Oh baby, you've done it now

In celebrity circles, a baby with a ridiculous name is a must-have.

Celeb babies stand out in the crowd.
Celeb babies stand out in the crowd. 

Apple. Bluebell Madonna. Princess Tiaamii. Buddy Bear. Now, to this unedifying lexicon of baby names, we can add North, relatively inoffensive on its own, less so when we hear it is destined for the unborn son of rapper Kanye West. According to reports, West has been telling friends he likes the way North sounds with his surname.

But West can hardly be blamed for not wanting to call his son William or Jack, when his girlfriend is Kim Kardashian, of the reality TV clan, whose matriarch Kris named her other daughters Kourtney and Khloe.

After all, in celebrity circles, a baby with a ridiculous name is a must-have, along with a private jet and a secret addiction to painkillers. The anticipation to know what crazy moniker the next hatching celebrity will reveal is almost as entertaining as wondering whether Jennifer Aniston is finally pregnant.

The tradition was initiated in 1971 when David Bowie named his first-born Zowie (his son later changed his name to Duncan Jones). His friend and musical rival Marc Bolan retaliated by naming his son Rolan, while their pal Frank Zappa went one further by choosing Moon Unit, Dweezil, Diva and Ahmet for his children.

Since then we've seen Jermaine Jackson's Jermajesty, Gwen Stefani's Zuma Nesta Rock and Mia Farrow and Woody Allen's Satchel.

Last year Mark Owen from Take That called his daughter Fox, and Sienna Miller chose Marlowe for hers. Peaches Geldof (sister of Fifi Trixibelle, Pixie and Heavenly Hiraani Tiger Lily) continued the family tradition by naming her son Astala Dylan Willow.

''Part of a celebrity's job description is to attract attention at a conscious or an unconscious level, so inevitably they'll want to give their child a name that stands out,'' clinical psychologist Linda Blair says.

But it's not just the famous. Last year in Britain, Harry and Amelia were the most popular names, but birth certificates were also issued for, among others, a Tinkerbell, Buzzbee, Hendrix, Diesel and Bentley.

The software engineer Anna Powell-Smith has developed an app named England and Wales Baby Names, which charts the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data over the past 15 years. ''Looking at the data, you can see instantly the strong swing towards more unusual names,'' she says. In 1996, the ONS reported that each name was ''shared'' on average among 74 babies. But, by 2010, as parents' choices grew more eclectic, there had been a sharp fall, with approximately 55 babies for each name.

According to Laura Wattenberg, who founded the equivalent US site, The Baby Name Wizard, the trend for different names has been accelerating on both sides of the Atlantic since the free-living '60s. Sixty years ago, the top baby names, John and Mary, accounted for about a quarter of all new babies in the US. Today, the top names, Jacob and Sophie, are given to just 1 per cent of all newborns.

''In the '50s, 'normal' really was the norm,'' Wattenberg says. ''The top 25 boys' names and the top 50 girls' names accounted for half of babies born. That meant that the typical child received a name that was very broadly used, so the name didn't communicate much about the family that chose it.''

But, over the next decade, our cultures began prizing individuality. ''More parents started looking for names that stood out, rather than fitting in. Bit by bit, the core classic English names that ruled for centuries began to disappear. Today there's a reverse arms race, where everyone is desperate not to be number one.''

Blair says new communication tools, such as Facebook, have made the race for a stand-out name even more frenzied. ''We're so much more in touch with everybody nowadays, that the knock-on effect is we each feel less important, so we try even harder to bestow individuality on someone by giving them an unusual name.''

On the parenting website Mumsnet, the baby names topic, where pregnant women present their shortlist to a scathing jury, received 550,000 hits last month.

Posts splitting opinions include: ''What do you think of Zephaniah?'' and ''I want to call my daughter Cambria.''

The site's founder, Justine Roberts, who admits to having toyed with the name Shark for a boy ''when the pregnancy hormones were running riot'', says every name attracts two schools of thought. ''One is essentially people thinking about the child's feelings: will it have to spell the name out and get teased in the playground?

''Others maintain everyone gets teased about something and it's character-building. Life would be incredibly boring if we were all called Mark or Susan - though, actually, anyone under the age of 40 being called Mark or Susan would be very unusual these days.'' Unless it's a boy named Sue, as in Johnny Cash's song about a man deliberately giving his son a girl's name in order to toughen him up.

To prevent such child cruelty, Germany, Sweden, China, Japan and Iceland all veto humiliating names. In New Zealand, Talulah Does The Hula From Hawaii was made a ward of the court so that she could change her hated moniker.

But children aren't the only ones to suffer. According to a recent poll, 8 per cent of parents come to regret the name they have chosen for their child. Of these, half admit to having been swayed by passing fads.

If your heart is set on a name, Roberts advises not to broadcast it. ''Don't give people the option to spoil it for you. There will always be someone who'll have known a dog with that name, or who will hate it. People are much more forgiving of a sweet baby who's already been named, than they are of a bump.''

Advice Kanye West could have done with. But once the boy is born in August, few will care. By then, we will be too busy dwelling on the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge's choice for their newborn. Bookies' favourites are Elizabeth and John. But Killiam would make a refreshing change.

The Sunday Telegraph, London