main destination was the Georgian National Museum which reopened after refurbishment in 2011. The star attraction of the museum is the treasury of largely pre-Christian gold and silver, but we spent our time in the new Hall of the Soviet Occupation, a grim display explaining the suffering of the Georgian people during the the period 1921-1991.

In the afternoon, many of us took a cable car from the north bank to the south bank of the river and, from the hill, we had excellent views of the city and saw the huge stature of Mother Georgia.

The evening started with the launch of Eric’s book “The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution” which was hosted by Prospero Books. The event was introduced by co-owner of the book shop-cum-cafe Peter Nasmyth who declared that this is “a book whose time has come”. Eric’s mentor Dan Gallin, a former trade union leader now In his late 80s, highlighted some of the themes of the work and insisted “This is a very important book”.

The main speech came from Eric who told the crowded room that “We live in an age of fake history”. He declared that what happened in Georgia between 1918-1921 – a radical experiment in social democracy – was “nothing short of remarkable” and needed to be understood by Georgians and others today. You can read the full speech here.

Before and after the launch, he signed books and gave interviews.

Eric and Cindy’s group then repaired to a place called “Betsy’s Hotel” with great views of the city by night, delicious Georgian food, and splendid Georgian wine. We all toasted Eric’s success.

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Visit to Georgia (2): the journey out

September 13th, 2017 by Roger Darlington

The journey from London to Tblisi took all day, partly because there are almost no direct flights between the two capitals and partly because there is a three hour time difference between them. So we left home at 7.30 am London time and arrived at our hotel in Tbilisi at 1 am local time.

The journey involved a cab to the underground, a tube to the railway station, a train to Gatwick airport, a first flight from London to Istanbul, a second flight from Istanbul to Tblisi, and another car to the hotel. The first flight was almost an hour and three quarters late because of winds and the second flight was – thank goodness – an hour and a half late because of the late arrival of the first flight. But we made it.

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