Thanks to everyone who has backed this book project on KickStarter so far!
I want to share a section from the book today that I find particularly delightful.
Antony Davies is an economist, policy researcher, writer, speaker, and entrepreneur. But his contribution to this book is about none of those things. It’s about being a dad.
Ant has six children and asks, “Why haven’t you had a bunch of kids?”
The chapter answers many practical questions about large families, from budget issues to travel and health. Today I’m going to share a section about a dilemma I never really thought about.
When you have a lot of kids, how do you name them for the right mix of beauty and efficiency?
What do you call them?
Names are a problem. We spent months selecting a name for our first child, Erika. We thought about how it sounded, what it meant, whether it had a long-enough shelf-life so it wouldn’t make her sound like some old lady just as she was hitting her college years. Ladies named Mavis, Opal, Inez, and Violet weren’t born 80-years-old. They just lost the shelf-life lottery. We were better at naming our second child, largely because I am a science-fiction freak and my hero, Isaac Asimov, had died just before our son was born. So Isaac it was. Our church friends thought it touching that we named him after the one of the biblical patriarchs. We didn’t have the heart to admit that we named him after a lecherous chemistry professor who wrote wicked sci-fi.
After the first two, naming becomes easy. You already have a list of potentials in your head from previous research. You also have recyclable first-picks that you couldn’t use because of gender issues. We knew that one of ours was going to be named Ivanka. Which one depended entirely on who showed up first with the appropriate plumbing. By the time you get to #4 the months of researching and trying out different names and spelling variations gives way to grabbing the first name that doesn’t rhyme with something crass so you can sign the paperwork and get out of the hospital. I figure that’s why hospital employees all wear name tags. It’s to give parents ideas. “OK, the baby gets the next name that comes down the hall. Wilbur.
Crap. Well, that’s the luck of the draw. Now sign those papers and let’s get out of here before they find something else to charge us for.” Of course, with names come nicknames. At first, you’re proud to tell people your baby’s name. “She’s Ivanka, after my wife’s mother. Actually, there’s been one Ivanka in each generation in my wife’s family going back five generations. Our little Ivanka is the sixth of that name.” But that doesn’t last. Where names are concerned, poetry takes a backseat to practicality. As soon as a kid acquires locomotion, she’s gone. She doesn’t need to be able to walk on two legs. Heck, she doesn’t even need to be able to crawl. As soon as your kid figures out that flailing arms and legs aren’t merely for expressing displeasure but can be harnessed for migration, she’s out of there. Nature has given young children the triple advantage of being quick, quiet, and small enough to fit into tiny spaces.
When you want to sleep, they’re louder than a frat house on homecoming night. But when they’re getting into things they shouldn’t, they’re like incontinent ninjas. Sometimes the only way you can find them is by following the smell. So, with locomotion comes the need to summon the little tykes. And this is where practicality comes in. When you finally put that name to work, you’ll regret not having picked an industrial-strength name like Bob. You can keep saying “Bob” until the cows come home. “Bob, where are you?” “Bob, come here!” “Bob, don’t bite the cat!” But if you picked a poetic name, now is when you’ll regret it. Try repeating “Beatrix” or “Jacinda” ad infinitum. This is why God invented nicknames. The nickname is the name you should have given your kid but were too embarrassed to pick. It takes a while to whittle a flowery name down to something that can be used easily on a day-to-day basis. And you can tell how much trouble a kid gets into by how quickly the parents adopt an industrial-strength nickname. Over the course of about three days, our lovely Ivanka became “Vonky,” then “Schpanky,” then “Schpank,” then “Spank,” then “Hank.” Hank is an industrial-strength name. You can shout it all the livelong day, and the last use will be as potent as the first. It’s one of those names that lends itself to yelling. You can put some serious air pressure behind that opening consonant, and the hard “k” at the end cuts off the sound to an immediate and ominous silence.
“Hank” is the air horn of the naming world. “Beatrix” is the kazoo. But nicknames bring their own baggage. At even at one syllable apiece, with a lot of children, nicknames can quickly add up to a lot of words to remember. Our last two kids, Alexander and Benjamin, were born just a year apart. Since we both abhor the nickname Alex, we announced his nickname before we left the hospital. “He shall be known as Xander.” We also abhor “Ben,” but since “Jamin” sounded like a reggae stoner, #6 was straight-up “Benjamin.” As they tend to be inseparable, my wife has taken to calling Xander and Benjamin (as a conglomerate), “Xanjamin.” Kind of like Branjelina meets the Brady Bunch. “Xanjamin” exhibits a bit of creative flair, but at three syllables it’s not industrial-strength. Plus, if you want to summon just one of them, you have to go back to either “Xander” or “Benjamin,” which means that you now have three names to deal with instead of merely two. The efficient solution we evolved is to give each of them the same nickname: kid. Alexander is “kid.” And so is Benjamin. If we need to refer to one of them, we say, “the kid.” As in, “Tell the kid to take out the trash.”
And if the wrong one shows up, the other one is, by definition, “the other kid.” As in, “Kid, come here. No, the other kid.” Last in the telling, though not the lineup, is Simon. Simon is the middle child. You hear about middle-child syndrome, where the poor middle child is ignored because he’s not needy like the teenagers or cute like the babies. Middle children, the story goes, grow up to be meek and unsure of themselves. Middle children stay in the shadows of their more-outgoing siblings. Simon does not have middle-child syndrome. If there is an opposite of middle-child syndrome, that’s what Simon has. Picture George S. Patton as a teenager. On a battlefield. In a tank. That’s Simon. When told that their older brother would be staying at college over the summer, the other children were sad. Simon’s response was: “Excellent. That means we all move up in rank.” Simon brings our total to six and, since six is divisible by two and three, we have developed a shorthand way of describing subsets of the children. The elder two are “The Majors.” The middle two are “The Minors.” And the kids are “The Minis.” In order, they are girl-boy-boy-girl-boy-boy. That makes it natural to refer to the first three as “Round One” and the second three as “Round Two.” With six kids, one can construct 63 unique subsets.
Given that it would be quicker to identify them individually than to remember all 63 possible combinations, any further subsets aren’t worth more than a “Am I looking at you? I mean you!” The entire set is known as “The Babies,” a cute and cuddly name that, to their unending chagrin, we regularly use even though two are in college and one in graduate school.