News that Sharons and Traceys are amongst the lowest earners in the country (courtesy of a recent survey by consumer firm Claritas) is hardly surprising to those of us burdened with the names. Nor is the fact that we find ourselves in the salubrious company of the Waynes and Lees at the bottom of the income ladder. The top female earners are Kathy/Katharine/Kate and Alyson/Alison and the top male earners Tim(othy), Phil(ip) and Nick/Nicholas.
Ever since Keith Waterhouse decided to bestow the names Sharon and Tracy upon two fictitious surly shop assistants who inhabit the pages of his column in the Daily Mail, we have had to suffer years of ribaldry and opprobrium.
It didn’t take long for other satirists to seize upon the derogatory neologism as a perfect catch-all phrase to describe any number of things: the bimbo with bleached blonde hair, stilettos and a PVC pink handbag; overweight, indolent and unattractive women; intellectually-challenged gawky dullards; the woman in the street with the straggly hair, chewing gum and a fag hanging out of her mouth; the undesirables we all try to avoid at parties; the subject of the office gossip; anyone, in fact, who you did not like or who was “not one of us”.
The names were taken up by cartoonists, both in a short-lived strip in the Today newspaper as well as the more well known “Fat Slags” in Viz magazine (albeit that the names are abbreviated). The final insult was when television scriptwriters Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran chose the names for the lead characters in their Essex girl sitcom ‘Birds of a Feather’.
Last year Tesco even threatened to change the name of the exotic Sharon fruit to the Persimmon fruit, blaming slow sales of the product on the negativity associated with the “Essex girl” image. (Tesco backed down, incidentally, after complaints from Essex County Council: good to know whom our friends are.)
However, I don’t need a psychoanalyst, consumer survey or Tesco spokesperson to tell me the name is naff: every Sharon and Tracy who ever went to school knows that the first question to ask The Parents on reaching puberty is not “Which bits do I shave?” but “Why the Philip Larkin did you give me this name?”
And they will explain how, once upon a time, many moons ago, the names were curious and unwonted (whereas now they are merely unwanted). Or they may pass the buck and blame some other member of the family, as did my parents who transferred the responsibility to my half-brother. Apparently he chose Sharon because my namesake used to lift her skirt and flash her briefs in the playground – obviously a forerunner to la Stone.
Surprisingly to those who would advocate, “If you can’t stand the heat, change your name”, the annals of Sharonism and Tracydom are not replete with deed poll certificates. There are a few who turn to nicknames or middle names for sanctuary but the rest of us sail on, trying to debunk the myth as we go.