What’s in a name? (part one)

As literary giant William Shakespeare opined in Romeo and Juliet, “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

I’m not a huge Shakespeare fan by any means, but the romantic in me agrees with the guy that there’s something reassuringly endearing about an object having a permanent identity, regardless of what we call it.

The romantic in me, however, has the feeblest of influences on my thoughts and actions, so of course, my opinion differs from that of a long-dead Englishman (who, by the way, made up names for people, things, and experiences because the ones in existence didn’t do justice to what he wanted to say – I think that’s a bit hypocritical).

While a rose would smell the same if it were called ‘stinky butt breath,’ people’s interactions with it and their perceptions of it might change. The flowers and its properties are permanent, sure, but the way the world interacts with it will always be fluid. A name determines, in part, what our expectations of a particular object will be, and our expectations can have a tremendous impact on our experiences. Now, that doesn’t mean that when I lean in and give a ‘stinky butt breath’ a long, deep whiff, I will necessarily find it less appealing that when I sniff a rose – maybe I’ll be so pleasantly surprised that I’ll instead find the odour to be more delightful – but with my expectations so askew, it would be hard to independently treat both flowers the same.

I hope, dear reader, that you know me well enough at this point to realize this isn’t about flowers, regardless of whether they’re called ‘roses’ or the equally poetic ‘stinky butt breaths.’

No, this is about naming a baby.

In theory, naming a baby is easy; you pick a name that you like, and then when you have a baby, you call it that name. Congratulations, you’ve just named a baby. Very straightforward stuff.

But now that we’re in the process of trying to pick a real-life name for a real-life baby, things seems a little more complicated than that.

All of a sudden, it’s not just about liking a name. I could like the name Horatio (I don’t), but it might not be appropriate to name whatever comes out of my uterus (it’s definitely not). Names can imply all kinds of things about the people who bear them – or at least about their parents – and who they might turn out to be. Reading Chapter 6 of Freakonomics (aptly called “Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?”) convinced me that while a name is not the be-all and end-all of who my child will be, people will certainly approach Little Parasite with particular expectations based on the name.

(Although, the authors pointed out, there was a pair of brothers, one named Winner and one named Loser. Loser went to college on scholarship and became a Sergeant with the NYPD. Winner? He has been on the receiving end of more than 30 arrests.)

One study has shown that the more unusual your name – perhaps like the “uniquely” named baby girls Uneek, Uneque, and Uneqqee – the more likely you are to land in the juvenile justice system. It’s all about socio-economics, of course. Those with truly unusual names are more likely to come from families with a low socio-economic status, and thus are less likely to have wondrous opportunities and are more likely to end up involved in crime.   On top of that, there’s a lifetime of explaining the name to people, and even the possibility of being turned down for job interviews.

(This, of course, doesn’t apply to celebrity babies, like Blanket, Apple and Blue Ivy, who will have every opportunity in the world.)

So if you don’t want your child to become a criminal, is the right answer to name him or her something super common? As someone whose name was ninth most popular in the year she was born, the answer is a complicated maybe. There are certainly advantages – for example, I was always able to find toothbrushes with my name on it, while my sister Fiona’s name didn’t even seem to exist in North American until the past decade. I have never had to spell, or even repeat my name for anyone. “Heather” is kind of like “Jennifer,” as explained by Wait But Why:

Between 1965 and 1985, everyone named their daughter Jennifer, and now, no one does. So Jennifer was officially a Name Fad. What this means for all the Jennifers of the world is that while they’ve enjoyed spending most of their life so far with a cute, hip, young girl name, they are on their way to having a Your Mom’s Friend’s Name. A Your Mom’s Friend’s Name happens when lots of middle-aged people have a name that no young or old people have.
A few decades after that, Jennifer can look forward to having an Old Lady Name, which happens when a name belongs to lots of old ladies, but no one under 75.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s a fact that Jennifer is irreparably branded with her generation forever. Of course, Jennifer is just one of many such names.

That same phenomenon is likely to happen to all the little Masons and Jaydens and Olivias and Averys running around today. In 15 years, they’ll be so cool and know all the hip lingo, and 65 years after that, they’ll need people to help them go to the bathroom. Me and my friends Jessica, Ashley, and Brittany are at the same general stage in our lives as all the other Jessicas and Ashleys and Brittanys in the Western world – we’re getting jobs and buying houses and writing blog posts celebrating quinoa and kale. I actually managed to duck too much name confusion, but the year there was a Jenna C., a Jenna D., and a Jenna P. on my soccer team, it got a little overwhelming for everyone.

I can see popularity having its drawbacks, too.Shortly after names hit their stride in popularity, Freakonomics suggest that they can quickly turn into “trashy” names. That’s because names, apparently, tend to trickle down the socio-economic ladder. Parents who named their daughters “Madison” and “Kennedy” – famous last names – two decades ago were a bit wacky then, but boy, did they start a trend. Jackson and Mason and Madison and Kennedy are all ridiculously popular now. But the earlier of the bunch, the ones on the leading edge of the wave? Their parents were likely rich and educated. Those kids are way more likely to be lawyers or doctors or other prestigious things.(Meanwhile, a Madison born 10 years from now is more likely to be a stripper.)And that’s what most parents dream of, right? Kids with prestigious jobs who have found socio-economic success?

If that’s the goal, Freakonomics suggests one of two things:
1) Be trendy and just go with something bold, and hope with all your heart that you went “classy” bold and not “criminal” bold.
2) Pick the name of a great-grandparent. It will probably be cool again once all the great-grandparents with that name are dead.

My husband and I are not trendy people. The couch in our living room is brown with yellow floral print, so clearly, we’re already attracted to things that are associated with grandparents. Surprise, surprise, we’re leaning towards Route Number Two.

We got our name list inspiration mostly from the “Most Popular Baby Names” lists from the period of 1880 to 1910 – we’re talking Herbert, Clarence, Agnes and Myrtle.

But even then, it’s not just a matter of picking a name, like, say, Gladys, and assigning it to the fetus. Even though most Floyds in the world are probably now six feet below, the name, to me, still sounds like it’s been sitting under a half-inch pile of dust for the past couple decades. We don’t want to burden the child with a leather-bound name that belongs in a museum – well, not too much.

Instead, consider names like George, Lillian, and Beatrice. These are all outdated names, sure, but they’re starting to make a resurgence on the popularity charts. I guarantee you’ll be meeting a lot of young, professional Evelyns and Everetts 30 years from now. But we don’t necessarily want that, either.

Our goal was antiquated, uncommon, but still “normal.” We want LP to not have to spell or explain the name to everyone. We want LP to not have to go by LP B. to distinguish from LP C. and LP G. in the classroom. We want LP to have job opportunities (although, let’s be open minded, lawyer and stripper are both appropriate, as long as LP is happy… right?), not a criminal record.

Most of all, we want to not mess this kid up with the first decision we make.

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Making the most (a ghost?) of living on my own

A couple weeks ago, I found myself tiptoeing through the house, not wearing pants, wielding a kitchen knife at 4:30 in the morning.

Surprisingly, this was not the moment I realized I’m maybe not the greatest at living on my own – that came days later, when I still found no trace of the phone I was sure I had heard.

Perhaps I should backtrack a little.

I have an extremely vivid imagination, but only when it comes to one particular area. I don’t often remember my dreams, for example, and when I do, they’re usually about something mundane, like going to the dentist. Despite my desire to write fictional stories, I have yet to craft a character or setting that is in any way different from a person or place that I already know or have visited. I’ve never really been one to daydream about the future. And Lord knows my only ever attempt at a creative abstract painting ended up being essentially a greenish-grey smear with a few orange accents (believe it or not, it’s still available. My asking price, based on comparable works that have recently sold, is $4-million).

But when it comes to picturing myself in all kinds of scary scenarios – most of them involving either ghosts or zombies – my brain is in top form.

As long as it’s dark outside, my brain lights up with all kinds of spooky scenes – the undead filling the streets outside the house, or a poltergeist rushing down the hallway at me. I expect all kinds of unworldly creatures to be lurking around corners or inside closets. Of course, the only available protection from all of these potential attackers is to get under several layers of blankets and not come out until the morning. At least, that’s the strategy I’ve used up until this point in my life, and I’m still alive, aren’t I?

When threats to my personal safety (or sanity) are comprised of non-imagined qualities, like loud noises or my husband jumping out at me from around corners, my reaction is pretty similar – I cower in fear and hope it (he) goes away.

So, on the night in question, when I awoke at 4:26 a.m. to the sound of a phone ringing, that’s exactly what I did. At first, I sat up a little, as I had the intention to go answer it and receive whatever awful news would cause someone to call the house at 4:26 a.m. But then I stopped. And I held my breath. You see, the phone did not sound like the phones in our house. And after four rings, the answering machine didn’t pick up, like it normally does. Instead, it rang twice more, then there was silence.

I slunk back under the covers as I tried to figure out what the heck could be going on.

My first reaction was that someone must be in the house. But what about the dogs? I hadn’t heard them bark? Maybe they were poisoned? Gassed? No, that didn’t make sense. If someone goes into a house three doors down and across the street, the dogs make sure I know about it (thanks, guys – I really needed to know that Mrs. Henderson ran out for five minutes to get more onions. She must be making stew again.). They would have let me know something was awry long before anyone would have had the chance to silence them.

Instead, I came to a more logical conclusion; this was the night after the house had been on the market. Maybe someone who had toured the house had left a phone there. And maybe that person was supposed to be getting horrible-4-in-the-morning news.

I stayed under the blankets for another couple minutes, trying to convince myself that it was the only possible explanation, but also secretly listening to hear if the dogs were snoring (alive) or whether there was any shuffling of feet. I heard neither, but realized there was no way I was getting back to sleep unless I investigated.

I reached for the cane my husband bought on a whim on a cruise stop in Mexico and called Comet. I figured if he came, he was definitely not poisoned, and he would help protect me in case there was actually someone or something lurking around the corner. And if he didn’t come, I would need the cane.

He came bounding down the hallway and into the room. My enthusiasm did not match his.

Slowly, I untucked myself from the covers and heaved my pantsless self out of bed. I turned on the lamp next to the bed and approached the door to the bedroom slowly. From there, I could reach into the bathroom and get the light inside, which lit up the whole hallway. Cane firmly in my right hand, I peeked around the corner. Nothing. Nothing in the bedroom across the hallway, either. The kitchen was my obvious next stop, where I again peeked around the corner, turned on a light, and then grabbed a knife to better defend myself against the unlikely but still-possible-in-the-back-of-my-mind intruder. I cleared the dining room, the living room, the office – the entire first floor. I double-checked the locks on the front and back doors as well as the locks on all the windows. Everything looked good. Then, I checked the phone – our caller identification system would tell me whether we’d received any calls at that eerie hour. We had not.

So I turned off some of the lights (but not all – I’m not a lunatic) and returned to bed. I took the knife with me.

A minute later, I realized I hadn’t actually looked for a phone, which was the logical reason for getting out of bed (although I guess the real reason was to look for a possible assailant, since that’s what I had actually done).

So, knife in hand, I got back up, turned all the lights back on, and searched every surface in every room for whatever phone had been ringing. I found none.

That certainly punched a hole in that perfectly logical theory, didn’t it?

It was at that time that a fact from the horror movie ‘Scream’ came to mind – “the call is coming from inside the house.” I dashed back to bed and got back under the covers, certain that I had just missed someone in a closet or behind a door and would surely die.

After laying in bed and again not hearing anything, I tried once again to think a little more rationally.  I realized I had not checked the basement.

Of course, the basement.

The phone could easily be in the basement, where I hadn’t checked. The problem, of course, was that if the phone were in the basement, it would just as likely be sitting on a table as it would be attached to someone who wanted to kill me (my reasoning was that if someone had broken in while I was out with the dogs, they easily could have been hiding out without being detected for eight hours in the basement. Which, of course, he or she would totally do).

I was terrified, but I had to know.

Still pantsless, I went through the same routine for a third time – you know, lights on, entering a room weapon first, and keeping my back to a wall wherever possible. I made my descent to the basement and was absolutely sure I was going to see the edge of a cloak disappear around one of the corners of the unfinished walls. But I didn’t. I walked around the whole place twice – checking behind me frequently, of course – and saw nothing but my own shadow (which was scary in its own right). I did another sweep, this time looking for the phone that definitely had to be there, and decided it definitely wasn’t there.

I left the lights on (to discourage the possibly-still-there-intruder from moving? I don’t know) and went back to bed.

Tucked back in, with the blankets up to my nose and the dim bedside lamp on, I lay awake, staring at the door as thoughts of modern-day ghosts seeking revenge for horrible misdeeds swirled in my head. ‘I wonder if newly-dead ghosts pass time by playing Candy Crush on their iPhones,’ I wondered. I giggled a little under my breath, and then immediately felt terrible because if there was a phone-wielding ghost somewhere in the house (at this point, the most likely option), its feelings would surely be hurt at my insensitivity to the situation.

To shorten a long story, that’s how I spent the rest of my night – wide awake, white knuckles clasping the blankets around my head, afraid to even let myself blink.

When daylight finally trickled in through the windows, I let myself fall back asleep, confident that ghosts don’t operate when the sun is out. (It’s science.)

I wish I could say this story has a satisfying ending. I really, really do, because then I’d be able to sleep better at night. But here I am, weeks later, still without an explanation for the sound of a ringing phone.Here’s what I can say: I am equally convinced that the ringing sound I heard was not imagined or part of a dream and that, for the sake of my sanity, I should not be allowed to live alone.

Now, every time it’s dark in the house, I wonder, “Is this the time the gadget-using ghost is going to reappear?” And when I get a text message between the hours of 10 a.m. and 8 a.m., I’m hesitant to check it.

What if it says, “Boo!”?

Pregnancy is peculiar: nosebleeds

I have always wondered what the police would think if they had to try to solve a bloody crime at my house.  If they used their special cameras and chemicals like they do on Criminal Minds – which, obviously, they would – they would find splatter everywhere and all kinds of different attempts at cleaning. Things would look extremely shifty.

The reality, though, is that all that blood came from something a little less violent than they might imagine.

I get nosebleeds.

Before I started getting nosebleeds, back when I was an innocent little tot, I thought they were mysterious things, reserved for boxers and children who picked their noses too much. There were so many instructions about pinching and tilting and cooling and I was glad that I never had to deal with it because it all seemed very complicated.

And then, in grade eight, a kid whipped a basketball at the head of a classmate in anger. The classmate, not being an idiot, ducked, and the ball caught me squarely in the nose. I bled for two hours.

The instructions were, in fact, confusing. For every person telling me I should lean forward, there was another saying to tilt my head back. Some said to pinch at the bridge, while others encouraged me to let the blood flow freely out of my nostrils. Should I be applying heat? What about a cold pack?

None of it mattered, really – I just continued to bleed.

And from then on out, every winter, my nose dried out and I got daily nosebleeds. Of course, if I nudged my nose at all or gave it a little pick, that didn’t help.  Some of my nosebleeds lasted five minutes, some lasted for half an hour. I tried having it cauterized twice, but that didn’t seem to help. I bled, and I bled a lot.

(And I never really bought any of the instructions. My solution is to catch the blood as it flows with a tissue – while sitting up like a normal human being – and one things slow down, blowing my nose to get out the clot and starting the process over again until there are no more clots. Gross, huh?)

But in the past few years, that trend seems to have slowed down. Maybe I’m just picking aggravating my nose less often than I used to, or maybe it has taken my body ten years to finally heal from the wounds of the elementary school playground.

What that means is that I could have counted on one hand the number of nosebleeds I’d had at the house I now share with my husband. Here, there hadn’t been the same explosive episodes or anywhere close to the same volume of blood. A crime scene here would have been a lot easier to decipher.

But then, pregnancy struck.

It was about week 14, and I started noticing that I was getting nosebleeds at about the frequency I did in my teens. Weird, I thought. And then I turned to week 15 in the pregnancy instruction manual, and there it was; “you may experience nosebleeds in your pregnancy.”

Here’s what’s up. Babies require the production and use of lots of extra blood in the system. Blood plasma increases by about 50 per cent over the course of a pregnancy, so the body is just carrying around more blood. That can be a lot of pressure for some veins, like the delicate ones in the nose. Plus, hormones do crazy things – specifically in this case, an increase in progesterone and estrogen make the blood vessels swell, and guess what? The inevitable happens.

So yes, I’ve certainly had my fair share of nosebleeds in the house this year. CSI, worry not.

(But seriously, if something horrifyingly gory happens to me, please still check it out. I don’t want to have to haunt anyone over unfinished business.)

Square peg, meet round hole

Deciding that I definitely wanted to feel like I was doing every possible thing wrong, I signed up for prenatal classes.

In the first class, I learned that under absolutely no circumstances should I consider even looking at deli meat. And if I do decide to eat it, I had better cook it for long enough to kill all of the evil bacteria it’s definitely harbouring, because otherwise I am a terrible mother. You see, according to one study from 1986, pregnant women are about 20 times more likely to get listeriosis (from the bacteria listeria) than the average other human. Never mind that listeria is also found on fruit and vegetables – things that I most definitely should be eating all the time – but in 2005, the Center for Disease Control reported a listeriosis incidence of 0.3 per 100,000 – or three in a million.

Sure, multiply that by 20 and my odds are suddenly a staggering 60 per million. I’m pretty sure I’m still way more likely to cause damage to this Little Parasite (and to myself) by crossing the street or, if my mother’s superstitions can be trusted, putting unworn shoes on top of furniture.

Still, all the “shoulds” and “should nots” and shaming were, I figured, a necessary introduction to the course. The second time around, things wouldn’t be nearly so traumatic, I reasoned.

Before I go on, I should stop to explain that up to this point, I had yet to experience any anxiety about actually getting LP out of my body. I hadn’t paid it much thought, but if I had, I would have comforted myself with the knowledge that women have been pushing babies out of tiny spaces for thousands of years, and many women do it more than once, so as bad as it might be, it’s perfectly doable.

You’ll notice my observations on labour and delivery were all in past tense.

That’s because last night, we watched a feature-length horror film twenty-minute video featuring three women in the birthing process. This movie was generous with capturing all angles of bellies and breasts and perinea and placentae and really, really strained vaginae . Lots and lots of angles.

It was honest – honest and horrifying.

(Sidenote: I enjoy writing about medical stuff because it means I get to exercise my knowledge in standard Latin-based endings.)

Now, the birthing process wasn’t really new information to me. I knew generally how it works; you go to the hospital very pregnant, do some pushing with muscles I have yet to locate, yell at your husband a little, and then all of a sudden you’re not pregnant and you go home with a baby.

Pretty straightforward situation, right?

But to see these women struggling, in pain, moaning, hating life, and being in really unflattering positions all while being monitored by a number of complete strangers (not to mention the film crews) was a bit of a reality check. I knew in the back of my brain that giving birth is not an elegant event, but somehow, with words floating around the process like “magical” and “life-changing,” I imagined that perhaps there would be a bit more dignity involved.

At the conclusion of the video, I had certainly made a magical and life-changing decision; I’m just not going to do it. When LP decides it’s time to come along, I will bring out a roll of duct tape and secure the exit. Or something. I haven’t really figured out how I’m going to stop it from happening, but I still have a few months to get there.

The important thing is that although my husband was not at the class, he somehow managed to get the takeaway lesson for dads – support the mother and basically go along with whatever she says, no matter how crazy.

This was our entire texted conversation after the class:

Me: “Just watched an intense video about having a baby. I’ve decided I do not want to give birth. Hope that’s okay with you.”

Husband: “No problem.”