Saturday, December 3, 2011

Being Roger

A Google Image search for Roger brings up pictures of tennis champ Roger Federer, film critic Roger Ebert, The Who frontman Roger Daltry, former James Bond Roger Moore, and Roger the Alien, among others. It's not a normal name to have, either as a child or an adult, and with the exception of Mr. Ebert, it's not a name many people take seriously.

The name Roger has its origins in the Germanic language, its two syllables Hrod and Ger literally translating to "Fame" and "Spear." The name signified a mighty, notorious hunter. Scandinavian variations (also Germanic) of the name translate as "Famous Warrior" or "Famous Defender." The name was brought to England by the Normans and eventually replaced a similar name with the same meaning, Hrothgar--the king of Heorot in Beowulf. The epic tells of the hero Beowulf who travels to rid Hrothgar of the pests Grendel and his mother. Grendel's mother, not Hrothgar's. The people are referred to as the Spear Danes, and for the Spear Danes to be ruled by a man whose name literally means "Famed Spear" makes perfect sense. It seems more fitting, really, as a title to bestow on someone who has earned it, or perhaps these mothers had high hopes for their children and were trying to predetermine their fates.

Guess I should have thrown the javelin in high school.

Many names have that kind of great history. Just look at the Old Testament, when they gave children names literally describing the events surrounding their conceptions or births. Jacob means "He grasps at the heel," which is what Jacob did during birth with his twin brother; Esau means "Hairy," which he was; Isaac means "He laughs," a commentary on God's sense of humor in giving a couple so old as Abraham and Sarah a son.

But great history of the name aside, when you're seven years old and the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? comes to theaters, that's something that sticks with you for a long time.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Number on Names

The best characters in novels don't have common names:

Jason Bourne
Sal Paradise
Gnossos Poppadopolous
Caballo Blanco, Barefoot Ted, and Bonehead (okay, not a novel, but it halfway reads as one.)

A Dave Smith or Sally Wilson doesn't really strike a chord with readers. It may be that the unusual names are designed to do just that--catch the readers' attention and, by proxy, emotional interest and investment.

There's a bit in The Life and Opinios of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (another odd name) where Tristram's father Walter is nearing obsession over what to name his son, believing it to set his course and fortunes for life. He believes that to name a child Judas is to curse him, and Tristram is the worst possible name imaginable. He comes up with the one name that will satisfy: Trismegistus. He gives the name to the chambermaid Susannah who runs through the house to where the baby is being born only for her to forget half the name and sputter out variations of the name. The priest believes that she is trying to say Tristram and christens him such, much to Walter's dismay when he finally arrives. (The birth scene in the film A Cock and Bull Story is hilarious.)

But my favorite author for odd names is Thomas Pynchon. Here is just a sample of some of his gems:
Oedipa Maas
Dr. Hilarius
Pirate Prentice
Benny Profane
Tyrone Slothrop
Larry "Doc" Sportello
Zoyd Wheeler

Who are your favorite characters? What do their names do for you?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

It Was a Dark and Stormy Night

I don't know that it really was, but it seemed like a good starter at the time. Actually, some think that it's the worst beginning ever: Redundant. Nights are dark by nature.

But I like it. Sets a good tone, even if you are the nitpicky kind. But I think that those who dislike the sentence don't actually like a sentence, but dislike what it starts: a story that actually gets told. You'd be surprised how many people will criticize a story but not tell their own. There is a surplus of people willing to talk and criticize, but a shortage of those willing to do the work and just tell the story. A story seen through to the finish has to have a starting point, no matter how bad a starting point it is. There are billionaires who start with nothing and cooks who start with the most raw ingredient, so must each story be told from the ground up.

So start with the worst sentence imaginable. Build from nothing. See what the dark and stormy night has to

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dear Tooth Fairy

On Wednesday, my six-year-old lost a tooth. Here's how the ritual normally goes:

For a few days prior, she points out her tooth and takes any opportunity to show us that it wiggles. "Wanna see my loose tooth?" gets said a few times a day. She shows family, grandparents, friends, cashiers at the store, complete strangers, and animals at the zoo. That didn't happen this time.

She had just lost another tooth towards the end of the previous week. When it came out, she did mention that she had another loose one, but that was it. I didn't hear about it any more, so I forgot about it. So when it came out Wednesday, it didn't seem like as big a deal as the other seven. That's right, my six-year-old has lost 8 teeth without playing hockey.

As a result, the tooth fairy forgot to come. My wife told me so in a text yesterday morning. Later that morning, I received an e-mail:

to tooth fairy
i  hav a qeshdin
i lost a tooth

from madison
Cute, right? My wife said that there must have been a lot of other kids with missing teeth. I took a different approach and replied to the e-mail:

I will be there tonight. Last night I was taking care of a sprained wing from playing tag with Tinkerbell.
The Tooth Fairy
And of course, she came this time.

How has everyone else handled forgetting something so important as being the tooth fairy?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Thought for Teachers

Simple thought that came out of yesterday's faculty meeting:
May we all be teachers,
May we all be students.
Learning never ends. I think I learned more yesterday morning in a class full of nursing students than they did. More about my students, more about my teaching, and that nurses really don't find a picture of a baby smoking funny.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

There is No Spoon

Okay, there really is a spoon, but it's not what you think. There are a number of things that it's difficult for my students to wrap their heads around. Here's the big one:

There are no wrong answers.

And this is true, to an extent. I don't teach math, where every answer has a defined answer or set of answers. With the exception of x=x, there is always a limit to the number of right answers.

I teach English, where the emphasis is the expression if ideas, even if the ideas totally contradict the person sitting in the next seat, or contradict my own. I keep most of my own ideas out of the mix as I don't want them clouding my judgment, but every now and then I read an essay that I totally disagree with, but the expression and support of these ideas are what matters.

Here are some of my favorites:
  • A Communist regime would be good for the United States
  • Football is communist in nature because it detracts attention and money from baseball, which is the American pasttime.
  • Your shirt is not red; red is the color it rejects.
  • All drugs should be legalized.
  • Death Row inmates should participate in gladiator games.
  • A No-Fly-type list should be established that would prevent certain people from speaking.
  • Global warming, obesity, and economic problems can all be solved by riding bicycles.
  • To prevent teenage pregnancies, all female high school students should take a safe sex course.
  • Third-world sweat shops are a necessary evil as they provide income to countries that have virtually no natural exports, thereby creating an economy.
I'm waiting for the paper that tries to convinces me that there is no spoon. I believe it can be done.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Meet Kindle

This morning I met a boy named Kindle.

Not Kendall, but Kindle.

He was a very happy 2-year-old kid in the church nursery who was building and destroying towers of blocks just like any other boy, but he was named for a piece of technology.

I don't own a Kindle (yet), or any other e-reader. I've looked at them and the Nook and the Kobo, but haven't bought. Even when Borders had them on clearance during their liquidation, I didn't buy one. I don't have anything intrinsically against e-readers; I think they're a wonderful tool for economic transportation and storage of a large library. They've even become something of a status symbol, like a big expensive laptop was a number of years ago (I am currently typing on a laptop that cost around $300). I've seen people pull out their Nooks at church since they had easy access to four different translations and could pick deciding on their mood. I've seen somebody download his entire PhD book list to a Kindle rather than buy the recommended set of $1000 leather bound books.

In reality, I don't spend a lot of money on books. Sacrelige coming from someone with a Master's in English, but I also live in the real world. My monthly book budget is small (in part due to the Master's in English), and that usually gets spent on kids' books. I use the library quite frequently and enjoy being on a first-name basis with many librarians and regular patrons.

But back to the little boy.

My wife told me his name, "As in Amazon Kindle." That has got to be some great free marketing for Amazon. Now, for as long as that little boy lives, any time he introduces himself and somebody spells his name the other way, he gets to say, "No, like the Amazon Kindle." There will likely never be a Kobo or Nook in the church nursery; the brands (and probably the names as well) just don't have the staying power to be integrated that far into culture.

Forget e-readers for the moment. Very few brands at all ever make it into the culture of kids' names. A friend I grew up with named her kid Camaro, and plenty of others have gone with names like Stetson, Lexus, Porsche, and other expensive-sounding brands. These have all been cultural symbols. It doesn't mean that all cultural symbols will become names (I dare you to find an iPod in Kindergarten anytime soon), but this pretty much guarantees their stickiness outside of their general field. Here is a one of many other articles on this phenomenon.

And the new one to the club, Kindle.

Perhaps some day companies will no longer buy the naming rights to stadiums, but our children. Heck, for the right bid, I may just have another kid myself. Just as long as the company didn't want residuals every time he wrote his name.