MY three-year-old daughter came home from nursery the other day clutching a sheet explaining that she’d been asked to play an angel in the Nativity play this year, and would I, as the parent, mind kitting her out with a tinsel-lined hairband, fairy wings and a white skirt or pretty petticoat.
Excellent, I thought, as she excitedly explained that she and one of her friends were going to play the part together. It was an opportunity for me to revel in dressing her up and indulging every single fantasy that might have been conjured in her tiny mind about this forthcoming role.
To me, there is nothing strange in this. In fact, not only do I applaud this celebration of Christmas in the most traditional way, with Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, Three Kings and the baby Jesus, but I was unfazed at being asked to procure my daughter a very ‘girly’ outfit.
How sad is it then to read that the popular high street chain JoJo Maman Bébé, which sells medium-priced clothes, accessories and toys for babies, toddlers and young children, and is a favourite among so many middle-class mothers and the Duchess of Cambridge, posted an article on its website a few days ago entitled ’18 Gender Neutral Baby Names’.
‘Unisex names are more popular than ever,’ it reads, ‘which could be because we’re breaking down gender boundaries or we’re just more likely to be set on a name before we find out whether we’re having a boy or a girl. This naming trend looks like it’s here to stay, and if you need a little inspiration for your next baby, look no further.’
Bailey, Everly, Remi, Wren and Blair are among the names listed, and they all come with a short explanation of what sex they might have normally been associated with, served with a slice of encouragement to defy convention and try them out anyway. Beside ‘Avery’ for example, it reads: ‘Traditionally a boys’ name, Avery has grown in popularity as a girls’ name and makes an edgier alternative to the massively popular Ava. Avery comes from the Old English for “ruler of the elves” – perhaps one to consider for a baby born around Christmas?’
Naming a child is entirely at the parents’ discretion, and no one, whether a relative, or society, should try to influence this important task. There is an almost indescribable and yet precious moment in the minutes after your child is born when you are hit with the overwhelming realisation that everything about this tiny creature, from the way it’ll be dressed for the rest of that day to its protection, its happiness and its future, is now in your hands. Choosing a name is one of the first decisions many parents have to make in a child’s life.
But if some parents are considering experimenting away from conventional names for baby boys and girls, why does this have to be foisted upon everyone else? An internet post might seem a perfectly innocent thing, and some might say it is easy to ignore. But as a long-time JoJo Maman Bébé customer, I am slightly put off by its subtle suggestion that the rest of us following traditional lines are somewhat out of touch, and mainly by its apparent need to contribute to an unnecessary conversation about shaking up the status quo.
The prevalence of the gender-neutral movement is disturbing. Every time it is mentioned, fuel is given to its argument and it continues to gather pace. Having heard about schools surrendering to gender-neutral loos, the abandoning of one sort of uniform for another depending on how neutral a child wishes to be, and the unnerving rise in unisex changing rooms (a move that undoubtedly makes women vulnerable), it was not the subject matter that surprised me, but that fact that JoJo Maman Bébé felt the need to join the noise and have its say. Why is it so unpopular to carry on traditions, and why, pray, is it so popular to jump on the bandwagon for change?
Having bought countless presents for girlfriends on the occasion of children being born, maternity clothes for myself, and endless items of clothing for my children from JoJo Maman Bébé, I will go as far as to say I would find it difficult to shop there again when, like so many others these days, it has decided to fan the flames of this seemingly innocent narrative, but one that might ultimately result in the very dangerous altering of convention.