Alas, poor Barry; I knew him well. I knew a few, actually, though most belonged to the parent generation when I was a kid; I can only recall one Barry I was at school with, and even then his name seemed curiously old-fashioned for someone my own age. I imagine if every other classmate of mine didn’t have a dad called Barry, they most likely had an Uncle Barry or their father had a ‘mate’ called Barry; it was a defiantly adult name, and there were lots of prominent Barry’s at the time – singers Gibb, White, Manilow, McGuire and Ryan; actor Foster (AKA Van Der Valk); sports commentator Davies; comedians Cryer and Humphries; film critic Norman; and ‘Points of View’ presenter Took to name a few.
Virtually all of the above listed were born in the 1930s or 40s, a time when Barry as a Christian name was at its most popular amongst bouncing babies. It seems to have gone into decline as a name to bestow upon newborns in the post-war era, though the plentiful supply of adult Barry’s placed it at No.61 in the top 100 names in 1962; it continued to feature in the charts throughout the 70s, but recent decades have seen a swift decline. Barry hasn’t even figured in the top 1000 of late, with its last appearance being back in 2004, when it peaked at a lowly No.963. Had the concept of naming a digital TV channel ‘Dave’ taken place in the 70s (the thinking being every bloke has a mate called Dave), chances are the station would have been called ‘Barry’.
Barry, as with contemporaries such as Brian and Trevor, not to mention successors such as Gary and Darren, has fallen out of favour, with the holders of the name so few and far between under a certain age that one almost feels it to be on a par with those increasingly rare breeds of giant tortoises. Perhaps the answer to the question where have all the Barry’s gone could be that the remaining Barry’s now all reside on a distant, largely inaccessible island, dwindling year-by-year as the extinction of their species beckons. And, of course, the name of the island is a given. I would imagine there are possibly neighbouring islands reserved for ageing ladies who once resided in Weatherfield like Audrey, Deirdre, Rita and Hilda.
Mind you, there are many Christian names that were popular when I was at school forty years ago that have vanished off the radar where children are concerned. Tracie, in its various spelling permutations, doesn’t seem so common now, yet every other little girl I knew when I was a little boy appeared to be called Tracie. Then again, names like Tracie or Sharon – along with Kevin, another 70s playground perennial – have been somewhat tarnished in a snob assault over the last couple of decades, associated with ‘the common people’ and perceived as lacking class. This snooty ridiculing of certain names has definitely had a knock-on effect in the places where they were once virtually compulsory; and nobody wants their name to be associated with the butt of jokes.
The class factor is highly relevant, for glancing through some of the top contemporary baby names for both sexes shows a resurgence of Victorian-era names that were traditionally the province of the middle or upper classes or had some Biblical connotations – Oliver, Hugo, Noah, Jacob, Ethan, Silas, Abel, Gideon, Lucian, Isaiah, Oscar and the inevitable Muhammad for boys; Sophia, Isabella, Emily, Penelope, Annabel, Eleanor, Madeline, Juliet, Arabella for girls. It’s almost as though parents today believe gifting their bundle of joy with a vaguely pretentious moniker that implies ‘class’ is giving them a head start in the lifelong (and now essentially futile) race known as social-climbing.
At the same time, there has also been an unlikely revival of names nobody under fifty had when I was a kid – Alfie, Archie, Harry, Jack, Charlie, Lily, Elsie, Molly – ones I would have once categorised as ‘old biddy names’. Although these are all traditional working-class names, they’re ones that haven’t been around for generations, and I suspect the parents who have reintroduced them are too young to have the flat-cap or hairnet associations they evoke in me. They probably also regard these ones as classy.
Of course, names come in and out of fashion with each generation, and pop culture is often a barometer of when one was born; I suppose there’s a sizeable amount of thirty-something Kylie’s in the UK today, and it’s a fair bet that few of them were born before a certain Aussie soap debuted on the BBC in 1986. And staying with our antipodean cousins, apparently the early 70s popularity of ‘Jason King’ down under led to Jason becoming one of the most widespread boys’ names there; if that meant today’s Australian forty-somethings were prone to swanning around in smoking jackets and speaking with Peter Wyngarde accents, what a wonderful world it would be. But I think it underlines how whatever happens to be in a name is no real pointer to what life has lined-up for the sprog lumbered with it.
At one time, a ‘poncy’ Christian name in a hardcore working-class environment would lead to situations at school that parents stubbornly refused to foresee when gathered around the font. I remember a classmate called Kenneth being regularly ribbed simply because his name sounded a bit ‘posh’, though I would imagine it was hardly uncommon at public schools during the same era. Today, however, there is such an abundance of once-poncy names in the state classroom that anybody called Kevin or Sharon is more likely to be a target for sticks and stones than an Oliver or a Penelope.
Having said that, spare a thought for the dying breed that is the Barry; will he ever be reintroduced to society, where he can perhaps go forth and multiply so that once again his numbers have risen and he can walk amongst his fellow Brian’s and Trevor’s and re-inherit the earth? Only time – and fashion – will tell. Until then, RIP Barry. I knew you well.
© The Editor