"Cass Rooney!" my friend says. "What do you mean?" I answer, confused. "You haven’t heard?" she says, her face full of the kind of glee that accompanies the delivery of smug news, "Coleen and Wayne Rooney called their baby Cass!"
In 2015, the year I had my son Cass, there were seven other boys also named and registered as Cass. Only eight boys in the whole of the UK. Eight. What were the chances that when Coleen Rooney had her fourth baby, a few weeks ago, she’d also call him Cass? In the popularity ranks, it’s 1,704th on the list. That means there were 1,703 more probable names. Also, Coleen, I thought you had a ‘K’ theme going on. Kai, Klay, Kit and now... Cass.
Coleen and I grew up a few miles apart, on the outskirts of Liverpool. Not that we knew each other. Apart from us both being Scousers (although the distance that separated our home towns actually renders me a ‘plastic Scouser’) I had no affinity with Coleen. Or so I thought. I have to accept that perhaps Coleen and I have more in common than I’d have liked to admit. Sharing a baby name binds you. What we call our children says too much about our socioeconomic background, our aspirations and whether or not we like an obscure French film for it to be a throwaway decision.
My boyfriend and I were pretty arrogant about our name choice; perhaps too satisfied. We thought we’d trodden the perfect line between cool and nonchalant. I wanted a name with a sense of modernity but one that I didn’t have to invent. Cass: A single syllable, not too historical, not too posh, it didn’t feel retro, or ironic or too new, it was gender-neutral and it wasn’t deeply rooted in pop culture, like a Lennon or a Lorde. Although one friend did quip, "I didn’t know Coleen and Wayne also listened to Cass McCombs" and I have to say, I love the idea of Coleen propped up by pillows, surrounded by silver wallpaper, Wayne rubbing her seven-month bump as they listen to "County Line" and decide that, yes, they’ll break the ‘K’ theme and name him after the indie folk musician.
When I first heard about baby Cass Rooney, my immediate thought was ‘She stole my baby name.’ (That my vitriol was aimed at Coleen and not Wayne is another article in itself.) I felt robbed; it was mine and my son's, not theirs. The idea that a baby name should be unique and can be owned isn’t universal, but every year the number of different names registered in the UK increases, showing the trend for finding new, unused names isn’t waning.
Naming a baby can feel like a competition – to find a new name, be the first to appropriate a word or the first to revive an old name (which explains baby Barbara, who I met the other day). Other friends so obviously opt out of the competition, naming their children something as contrarily normal as John, which still says a lot; it’s just rooted in a different kind of signalling. As the Penguin Dictionary of First Names explains: "First names are more than simply means of identification. They reveal a huge amount of information about a culture's history, religious and artistic heritage and provide evidence of the diverse foreign influences that have operated upon it over the centuries."
Other cultures have very different ways of naming their children. In Bali, it depends on the order in which the children are born, and the names are the same for both boys and girls. There’s a name for the first-born, the second, the third and the fourth; if they have a fifth, they start the list again. We don’t even have to go as far as Indonesia; just across the channel in France, parents used to have to pick from a list of authorised names. That list was only abolished in 1993. Even this year, the name Derc’hen was banned because it contained an apostrophe, a decision described as "intolerable linguistic discrimination".
While I was pregnant I took a friend's toddler to the park and learned how often you have to shout a child’s name, and the range of enunciations it takes to persuade a toddler down from the top of a climbing frame. I am so glad I experienced this before naming my baby. The toddler I’d taken to the park had a perfectly nice name, one that I didn’t mind saying 20 times in a minute, but the name I had chosen for my own five-month bump was ‘Story’. There in the park I realised I wasn’t cool enough to claim an actual word, to take it out of context and shout it repetitively across east London.
It’s been hard to accept that I share the same taste as Coleen. It’s not that I think I’m any better than her; she is evidently better than me, look at that first-class life. I just thought we were different. The proximity of my son's name to football, to celebrity, to The Sun, to Hello! magazine, to Dubai hotels, to the acronym WAG – well, it wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I named him. Evidently, though, Coleen and I share something. As a friend put it: "Scousers by name, Scousers by nature…"