WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT?
So the elections were a disaster and it’s getting chilly and we’ve lost an hour of daylight. I still feel pretty good. I’m pleased. I jazzed. I’m chuffed. I don’t like to use the h-word recklessly, but I would admit to feeling jolly these days, and I have a reason:
Alfie is now the fourth most popular name in the UK–well, England and Wales.
If the news hasn‘t reached you yet, it’s because the story got lost in the reportage: Some media, such as The Jerusalem Post, reported that Jack, long the most popular English name, was surpassed this year by Mohammed. It’s an interestng story in its chronicle-of-changing-times, sun-setting-on-the-twilight-of-the-embers- of-the-Empire way, but it only works if you allow all variants of Mohammed, such Muhammed and Muhamed, to count as the same name, which is a break Alaska was not willing to cut Lisa Murkowski. If you disallow spelling variations, the most popular English and Welsh male baby name this year is Oliver, which is what The Guardian reported. It's interesting, I guess, in a more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same way.
The nut of the story, imho, is the Alfie surge.
In terms of popularity, my name got off to a great start in the seventh century, or maybe it was the eighth, with Alfred the Great. The Age of Alfred peaked in the late nineteenth century, when Oscar Wilde might have read aloud to Lord Alfred Douglas from the works of Alfred Lord Tennyson before his troubles with a pimp named Alfred Taylor and a blackmailer named Alfred Wood, among others, overwhelmed him, which happened not long before the death of Alfred Nobel.
Our cohort dwindled as the twentieth century droned on, but when I was born, famous Alfreds still walked the earth: Alfred Lunt, Alfred North Whitehead, Alfred Noyes, Alf Landon. Go to a show and you might see Alfie Doolittle or Alfred Drake. Go to a movie and it might be directed by Alfred Hitchcock or feature an indelible comic turn by Alfie Bass. Even so, the name was fading from memory, including my mother’s, who frequently forgot which name she’d selected from the short list, so called me by all of them: Arthur, Alfred, Alan and sometimes Judy. It was an easy mistake in those days of Arthur Godfrey, Arthur Murray, Alan Freed, Alan Shepherd and my sister, Judy.
I was lucky to avoid any of the weird variants temporarily in the air at the time. I could’ve been Alvin or Albin; once I met an Alynn, the poor bastard. I was at an audition recently and was asked if I like to be called “Fred.” Fred? Makes no more sense to my ears than my father’s occasional nickname for me, Pete. It was also his occasional nickname for himself. It was something I figured I’d understand when as an adult. Negative.
But now we’re back Of course, the signs were there all along: Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred; Alfred Molina. And of course, the tectonic-plate-shifting success of Jude Law’s 2004 remake of Alfie. It was the original Alfie with Michael Caine that kept hope alive for Alfreds back in the sixties and, coincidentally, gave the diminutive form of Alfred the raffish cachet it has enjoyed ever since.
Unsurprisingly, I prefer the non-diminutive, full-Monty "Alfred" to "Alfie;" it is, after all, my name. Not that I don’t think Alfie is great. My sister always calls me Alfie and, when all is going well, my wife does too. But Alfred is my nom du driver’s license, credit card, etc. – occasions when you want a moniker that isn’t a nickname. Do not forget that “Alfred” means “council from the elves,” so "Alfie" suggests a counselor from the elves who is unusually, possibly bizarrely, elfin, a Special Needs elf. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned.
Clearly, many proud English and Welsh parents don’t share my concerns, so I offer a virtual toast of fellowship with my fellow Alfreds and Alfs and Alfies and Alfredos for that matter. We are the Alfreds (and etc.) we’ve been waiting for.