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The naming of Melody Pond

June 5, 2011

“Melody Williams is a geography teacher. Melody Pond is a superhero.”

So now the first half-season of Doctor Who has ended and the entire UK is buzzing, I want to briefly geek out over a very small detail: the name of the baby. Other than the fact that Amy and Rory’s baby is named Melody Pond, this post contains no spoilers at all – read on in peace.

Melody’s name becomes a bit of an Arc Word, but that is here beside the point. What interested me was – is it plausible? How likely would a British mother in her early twenties be to call her newborn girl Melody? (I had a Facebook discussion with several people about this last night; apparently it struck at least one as a trifle outlandish, and brought on Captain Scarlet flashbacks for others.) The answer? Actually quite.

(A caveat: I’m relying heavily on US numbers here, because UK name data a) only goes to the top hundred names and b) only goes back to 2000, which is a bit rubbish for my purposes. How much distortion this is likely to cause is . . . iffy. Trends in the two countries show some broad similarities – the top twenties for 2009 share eight boys’ names and nine girls’ names – but also some big differences. The greater proportion of practicing religious people in the US is reflected in the recent popularity there of both new-style faith names like Trinity (#73 for girls) and Genesis (#89 for girls) and Biblical heavyweights like Jeremiah (#52 for boys). The differing ethnic makeup of the two countries shows in the presence of José, Juan, Luis, Diego, Carlos and Jesús in the US top 100 – and the annual tabloid panic over Mohammed remaining a top-twenty name in the UK. And then there’s random crazes that don’t seem to reflect anything other than a sudden collective interest in a particular ‘flavour’ – things like the recent popularity of cool nicknames for fusty full names in the UK. Alfie and Archie are top twenty names; Alfred and Archibald, nowhere.

With all that said, I still think the US figures can be of help here, given the massive unscientific-ness of the exercise. If you’re looking to try and derive any sort of important conclusion from name data, do take intercontinental differences into account.)

Melody is currently (2010 figures) sitting at #198 in the US girls’ charts. It’s been climbing steadily for the last decade – it was #436 in 1999, jumped in 2000, and continues to rise. On a longer scale, it’s a keeper: Melody hasn’t been out of the top 1000 since 1942. Its heyday was the late 1950s through to middle 1960s, reaching an all-time usage high in 1960: 479 Melodies in every million baby girls.

(That last figure illustrates an important point: now more than ever, even the most popular names don’t shake out to that many real-world children. More than four million babies were born in the US in 1960; assuming that two-ish million of them were girls, the 1960 bumper crop of Melodies still worked out to only about a thousand in the entire USA.)

The last Melody spike is about two generations ago – assuming a 25-year generation gap (it’s widened slightly over time, but it’s a round figure) the adult Melodies are going to start becoming grandmothers right about now.

People don’t tend to give their children names of their own generation. When naming a child, people want something that sounds interesting and fresh, not something that conjures a mental image of name-calling and school registers. A quick glance at the US figures for 1990 (I was second-half 1989) takes me right back: Jessica (Amy Pond’s middle name), Samantha, Jennifer, Nicole, Heather. I suspect that very few of our old peer group will be giving those names to our offspring, because it’d just be weird.

Sure enough, Melody goes down and down and down after the 1960 spike, and its absolute nadir is in the mid-1980s – just about when, with a 25-year generation, the 1960 Melodies would be naming their own children.

Names from one’s parents’ generation, though, are sometimes fair game, especially if they’re known-but-not-common. They aren’t depressingly familiar, but you heard them around somewhere. And they’ve had a generation out of the public eye to recover, as it were. Three generations apart, the effect can be even more pronounced, as people jump on their grandparents’ names that are just so delightfully vintage and retro now. (Florence, Faith, Lacey, Stanley and Arthur are all currently in the England and Wales top hundred.) Depending on the age of Amy’s parents and grandparents, we could be seeing either the two-generation or three-generation cycle in effect – remember, it’s been charting in the US since 1942.

So it’s actually pretty plausible that Amy would have come up with Melody from somewhere, if she had childhood memories of an adult Melody – perhaps even her geography teacher – and nicely poised between trendy and zany, which seems pretty in line with Amy’s traditional but not too traditional character. (White wedding, but didn’t change her name.)

This isn’t the first time Doctor Who, and specifically Stephen Moffat, have proven surprisingly astute in their baby-naming choices. Way back in 2008, Moffat’s two-parter Silence in the Library and Forest of the Dead saw then-companion Donna Noble uploaded into a simulation wherein she married another uploaded personality and had little simulated babies whom she named Joshua and Ellie. That year in England and Wales, Joshua was #5 on the boys’ charts and Ellie #16 on the girls’. Bang on trend.

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Addendum: Melody’s surname

Every day since I put this up I’ve had a couple of incoming searches along the lines of “Why Melody Pond? Shouldn’t it be Melody Williams?”

Undoubtedly it’s more common for children to bear their fathers’ surnames – but a common practice is all it is. There’s no very good reason other than tradition to go with it, and there’s no legal requirement regarding the surnames of children (in the UK, anyway). There are solid practical reasons for the child to have the same surname as at least one parent (the child’s school believing you’re related, for one thing) but there’s no reason why it should be the father’s particularly. If anything, there’s a stronger practical argument for having it be the mother’s: with the exception of foundlings, it’s usually pretty unambiguous who gave birth to a baby – who fathered it can be a much trickier question.

And this is just for straight couples. How do you give a baby “the father’s surname” when the kid has no fathers? Or two fathers?

Amy Pond didn’t change her surname when she married Rory Williams, and neither did he (though he joked about it.) So if they want to signal that the baby is connected to one or both of them, they have four options: Pond, Williams, Pond-Williams, or Williams-Pond. Judging by the quote at the top of this post, Amy just thinks “Melody Pond” sounds better than the others. That’s as good a reason as any.

Legally, in Britain, you can give your child whatever surname you want – it doesn’t have to be either parent’s. (Although you do have to have one, which has caused difficulties in the past for people with roots in cultures which don’t use surnames.) In the 1970s a group of feminist communes decided that there was no real reason to mark a child out as ‘belonging’ to a particular set of parents at all – after all, parents do not own their children – and so decided to give all the children born to all the women in the communes the same surname, Wild. At the other end of the seriousness scale, the footballer Colin Kazim-Richards ended up with his surname through a clerical error: Kazim was meant to be his middle name, but got written down in the surname box instead.

The more you know!

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Behind the Name is the most comprehensive and most consistently accurate name website on the Net. It has popularity data for multiple countries going back twenty years or more, etymologies and an excellent search engine. Anyone looking to do name research or alternatively actually needing to name a baby (The Sceptical Expat is pregnant! Congratulations!) should look no further, except to look at

The Baby Name Wizard, especially the blog of author Laura Wattenberg whose knowledge of name statistics is terrifyingly complete. The NameVoyager is useful for giving a visual representation of names across time, though sadly it only covers US data. Beware the Namipedia – it runs on user submissions and is thus full of god knows what.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Uncle Eddy permalink
    June 6, 2011 3:09 pm

    There’s an interesting chapter in Freakonomics (Levitt and Dubner) about baby names and how basically they ‘creep’ downwards in terms of social class over time, so that a popular upper class name gets used and adopted by the middle class and subsequently by the working class in an aspirational-type movement. By this time of course the upper class have moved on.

    http://www.freakonomics.com/

  2. Seamus aka Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    June 8, 2011 2:29 am

    On your new added note (since we’re still getting early Tennant episodes in Spain, I have no comment to make on the Doctor Who episode): I think the demonstrable relation of a child to its mother is about as logical an argument as we’ll get about surnames, and for that reason I’m certainly happy for my hypothetical children to take their mother’s surname. On a related note, the surname system here in Spain (given name + father’s first surname + mother’s first surname) has led to my double surname, long since dropped in the UK for expediency’s sake, being restored to me on all my Spanish papers thanks to clerical confusion.

  3. June 8, 2011 11:39 am

    Uncle Eddy – I’m familiar with the Freakonomics analysis. It’s an interesting phenomenon, though obviously interacting with many others, like the way names in the news (even names in the news for awful reasons, like child murder victims) tend to jump up the charts across the board.

    Seamus – Ha, you inadvertently arrived all set up with a Spanish-style surname! That’s awesome.

    I wonder what happens when the mother and father have the same first surname? The wikipedia page on Spanish naming doesn’t mention it. I’m just curious because my maternal grandparents had the same surname, which caused much confusion for my grandmother after her marriage. I suspect this happens in Wales quite a bit, given how massively common some of the basic patronymic surnames (Richards, Davies, Jones) are there.

    So would a Spanish kid born to José López Blanco and María López Pérez end up being surnamed López López? Seems a little strange.

  4. Seamus aka Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    June 8, 2011 11:22 pm

    I am almost certain that that kid would be surnamed López López, and would have far from the strangest name: one of my students, Jordi, has a brother also named Jordi, and in Googling around trying to answer your question I happened upon a web page by a guy called Jose Casas Sanchez Castanos Loaeza Domenech Diaz Echeverria Escobedo Tarrago Gil Morera Barreiro Bazosabal Caldelas Yspizua Ortiz.

    However, since I am no kind of authority — and since, moreover, it strikes me as odd that I have not yet encountered an example of this, given the high frequency of García, Martínez, Gil and Serra on my registers — I have put the question to a web service and will post the answer when I receive it.

  5. Seamus aka Xiémuç Guiri permalink
    June 8, 2011 11:37 pm

    I copy-pasted your question about José López and María López, and the web service replied with the one-word answer “Sí”. Further digging also turned up this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gonzalo_Garc%C3%ADa_Garc%C3%ADa

  6. June 8, 2011 11:52 pm

    Fascinating. Thanks for that – something to file away.

    Also, Jose Casas Sanchez Castanos Loaeza Domenech Diaz Echeverria Escobedo Tarrago Gil Morera Barreiro Bazosabal Caldelas Yspizua Ortiz may actually have the best name in the world. Although he is undoubtedly run close by Major Leone Sextus Denys Oswolf Fraudatifilius Tollemache-Tollemache-de Orellana-Plantagenet-Tollemache-Tollemache (1884-1917).

  7. June 9, 2011 12:06 am

    Hold the presses, even better: the good Major’s elder brother – Lyulph Ydwallo Odin Nestor Egbert Lyonel Toedmag Hugh Erchenwyne Saxon Esa Cromwell Orma Nevill Dysart Plantagenet Tollemache-Tollemache.

  8. Shay Guy permalink
    June 10, 2011 6:30 am

    It’s my headcanon that Amy chose “Melody” as a whimsical play on River Song’s name.

  9. June 10, 2011 7:47 pm

    I’m popping in purely to mention that the greatest name award surely has to go to Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thou-Sins-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebon.

  10. Rhoda permalink
    August 14, 2011 5:38 pm

    I’m glad Amy Pond doesn’t change her name on marriage.

    If you’re interested in intelligent discussion about baby names have you come across this forum?
    http://bigbadbabynames.net/forum/index.php

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