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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 February 2008, 11:17 GMT
Help, my name's Lolita
By Brendan O'Neill

Scene from 1997 Lolita
Lolita means perversion and controversy to many

Woolworths got into trouble for calling something Lolita, but what's it like to be lumbered with a name with troubling undertones?

What's in a name? Quite a lot actually, if your name is Lolita.

This is no longer simply a female given name of Spanish origin, a diminutive form of the more popular, better-established name Dolores, Spanish for "suffering".

Thanks to Vladimir Nabokov's still notorious novel Lolita, first published in 1955, and the two films based on his book - Stanley Kubrick's classic of 1962 and Adrian Lyne's updated version in 1997 - the name Lolita has become synonymous with a sexualised view of young girls.

I had a real crisis when I found out my name was Lucifer - I went off the rails
Lucifer Howse
Nabokov's novel tells the story of Humbert Humbert, a literature scholar who becomes obsessed with 12-year-old Dolores Haze after seeing her sunbathing in her garden.

We were reminded of the power of the L-name during the "Lolita bed scandal" at the end of last month.

It was discovered that the Woolworths website was selling a bed called the Lolita Midsleeper Combi aimed at girls aged six and over. After complaints, the Lolita bed was duly banished.

But how do women named Lolita cope in a society where their name is laden with such potential offence it cannot be attached to items of furniture?

Latvian popularity

Lolita Jones is a 55-year-old health and beauty therapist in Hunstanton, Norfolk. "People should not reduce the name 'Lolita' to one simple meaning", she says. "It's a real name, and it's a beautiful name."

When she was younger, other teens sometimes mocked her. Ms Jones dealt with it by joking: "Oh yes, that book was written about me. But mostly they just called me 'Lolly Eater'," she recalls.

Being named Lolita became sporadically problematic in the world of work. Working for British Telecom in London in the 1970s, her colleagues preferred Lola, which stuck.

Actress Lolita Davidovich
Designer Lolita Lempicka
Lolita De Palma, daughter of Brian
Actress Lolita Chakrabarti
Singer Lolita Sechan
Composer Lolita Ritmanis
Ms Jones' parents were from Latvia, where Lolita is a popular girls' name. There is a Latvian Name Day for Lolita - 30 May - and Ms Jones still receives cards from her Latvian relatives on that day.

The shifting fortunes of the name Lolita can be seen in its declining popularity. According to the US Social Security Administration (SSA), the popularity of Lolita peaked in the US in 1963, when it was the 467th most popular name for newborn girls. It dropped after that, and has not made an appearance in the SSA's top 1,000 names since 1973.

Lolita Mackey is 85 and lives in Belper. She says that in her early life, people told her she had a "beautiful name". But by the 1970s and 1980s, "people raised their eyebrows when I said my name". She thinks things are changing back again, though.

Scandal factor

And Lolitas are not the only ones who have name troubles.

Reveller dressed as a demon
Some think Lucifer's a nice name, some not
"Names come in and out of favour," says Pamela Redmond Satran, a naming expert and author of eight books on baby names, including The Brilliant Book of Baby Names and Cool Names for Babies.

"Monica is a good example in the US. The name had been inching up and was at number 79 in 1997. The Monica character in Friends helped make it popular. But in 1998, after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke, the name slipped to 105 and went down even further the next year, never to recover.

"It was just too linked to odious qualities: abuse of power, sexual degradation... lots of things you wouldn't want connected with your innocent newborn daughter."

The name Katrina has also declined in popularity in the US following Hurricane Katrina.

In Britain, the name Myra declined in popularity following the Moors Murders. And names such as Adolf and Judas are now extremely rare. One man who has struggled more than most with his moniker is Lucifer Howse, a 33-year-old alternative medicine practitioner in Brighton.

Mr Howse only discovered his true first name in his late teens - prior to that, his family called him Luke for short. "I had a real crisis when I found out my name was Lucifer. I went off the rails," he says.

When he picked up his driving licence a few years ago, the woman behind the counter barked Biblical phrases at him and shouted: "It's you. I know it's you."

But he has now embraced his name. "People don't automatically call their children William, Henry or Mary anymore. They are more experimental."

Ms Satran agrees. She points out that strange names can sometimes become self-fulfilling prophecies. "A study has shown that kids with a name like 'Lethal' are more likely to grow up to commit crimes - though of course parents who would name their child 'Lethal' are probably not aiming to be class mom."

But, she says, more exotic, even formerly outrageous names - such as Juno and even Jezebel - are making something of a comeback. "Somehow these names seem ready for the playground again."

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