You could call it the Epponnee-Rae effect.
The study into middle-class naming practices was carried out by Professor Jo Lindsay of Monash University and Associate Professor Deborah Dempsey of Swinburne University of Technology. One married mum, Elizabeth, explained why she chose “traditional” names for her children.
“We didn’t like the idea of one of those wacky names that are very cute on a three-year-old but you can’t imagine [them on an older person], or a name that labelled you as someone who worked in the checkout at Coles, as opposed to somebody to be taken seriously. So we ended up with very conservative names, but that’s okay,” she said.
“You can’t see your child sitting on the bench at the High Court of Australia being called Poppy or something. My daughter has a friend called Dakota which, to me, that jumps up and screams, ‘I was born in the late ’90s, my mother didn’t have an imagination or my mother didn’t think forward.’”
Meanwhile, a lawyer called Brigid said she chose names that meant her children would be able to mix comfortably with “middle, upper-class, private school” kids. She said her partner, who used to work for the Department of Human Services, saw a lot of people who had given their children “creative” spellings of names.
“It just seemed to be this element of society that did that. That’s not where we come from and that’s not something I wanted to inflict on a child.”
Brigid and several of the other parents interviewed brought up the example of Epponnee-Rae, the name given to the baby on TV series Kath & Kim. It seems that middle-class people love watching bogans on TV, but they don’t want their child to be mistaken for one.
“Bogan names”, “DHS names”, “checkout operator names”, “childcare worker names”… this was how they described the names that they were keen to avoid.
If this sounds a lot like class prejudice, that’s because it is.
“We were really very surprised to hear these kind of class judgements come out of people’s mouths, because in Australia we really like to emphasise how egalitarian we are and how open we are,” Professor Lindsay tells Mamamia. “But in fact, when you start talking about something that seems quite innocuous, like the name that you give your kid, then this stuff does emerge.”
So when exactly did people start becoming so judgemental about “made-up” names or those with “creative” spellings?
Professor Lindsay thinks it was “probably in the ether” well before Kath & Kim.
“Maybe a decade before Epponnee-Rae there were child protection cases – there was a particular case in Victoria – and the names seemed to be made up,” she explains. “They were unusual spellings and these were dysfunctional families. So I think that this kind of prejudice has been going for some time.”
But Professor Lindsay has friends who’ve worked in child protection, and they’ve given her a different perspective on these kind of names.
“People are giving their kids unusual names because they want to have something fresh and something new, really symbolising a new start for that kid, maybe a different life from what they’ve had themselves. That kind of generous reading isn’t ever given.”
She believes people should be less judgemental about names.
“When we think of something as ‘bogan’, it probably is taking something away from the kid who is actually called that,” she points out.
“These things can have a real impact on people’s lives. If people make huge judgements about what people can do because of their names or what job they’re worthy of because of their names, then it’s a problem.
“Maybe there should be more freedom – that we don’t always have to call our kids names from the royal family or the Bible. Thinking more carefully and a bit more gently about how we judge people might be good, because Poppy should be able to be on the High Court and so should Dakota.”
What baby names do you think are appropriate? Tell us in the comments below.