The importance of not being called Nigel

Take it from me, Mr Farage: you need to change your name

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

14 September 2013

9:00 AM

You know what the real problem with Nigel Farage is? It’s not his politics, for they are a matter of personal taste. No, it’s something more objective. His name. And not that improbable surname, either, the one that makes him sound like a Bond villain. It’s the Nigel.

There’s a passage in Julian Barnes’s novel Talking It Over which summarises the problem nicely. One of the characters, Oliver, used to be called Nigel until he changed his name by deed poll. ‘You can’t go through the whole of your life being called Nigel, can you?’ he explains. ‘You can’t even go through a whole book being called Nigel. Some names simply aren’t appropriate after a while.’

How true. Would John Taylor, bass guitarist of Duran Duran have had the same success as a rock star if he had stuck to the name he grew up with? Nigel? Nigel Taylor? I suspect not.

It’s partly because Nigel is a comedy name. When Monty Python wanted an easy laugh they often called a character Nigel. In the ‘upper class twit of the year’ sketch, for example, John Cleese played a character called Nigel Incubator-Jones. And in This is Spinal Tap the preposterous character played by Christopher Guest — the one whose amplifier goes ‘all the way up to 11’ — is called Nigel Tufnel.

When everyone was betting on a name for Prince William’s first born, you couldn’t even get odds on a Prince Nigel, it is that ridiculous. Another good test of the ridiculousness of a name is whether you could imagine a dog being called it. Can you imagine a dog called Nigel? No, of course not.

You might think, given all this, that it is a modern name. One of those modern names, indeed, which recent research has shown can hold you back at work, in the same way that baldness does. Wayne and Kayleigh are the worst modern names to have, apparently. If you are going for a job interview you are much better off with a solid Biblical name such as John or Rachel.

But actually the name Nigel comes from the Latin nigellus and has been around since the Middle Ages. In was at its most popular in the Regency period, as reflected in Sir Walter Scott’s 1822 novel The Fortunes of Nigel. But it fell out of favour after that and when it trickled back briefly in the 1950s and 1960s it became associated with the smell of freshly clipped suburban lawns. The soundtrack to my schooldays in the 1970s was ‘We’re only making plans for Nigel’ by XTC, the new-wave band from Swindon. Nigel has a future in British Steel, they sang.

But at best it’s a hairdresser’s name, as I am always reminded when I visit Rock in north Cornwall. There is a hairdresser there who advertises all over the place with green sandwich boards upon which is written in gold lettering: ‘Hair at Nigels’. That there is a missing apostrophe from Nigel’s signs makes the indignity complete.

And it’s a name people take liberties with, much worse than Davids becoming Daves. People think just because you are a Nigel they can call you Nige. Big Nige in my case.

As it happens, I am exactly the same age as Nigel Farage. What were our parents thinking? Who looks at a baby boy and thinks: yes, he’s definitely a Nigel. Baby Nigel. Back in 1964 when Nigel Farage and I were born, there weren’t even any famous Nigels around to inspire our parents. It came out of nowhere, like the ebola virus. There have been a handful since: the louche gossip columnist Nigel Dempster, the oleaginous actor Nigel Havers and the football-scarf-wearing mockney violinist Nigel Kennedy. I rest my case.

I met Nigel Farage once and we compared notes on what it was like growing up in the 1970s with the unfortunate initials NF, which were sprayed on walls everywhere, the two letters merging to form one sharp-angled symbol of prejudice. There’s someone else in our rather exclusive club: Niall Ferguson, who was also born in 1964. He has a much better name, though, because no one is sure how to pronounce it (Neil).

I suppose Nigel Farage might get away with it. There has, after all, been one successful Nigel in politics, and I’m not thinking of Nigel Evans, the Deputy Speaker who resigned this week while he fights sexual assault charges. I’m thinking of Nigel Lawson, who liked his name so much he named his daughter Nigella. But Nigel Lawson is a bruiser, a big beast. He could be called Shirley and get away with it. (Shirley Lawson, I quite like that.) He glowers, whereas Nigel Farage has that manic, toothy grin that makes him look like Wallace, of Wallace & Gromit.

It’s no good, Nigel. The Nigel has to go. How about changing it to Samuel? Samuel Farage. Prime Minister Samuel Farage…

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Show comments
  • trace9

    But are there any famous Farages – at all – it’s a Belgium of monikers. Perhaps Nigel should have an especially ornate, exaggerated ‘N’ rather like a medieval monk might use; Beardsley-style flamboyant serifs might suitably distinguish this medieval name.. As born, as live..

  • mikeydredd22

    Does it rhyme with Fridge or Garage? That’s the key question

    • Thor fenris

      Where I come from (saff east) fridge and garage rhyme

      • mikeydredd22

        You have a point…

      • argonsac

        If you say “Big Nige” in a Glasgow accent,it sounds menacing!

      • george

        You lot pronounce ‘garage’ as ‘gridge’? Weird, even by Essex standards.

  • Francis P

    And so the ‘ridicule and ruin’ ploy, in its various guises, strikes again. And who better to employ it than another Nigel. How very self-deprecating, but whimsical and well written, we must allow. Though the “Big Nige” rider kind of negated the self-deprecation a little, perhaps?

    His name is fine; it’s that bleedin’ titfer that needs to go.

    • george

      I didn’t see any ridicule. I saw facts.

  • Thor fenris

    Nigel is up there with Trevor, Stanley,Percy, Norman and Warwick as ultimate beta male names

    • PossieJim

      Add to those Cedric, Timothy and Cyril and more recent names Wayne, Dwayne and Shane.

      • Thor fenris

        Wayne Dawene and Shane are chav names- quite different from the lower middle class names I listed. Cedric and Cyril are almost unknown these days but certainly fitted the bill a hundred years ago. Cyril is ,of course, Charles before the French spelling was brougfht in with the Stuarts (as when Jacob took over from james)Timothy is more Middle Middle class, it belongs with Giles, Bernard, Jeremyand Geoffrey

    • george


  • FairBobby

    I don’t care about the name but it is certainly immediately recognisable. What ever the name, he is the only politician of any substance in the country.

    • george

      Lord Tebbit?

  • crosscop

    Nigel Farage looks nothing like Wallace from the Nick Park films. That honour belongs to Ed Miliband. Mr Farage looks like Jonah, the jinxed sailor from the Beano. “Aaagh! It’s ‘im!”
    But I’m still voting UKIP.

  • thelonghaul

    ‘Winston’ was such a terrible name that Churchill was the last white man on earth to be christened with it.

    • george

      Except for John Lennon, who had it as a second name before he married and changed it to Ono.

  • rtj1211

    Memo to Fraser

    This idjit has just invited you to issue him with a P45.

    His crime: being called Nigel.

    I’m available, if you need a replacement pronto.


  • global city

    I have never heard anybody, even the worst kind of reverse snob, raise this as an issue with regards to Farage… of any sort!

    Me thinks this is yet another attempted character assassination on Farage, masked by the fact that the author is also called Nigel.

    • george

      I thought it was an earnest, carefully observed commentary from a co-sufferer of what is, in all honesty, a profoundly unfashionable, unaristocratic name. And names are hugely important. People make all sorts of judgements, when they don’t know you and have to assess (as we all do) what sort of person you might be. They assess your hair (the state and the style), your dress, your voice and accent, and your name. That may be all the information they have. But from that they can tell a lot, including your class — especially if your parents have given you a ludicrous first name, in an attempt to sound more genealogy’d than they really are (‘Forbes Epstein’, ‘Branson Hammond’, ‘Carter Jones’, etc.). Especially when the Carters, Rileys, Madisons are actually girls! (Just look at the rolls of any American school these days and you’ll see I do not exaggerate!)

      • global city

        Yes, it usually is and people sometimes suffer as a result of it being their name….but!

        As I said, I have never heard anybody raise it as an issue to mock, with regards to Farage, that’s all.

        P.S. It is a dreadful name though!

        • george

          That just reminded me: Nigel someone was the drummer for Elton John, wasn’t he? Races motor cars, I think.

  • David

    A great piece. I rather think Farage has the character to ‘rock the name’ Nigel. I also think it might have spurred him on to what he is now. If he’d been called David (as I am) Farage then he might not have grown up with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to terrorise the Tory party!

    • george

      Agreed, and I’m sure you’re a great chap, but David is a supremely boring name (they all are, really, with a few exceptions) — which is why it suits the current P. M. to a T.

  • saffrin

    I dare say Spitting Image would have a field day with Nigel Farage’s mug, however UKIP’s policies make the LibLabCon Artists policies look like something scribbled down on a fag packet by career politicians fresh out of Poly.

  • Steve Lloyd


  • Two Bob

    Nigel Kennedy, Nigel Planer & Nigel Mansell = national treasures. True English eccentrics, and are loved for it.

    Sorry but if you really think Nigel Farage looks like wallace from wallace and gromit then you obviously have never laid your eyes on Ed Milliband….

  • Nigel Tipple

    Mr Farndale bemoans his christian name. How does he think I feel?

    • george

      Never mind, Nige. At least your surname doesn’t begin with F.

  • george

    And then there was another Nigel — of the 1968 Golden Globe race, a sad and mysterious figure: Nigel Tetley.

  • alkan kizildel

    What about Nigel Greene, a fine actor he was…