Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Meet the New Class

Overheard in a Manuka carpark: “No Gaspard! Stay with the trolley!”

I gawked at the woman giving the order because I expected it to have been directed at a large poodle instead of a small boy. Predictably, the kid ignored mum and tried to make a break for it - as would anyone whose parents had saddled him with the sort of name that is appropriate for a lecherous minor character in a play by Molière.

Of course the bourgeoisie has been slapping weird monikers on their offspring since Marx was in short pants and, as noted in an earlier post, while the creative spelling of bevan/westie/bogan/chav names has launched a thousand sneering blog posts, the naming habits of the chattering classes rarely seems to rate a mention.

All of which got me thinking - has the use of ‘prestige’ first names (those names that seem to be selected to make it clear the parents have read at least one Penguin classic) increased in the last 15 years? Are we seeing more little Agamemnons and Antigones, Desdemonas, grizzling Hamlets, Caspars and lippy Dantes, as well as the Thomas Hardy/scullery maid twofers of Daisy and Maisie?

The news that Wendy Were (the Sydney writer’s festival head sherang with an uneasy relationship with free speech) recently named her daughter ‘Juniper’ seemed to confirm these suspicions.

Then I came across the small, out of print gem Meet the New Class by the late Alex Buzo. Back in 1981 he wrote:

“Many New Class people are products of the post-war baby boom and have been over-educated to a new level of discontent... they have taken most of the jobs and set up most of the committees to inquire into everything. Their language has come to dominate the media... they have formed mafias, coined words, opened gulfs and influenced morals.”

And tellingly:

“Their children - if they have any - are called Tarquin and Beancurd.”

If you ditched the boomer reference and wedged the phrase “competed in triathlons” somewhere in the last sentence, the book could have been printed yesterday as a field guide to the inner south and north of Canberra. The more things change... or as Gaspard might say plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

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