People give their children the strangest names - not just these days, they always have done. The births column of the Daily Telegraph is, I find, always good for a laugh (Mimi Magenta Poodle being a favourite that I recall).
But I have never, ever, come across someone - a real live present day person, that is* - called Isambard. My sister works in the Passport Office (boo hiss) and encounters beautiful and outlandish names on a daily basis, but she confirmed to me last week that even she has never met with an Isambard. I find this incredible. Not only is it a name with a noble and heroic history, is is also really a very nice name. It has a splendid ring to it. It is simultaneously both exotic and down to earth. It even offers the possibility of being shortened to Sam, should an adolescent Isambard wish for something a little more anonymous.
I'm reminded of this as I'm about to embark on a library book called Isambard's Kingdom: Travels in Brunel's England by Judy Jones. I've had it for a while and wondered if I would actually read it, but it looks like a readable and probably interesting travelogue, of a 500 mile walk 'from Paddington to Penzance to explore the legacy of his railway revolution'. I'm not a big rail freak, but my paternal grandfather (whom I never met) was a boilermaker on the Great Western, at Swindon, so I've always had a mild interest from that perspective. I think there's a bit of canal stuff in there too.
And before you ask why I didn't call one of my sons Isambard, if I think it's so great, the answer is that I didn't have the nerve twenty two and a half years ago.
*There is a character of that name in Mavis Cheek's Patrick Parker's Progress, named by a Brunel-obsessed father.