In 1958, a man named Thomas Bodkin wrote the Times of London to lament the seeming demise of his good name. Why, he wondered, did no one christen new sons Thomas any more?
But Thomas's time would come. By 1974 it had edged into the list of Britain's 10 most fashionable names, and a decade later it was in second place, preceded only by that hardy perennial, James.
One can only guess why Thomas should be coming back into vogue, or, for that matter, why Mary, Anne, Richard and Andrew should be on the decline. But counting names is a New Year's rite in this country, faithfully completed every Dec. 31 by schoolteacher Margaret Brown and published every Jan. 2 in the letters column of the Times of London.
Every day for 10 years, Brown has gone through the births announcements in the paper, writing in a ledger the names given to each newborn. Her annual tally is rushed to the newspaper, where it is eagerly awaited by letters editor Leon Pilpel. It is, he says, "a very closely read feature."
James Still at Top
This year's male leader is no surprise. James takes top spot for the 22nd year running. Thomas retains the No. 2 slot. Alexander moves from 5th to 3rd, pushing Edward to 4th.
But Benjamin has zoomed from 20th to 8th, and George, having slipped into obscurity since the days when men named George sat on the British throne, has moved back to 9th place.
The girls' list is less predictable. Charlotte has displaced Sarah as the top name, while Alexandra and Alice have risen meteorically. Lucy, 1984's No. 2, languishes in the No. 10 spot. Laura and Victoria are out of the top 10.
The full list of favorite given names, with 1984 placings in brackets:
1. James (1), Charlotte (3)
2. Thomas (2), Alexandra (9)
3. Alexander (5), Sarah (1)
4. Edward (3), Alice (13)
5. Charles (7), Emily (3)
6. William (4), Emma (11)
7. Nicholas (6), Sophie (3)
8. Benjamin (20), Elizabeth (8)
9. George (18), Katherine (7)
10.Oliver (9), Lucy (2)
There is no discernible pattern, said Brown in a telephone interview after counting the 5,463 Times-recorded births of 1985. William, which seemed the name to watch after Prince Charles and Princess Diana chose it for their first son, has slid from 4th to 6th.
James is an enduring favorite, she believes, "because it is harmonious. It goes well with almost any middle name or surname." Could George be getting a boost from pop stars of that name? Brown doubts many Boy George fans announce births in the august columns of the Times of London.
She detects "a slightly more traditional approach to name-giving," remembering the frivolous '60s "when people tended to make up names." In the mid-70s she noticed more girls' names drawn from the classics--Chloe, Flavia, Gratia, Letitia, Phoebe and Xanthe.
10 Years of Counting
Brown has been counting the names for 10 years, having taken over "the legacy bequeathed to me" by the late John Leaver, a Times of London reader who pioneered the list in 1948 and continued it until his death.
In Leaver's first list 37 years ago John was top, with James a mere 9th. Michael, Anthony and Peter, high in the 1948 list, have fallen from the top 10. Anne led the girl's list in 1948. She too is out of the top 10. Other faded favorites are Susan, Margaret, Jennifer and Caroline. Rebecca showed up in 1973 but promptly retreated.
The modern age, however, seems positively humdrum compared with a century ago, as another letter to the newspaper pointed out Friday.
In 1885, John Ticehurst wrote, the General Register Office included a list of common names and their correct spellings. Common names in those Victorian times included Adalbert, Godric, Pompey, Xerxes, Euphrosyne, Gundreda, Cleopatra, Sophronia and Tryphenia.