No more baby Nigels in the UK? Modern parents are missing out

Nigel Rees
Nigel Farage: to blame for the name's decline in popularity? - Copyright ©Heathcliff O'Malley , All Rights Reserved, not to be published in any format without p

The name Nigel has long been flirting with extinction, but 2017 is the year that has finally seen it off for good. According to the Office for National Statistics, there were no little baby Niges born in England or Wales in 2016 - bad odds, considering there were three Elvises and 1,000 Jaxons. Whether Nigel Farage is to blame for its nosedive in popularity did not feature in the research.

My parents did, I know, put a good deal of thought into naming me Nigel. Their first choice of name was Guy but they feared that, come November 5th, I might get ragged about it. Very considerate of them.  

Is Nigel going out of style?

I was perfectly happy with what they came up with and was always rather pleased to have a name which, when I was at school in the 1950s, had very rarely been bestowed on my contemporaries. There was only one other boy who had it; in those days, there was no one particularly famous called Nigel. There was the steam locomotive engineer, Sir Nigel Gresley, I suppose, and the author Nigel Kneale, who invented Quatermass. Oh yes, and Nigel Dennis. But that was about it.  

I noted that there was a copy of Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Fortunes of Nigel on my parents’ bookshelf - a book that gives a pointer to the heroic origins of the name, which seems to come from the Gaelic Niall, meaning champion or black. There was a prehistoric Irish king called Niall Noígíallach or Niall of the Nine Hostages. Goodness me.  

The author, a proud Nigel

So all was well and good and I was happy to bear a rarish name and, in those days, nobody seemed to poke fun at my moniker.

But I began to sense that the tide was turning when when it was suggested I do a radio interview with Mick Jagger. From the moment he said, “Of course, I’ll have a word with Nigel,” emphasising the first syllable in his trademark drawl, I could tell my name had stirred some kind of deeply uninspired state within him. The interview itself passed in a similar vein.

Others, however, were more taken with the appellation: Tony Curtis seemed highly impressed to actually meet someone who had the same first name as Nigel Bruce, the British actor who went to Hollywood and played Dr Watson, and I was quite happy that a small but notable clutch of prominent actors – Havers, Hawthorne, and Stock for example – bore my name, and still the cachet was not tarnished.  

Another notable Nigel, this time of the Havers variety Credit: Julian Andrews

However, somewhat dark undercurrents rose to the surface in 1979 when an XTC album had on it a song called Making Plans for Nigel - a tune covered 20 years later by Robbie Williams. It seemed to imply that the Nigel in question was a somewhat nice middle-class child whose parents saw that his destiny lay in the steel industry, or something. Either way, it pointed to one thing at least: that the name was finally making its mark on popular culture. 

Men like the immensely gifted punk violinist Nigel Kennedy and Nigel Mansell, the champion racing driver, followed. Then, suddenly, we had a prominent politician with the name – Nigel Lawson – who was obviously so in love with it that he called his daughter Nigella after himself.  

Nigel Lawson was so chuffed with his own name, he called his daughter Nigella Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty

And then another would-be politician came on the scene, that would devastate the would-be Nigels of the land – Nigel Farage himself – and that really may have caused people to think twice about giving such a name to their children. 

It’s sad that the name has been all but pulverised by British parents, but if people want to turn their back on it, that’s fine by me. Besides, I have since consulted the online Urban Dictionary as to its current meaning, where a Nigel is defined as ‘a name for a person who is ‘unbelievably fantastic that everyone should know...Your attempts to resist his sexiness will be futile. Although rare, it is possible to become pregnant from having a conversation with a Nigel.’

I hope they are not making this up and ridiculing the name - not least because, as the current trend for Mabels and Elsies show, old fashioned labels have a way of coming back in vogue. We Nigels are indeed nice, reflective people - for the most part, that is - and I’m sure that in 20 years’ time, there’ll be a new wave of bouncing bonny Niges topping the baby names list.