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I’ve had names on my mind lately. For one thing, a rash of wedding
plans seems to have broken out across my 30s-approaching peer group.
It’s true that more and more knot-tying
women with established careers are
choosing
to keep the surnames they were born with, but whether or not any actual
name changes occur, marriage gets you thinking about identity. For
another thing, a couple I know have just acquired a new German
shepherd
puppy, who of
course needed a name (I was pulling for Bauhaus, but they chose
Jupiter). Of course, there’s comparative freedom in naming an animal,
who will never be exposed to playground taunts or have to bicker with
bureaucrats over spelling; your cat is never going to reproach you for
naming her Dot Com or Schmoopie. Speaking as a human being, though, I
always feel there is much to be said for
names like Jane.

Personally I find my own name rather vapid, a bit
1970-trendy, painfully lacking in traditional and literary referents. Who on
earth is there in any good book called Lisa? There’s one minor character
in War and Peace, but that’s just not much for a book junkie like
me to chew on. Plus I don’t think I was ever in a school or camp group,
growing up, in which there wasn’t at least one other Lisa besides me. It
always used to become this horrible ego contest about which girl got to
be just “Lisa” and which girl had to go around as “Lisa R.” for the
duration. Ugh.

At least I don’t have to spell out my first name very often — not
for people of normal IQ, anyway. Simplicity remains a virtue. Still,
it’s just not my cup of cake. I wish I’d at least been given a middle
name I could have pressed into service. Parents, I charge you, do
not succumb to popular naming trends
for the year you produce your baby
(hint: “Zachary” and “Caitlyn” are not the excitingly original ideas you
may suppose them to be). And if you simply must be faddish, give the
poor thing a middle name or two so it’ll have something to fall back on.
I suppose I could always give myself a middle name just for the hell of
it when I get married, as I for one do expect to do the whole tiresome
legal-name-change dance anyway. But it’s a bit late to do me any good
now.

Of course, naming is an exquisitely culture-defined process in a
smorgasbord of a country like America. The traditional English names I
think of as “simple” may not feel that way in the least if your family
is of Cuban or Japanese background — although, conversely, such names
may well come to seem far more “natural” choices than those of your
ancestors after a generation or two. Still, immigrant families very
often retain traditional names through many generations. For their part,
American blacks have developed their own fluidly inventive traditions
for both girls and
boys. Such creativity
occasionally creates an unwitting whopper; it’s been claimed that the
scariest stories of this sort are just urban
legends
, but I
can witness that a personal friend who teaches in a Bronx inner-city
school has one young student who goes through life as Formica Dinette.
One can only wonder if she will grow up to sue the Home Shopping
Network
.

I was unaware till recently that a particularly vibrant naming
subculture exists among the Utah’s Mormons, and now that the Utah
Baby Namer
has educated me on
this score, I can only pity my former ignorance. Chirps site creator
Cari Bilyeu Clark: “With the generally larger-than-average family, often
saddled with the very ordinary surnames Smith, Johnson, or Young, it’s
not surprising that many Utah parents look for unique given names for
their children. When you throw in the reverence for family and ancestors
forwarded by the LDS
Church, it seems inevitable that someone would end up with LaEarl,
KDell, Arnolene or Hariella.” Yes, well, there is certainly something
unique or, at the very least, mesmerizing in parental choices like Alpha
Mae, Ann-Toy, Co-Jane, Jennyfivetina, Lindi-lee-lu, Rexine, VivaMarie
and Zestpoole. And I won’t even go into the boys’ names — well, maybe
just long enough to point out that they include D’Loaf, Dwendle and
Gloyd.

All things considered, you know, having a boring or unimaginative
name may not be so bad after all.

The sins of the fathers?

Based on the discovery of a 25,000-year-old skeleton in
Portugal
, a new
theory is out that the gene pool of modern humans may contain
Neanderthal stock as well as Cro-Magnon. It seems this skeleton combines
Neanderthal limb
proportions with
Cro-Magnon traits such
as small front teeth. Its chin is pointed, like a Cro-Magnon’s, but
recedes instead of jutting, like a Neanderthal’s. All this suggests
coexistence and interbreeding to an extent previously not suggested.
Skeptics point out that the skeleton is a small child’s which may be too
undeveloped to yield any firm conclusions.

My kingdom for a bicycle!

Yes, you too can play polo — and you don’t have to give board and
lodging to a thousand-pound horse, either. All you’ll
need
, pretty much, is a
mallet, a ball, and a bike. That’s right, a bike. Bicycle polo
is a variation of the sport that’s believed to
have developed in India. Less glamorous than the horse version it may
be, but fun? See a game in QuickTime
video and decide for yourself.

Drink me

For unequivocal proof that the planet is supplied with an
overabundance of silly idiots with too much time on their hands, click
here for a look at about the
dumbest idea I’ve seen all year. In the interests of natural selection,
maybe we should take up a special collection and institute a Kool-Aid
fund for these morons. Authentic ingredients, natch. I’ll pledge one
gallon to start the ball rolling.

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