I play the name game and find that I'm not, after all, unique

THERE'S only one Alex McLeish. Whether or not there will always be only one, I cannot predict, but today, as in 1861, there is only one. Not just according to Rangers fans, but the 1861 census results, released this week, show that the name was unique in Scotland to just the one chap. And according to the 2001 census, the situation remains the same, so when asked, the Rangers manager can confirm that he is indeed THE Alex McLeish.

Interestingly, 144 years ago, there were 56 Jack McConnells, whereas this century there are only eight, which some might call progress.

Searching my own name in the 1861 records turned up not one, so presumably the forename had not been invented, as plenty of McLuckies were around, showing up in court records on charges of petty theft with heartening regularity.

Much more fun is finding out how many people in the UK share your name now. I discovered this a couple of days ago, on the website yournotme.co.uk (the grammatical error is intentional, apparently, although its purpose is unclear). The Edinburgh-based site gives an instant, free body count and lists the most frequently searched names. I imagined all of the UK's 12,547 John Smiths eagerly typing in their names and being dejected to find they weren't, like Tigger, the only one.

I, on the other hand, have a surname that is rare enough to be frequently misspelled and make people snigger, so I smugly assumed that I would be unique. I was apoplectic, therefore, to find that I am not alone: there are two of us.

GOOGLING turned up the culprit, although initially I thought there was yet another rival before realising that a Kirsty McLuckie born in 1987, who I was imagining as a winsome, gap-toothed child, is probably the same one that turns up on a university roll for this year.

I'd like to meet her to marvel at her signature, and ask if she is the person signing up to websites with my preferred user name, meaning I have to invent an instantly forgettable one. It would also open up possibilities for identity theft, although it is perhaps best to wait four years to find out what kind of degree she ends up with.

Challenging colleagues to the unique name game deepened my gloom, as there are plenty of one-and-onlys around. An unusual surname plus imaginative parents can give you a head start, so Mercys, Cleos and Dylans are less likely to have a doppelnomer, as long as they aren't Smiths, Browns or Joneses. Checking the website, I find I would have triumphed, if only my parents had gone with Clytemnestra.

At least I beat my husband, who, with the dull moniker of Nicholas Lewis, has 246 people with whom to confuse medical histories or tax returns. I've even met one of them, but managed to avoid hilarious misunderstandings.

When it came to christening our daughter, we came up with the same idea, Elizabeth, that 1,046 other Lewis parents had. Brooklyn Beckham will probably never get anyone else's mail. However, I suspect Lizzie will encounter less sniggering.

GENEALOGY can be an unnerving business. Walking down the Royal Mile with a Welsh couple, we popped into a place which specialises in discovering family origins. I was highly dubious, believing such establishments were the reserve of American tourists tracing the Clan Warshawski tartan. But our friends wanted to do the tourist thing, and having seen the castle and heard the gun, tracing their family was next on the list.

There was not much point in trying to locate the starting point of my family: every telephone directory in the UK is limited to one or two of us, except the central Scotland edition, which has pages.

Friend A believed that he, and his name, were Welsh through and through and was horrified to find that his family originated in England. Friend B, secure that her Greek heritage would fool the computer, was even more astounded to learn that the family had originated in the Midlands, before heading over to Greece in the Middle Ages, and that the glamorous town of Solihull was named after them.

Both left the shop with a 15 family history scroll, but left behind a little bit of their sense of themselves. Perhaps it is best to leave such knowledge undiscovered.