The festival where everyone’s welcome – so long as their name’s Nigel

Name: Nigel.

Age: Found in records dating from the middle ages.

Appearance: Vanishingly rare.

This sounds ominous. I’m afraid so. I come bearing bad news. Nigel is about to go extinct.

Oh no, not Nigel. Sadly, yes. According to the Office for National Statistics, no children were given the name Nigel in 2020. In fact, only 28 Nigels have been born in the UK since 2015.

I wonder why. Yes, I cannot think of anyone who came to prominence in the middle of the last decade, and was called Nigel, and was objectively repugnant enough to basically murder the popularity of an entire name.

Don’t get political. Oh fine. Anyway, long story short, Nigels are critically endangered.

Well, we have to do something! Don’t worry: someone is already on it.

Who? Nigel Smith, landlord of the Fleece Inn in Worcestershire. He has just held something called Nige-fest to drum up support for this dying name.

Nige-fest. Yes, and don’t mock it, because it was a wild success: 372 Nigels turned up for the occasion. For reference, that’s more Nigels than have been born in the UK since 1998.

That’s a lot of old Nigels. And foreign Nigels too, don’t forget. Nige-fest attracted Nigels from as far afield as the US, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Spain. There was also a dog called Nigel, but he probably doesn’t count.

So what did all these Nigels do? That’s easy. They were entertained by various Nigels: comedians, musicians, buskers and DJs. They also signed the Book of Nigel, which is essentially a book with the word “Nigel” written in it 372 times.

A brightly coloured button reading ‘Nigel’.
Nige-fest merch. Photograph: The Fleece Inn/PA Wire

Will Nige-fest revive the popularity of Nigel? Probably not. People are about as likely to call a child Nigel because of a semi-ironic rural pub festival as they are because of a nightmarish rightwing demagogue.

I said don’t get political. You’re a spoilsport.

So is Nigel dead for ever? No, not at all. All names ebb and flow in popularity. Nigel was a very unpopular name for centuries, until Walter Scott revived it with his 1822 novel The Fortunes of Nigel. It just takes one popular book, or film, or musician, or TikToker, and Nigel will come roaring back.

It could happen again! And everyone knows that nothing is more popular to parents than an extinct name. Give it 10 years in the wilderness and you’re going to see dozens of little Nigels running around, all with excruciating hipster parents.

But at what cost? It will probably mean far fewer children called Oscar, which has to be a good thing. We’re reaching epidemic levels there.

Do say: “Bring back Nigel.”

Don’t say: “And then bring back Boris.”