My friends and I went out for brunch last week. Living in the Covid times that we do, I called ahead to book a table for us to ensure we could safely social distance from other diners.
Booking a table meant giving my name. Being gifted a 'less than common" name by my parents (followed by an equally tricky surname thanks to the German husband - admittedly I have only myself to blame for that) I inwardly sighed before giving my name.
I spelt it out too, before the person repeated it back to me. I then messaged confirmation of the booking to my friends, letting them know, to their great amusement. That if they got there first they were joining "Fiona" for lunch.
Having a tricky or unusual name is not overly uncommon nowadays of course, and in fact, every name can cause problems somewhere, as my brunch buddies Lily (one l, not two) and Nicole (not Nicola) can attest.
An unusual name might mean you have to spell it out frequently, and can't (as my 12-year-old self frequently complained to my parents) can't scratch your name on the school desk without being immediately caught, a more common one can land you with other issues at primary school as my friends from back then, "big Helen" "little Helen" and "New Helen" would probably agree.
Eventually little Helen had a growth spurt and ended up taller than big Helen, but new Helen was always new Helen, even when she had been in our class for years.
When it comes to choosing names for children, it seems everyone has an opinion on your choices. Parents-to-be often spend hours upon hours debating the merits of various names, considering the meaning of the name, any unfortunate words the initials could spell out, do they like the shortened form of the name, and so on.
When choosing names for our own children, given my husband and I both have unusual / commonly mispronounced names, (if you think getting called Fiona, Iona or Elona instead of Ilona is bad, try getting called Seven when you are called Sven), it is perhaps surprising we chose names that are unlikely to ever make a top 10, or even top 1000 list of popular baby names.
We did so for various reasons, from wanting the names to represent their heritage, that worked in both languages, to looking at the meanings of the names themselves.
The golden test in my head with each name under consideration was simple. Can a child of primary school age say it? If they look confused and say, "What?", Then rule it out.
The interesting thing about that simply test, is that primary school children are actually remarkably confident when it comes to learning names, it is adults who have the problem.
My children's peers have never stumbled over the Germanic vowel combinations, the J pronounced like a Y or the unique sound created by joining C and H together, but the same cannot be said for some adults.
"That's weird, say it again."
"I can't say that, I'll just call you something else."
"That's not English is it?"
Parents of a friend of mine spent most of their adult lives answering to Fred and Karen, which would be fine, if their names hadn't actually been Fadi and Karima that is.
Immigrants from Pakistan, when they began in their new jobs (an engineer and a lawyer respectively) their colleagues in 1980s England couldn't cope with their names, so simply renamed them.
As a teenager I thought this was appalling of course, especially as the Anglicisation of names was under constant discussion in 1990s Britain.
Mumbai was still getting called Bombay by many, Zimbabwe had only just replaced the name Rhodesia and Burma had just become Myanmar in 1989.
Over the next decade we saw more countries and cities change names, reflecting the change in political climate in those places and a triumphant reclaiming of their own history, not that of the various invaders and visitors over the years.
Now I have my own teenagers, and they are just as quick to correct my misnaming of places as I was to correct my parents when they said Calcutta (Kolkata) or Madras (Chennai).
A trip to southern Africa a couple of years ago was peppered with constant grumps from our eldest every time I said Swaziland instead of Eswatini, and he and his sister are still confused by references to Holland, a place they only know as The Netherlands.
What this shows is that names are powerful things, especially when pronounced and spelt correctly.
Names represent who we are, where we come from, and all that makes us unique. They can reflect our history, but we should make sure they also reflect our future, and perhaps it is time for our country to claim a name that isn't akin to being the newest Helen in the classroom.
It passes my standard name test - my primary school-aged child can say, and spell, it with ease.
Once again, it just seems to be the adults who have a problem with it.