The end is Nige: why the name Nigel is rightly doomed | Nigel Kendall

It could be the Farage factor, or the XTC song. But whoever’s to blame, it seems nothing can now save my accursed tribe from the inevitable

As a Nigel, I’m one of a dying breed. According to a recent report in the Telegraph, a mere 10 boys were given my first name in 2014. I wish them luck with it.

I date from just after peak Nigel: in 1963, the year before I was born, a scarcely credible 5,529 of us came into existence in England and Wales. I wonder if they all had the same problems growing up that I did.

Salford in the late 1960s and 1970s was a place of declining heavy industry, chip shops and butchers who continued to sell tripe in vinegar to a generation that thought rationing was still on. It was not a good place to be called Nigel. My mum once told me she’d chosen the name because it would “stand out”. That certainly worked.

The standard primary school introduction would go something like this: “What’s your name?” “Nigel.” “Oooh, Ni-i-i-i-gel, is it?” A nose would be thrust in the air and I’d be forever tarnished as posh – which I definitely wasn’t – or as someone who thought themselves superior. Or they would hit me. For my name.

There’s no getting away from it: Nigel is problematic. There’s something about the long first vowel that does seem awfully “refained”, to British ears, and there’s no acceptable short form of the name that doesn’t sound just as appalling.

So it was, until the age of 15, when I stopped caring, that I would blush or hesitate every time I introduced myself, expecting the piss to be taken. There were times when I’d have given anything to be called Tom, Sam, James or anything that would allow me to disappear into the crowd.

Nor was there any refuge for a self-conscious Nigel in role models such as actors. The most famous of the early thespian Nigels – Bruce and Stock – were both most celebrated as Sherlock Holmes’s tweedy amanuensis Dr Watson, while the later triumvirate of Havers, Hawthorne and Planer all became synonymous with a certain upper-class caddishness.

Planer in particular was a big letdown for Nigels. After The Young Ones exploded on to TV screens, I had high hopes that he might help rehabilitate the name – perhaps in concert with Nigel Blackwell, the lead singer of the wild post-punk humourists Half Man Half Biscuit. What I got instead was Nigel Lawson, a Conservative chancellor of the exchequer so in love with his first name that he feminised it and passed it on to his daughter like a hereditary disease; and Nigel Mansell, a Formula One champion whose unique talent was to make driving insanely fast seem as exciting as mowing a front lawn.

And then there’s that bloody song by XTC. In the early autumn of 1979, when Making Plans for Nigel came out, this Nigel’s plans were to make the most of Manchester’s then burgeoning alternative music scene, going out two, three or four times a week to gigs by the likes of Buzzcocks, Magazine, the Fall and Joy Division. Wherever I went, that pop song came with me. Everybody I met would sing it to me. Literally everybody. The song’s ubiquity made me immune to my name for the first time.

Even today, some people still sing that song when they meet me. Or quote it. I hope I’ve developed a half-smile, half-grimace in response that says: “I’m humouring you, but this shit got old 35 years ago, and if you still think it’s funny.You’re an idiot.”

Nevertheless, it is remarkable how well that song has endured, and just how much it tells you about the national prejudice against the name Nigel. Almost any other two-syllable name would serve the lyric just as well – Andrew, Stephen, Terry, Philip – yet Swindon boys XTC chose Nigel. And we all knew what they meant when they did: it’s cosy, upper class, a story of how entire lives can be dictated by parents with the right contacts and aspirations, and children with the “right” names. The song’s “future in British Steel” may not be what it once was, but the prejudice against Nigel endures.

And yet – as with Nigel Planer – there have been times when cooler Nigels have emerged, a surprising number of them footballers (Clough, Martyn, Reo-Coker, Winterburn, Worthington and de Jong). By Nigel standards, incidentally, even Kennedy is cool – and he plays the violin.

The problem is that for every one of these lovely Nigels, there’s a Farage just waiting to take the name back where everybody already thinks it belongs.

Still, it could be worse. The Met Office recently asked the public to name the next 20 or so storms to ravage the British Isles. Guess who was there alongside Barney, Gertrude, Steve and Desmond? That’s right: the next time thousands are left homeless by torrential rain, the whole country could be cursing the name of Nigel.


Nigel Kendall

The GuardianTramp

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