The Matriarchal Woman Grimaces

I guess you would call me a feminist. I mean, I’m sure there are people who easily out-feminist me, at least in their own minds. I don’t buy into the man-disparaging model of feminism, or the battle cry to all women to shuck off the trappings of wifedom and motherhood and take over the world. I prefer to believe that a woman should have the right to be whatever it is that she wants to be, whether that’s a CEO or a stay-at-home mom, a sergeant or an unshaven Santa Fe artist, a perpetual singleton or a wife and mother of a dozen kids.

My particular flavor of feminism is matriarchal in nature. I come from a female-dominated family, my father outnumbered 3:1. The only grandparent I knew, growing up, was my mom’s mom. I’ve always felt a deeper connection to my mom’s family line, not only because I knew the relatives on that side of the family better but because genetically I seem to “be from that end of the gene pool” (as opposed to my sister, who looks and seems more related to our paternal relatives). Then some of the stories (books, movies, etc.) that have contributed to my personal mythology underlined the natural matrilineal sense of family and self that I’d developed.

Thinking back to my educational years — as far back as first grade, and through college — I’ve always had more male friends than female, and gotten along better with guys. I grew up thinking I was quite boy-like, and perhaps I was; I liked playing with blocks more than dolls, preferred playing Cowboys and Indians or Army Guys to tea parties, and always wanted the next biggest electronics set (like a chemistry set, only with transistors) for Christmas.


I know now that I’m not a “masculine” woman, that there is more to one’s gender identity than what sort of toys one likes to play with. (Silly example: I totally shop like a woman, while my sister is the manliest shopper — go to specific store in pursuit of specific item and get out as quickly as possible — I know.) I’m just me, with my own quirks and things that stimulate my imagination.

And I’m married to a guy who, like me, doesn’t camp out on the far end of the gender stereotype spectrum. He likes sports and action movies and muscle cars. He also knows what an empire-waist dress is, watches cooking and fashion reality shows (even when I’m not watching), and prefers pink cocktails. The game “Battle of the Sexes” is not intended for us — we both know way too much about the opposite category. We are well matched.

The point of all this? Why is the matriarchal woman grimacing? Why is she telling Facebook that she’s having a feminist outrage moment and then getting even more irritated when a male friend jokingly says that it’s just because of my pregnancy hormones and that he’ll offer my husband safe harbor until I stop being crazy?

(Well, maybe anyone would be irritated about that.)

It’s this whole “we’re having a boy” thing. And NOT, let me be clear, that Batman Kermie Lazerbeak is going to be a boy. Nope; I’m talking about the reactions we’re getting from people.

Don’t get me wrong. Everyone is being perfectly nice. Standard niceties and genuine sentiments of happiness for us and our bundle of joy. And I am not offended by or at anyone.

But I’m getting a little bristly about the unending refrain of two related comments:

“Ryan must be so proud/happy to be having a son!”

I find myself bothered by the idea that Ryan would be especially pleased to be expecting a son, that he would prefer a son to a daughter. I know for a fact that Ryan would have been delighted regardless of what that ultrasound revealed between Kermie’s legs. Is that a peculiarity of my wonderful husband whose sense of self-worth isn’t tied up in his machismo? Maybe. Maybe the vast majority of men do prefer sons to daughters. I don’t really believe it, though, at least not looking at the men in my peer group. And it bothers my little feminist heart (and, I daresay,¬†his little feminist heart) that so many people automatically jump to that conclusion.

“It’s so wonderful that the Baker family will carry on!”

And it’s my matriarchal heart that revolts against this one. Uhm, I’m sorry, but the Hoffman family (or the Brokaws, the Stringers, the Grahams — any of those families whose names I don’t have but whose blood I always will) didn’t die out just because I don’t have a penis. Something about saying that the Baker family will carry on makes it sound like it’s some sort of competition that Ryan won and I lost — and I categorically reject that. Kermie is going to be a Hoffman/Brokaw/Stringer/Graham/etc. every bit as much as he is going to be a Baker (Thompson/Peck/Quade/etc.). Not only that, but I reject the idea that name = family. Juliet Capulet knew that a name was just a name, and a rose by any other name smells as sweet.

whats_in_a_name

And of course, I know perfectly well that no one said either of those things with the intent of making the statements that I’ve taken from them. It just seems to me that it shines a spotlight on a varnish of unconscious chauvinism in the whole baby/pregnancy culture that I hadn’t previously realized existed. I’ve been teaching literary criticism to my upperclassmen, and I’ve told them that when you engage in lit crit you’re becoming an author of an entirely new reading of the text that may not be what the original author intended at all.

And I know I’m engaging (indulging) in a feminist literary criticism interpretation that may border on a hysteria. I reserve that right.

After all, crazy pregnancy hormones and whatnot. ūüėČ

Pink or Blue (and What to Do)

boy or girlAssuming the little one isn’t too modest or squirmy, we may know whether to expect a boy or a girl as soon as next Thursday evening. I am simultaneously eager and nervous to find out; I suppose that makes it a perfect opportunity to correctly use the word “anxious.”

Ryan has his suspicions, but I haven’t ever felt any strong sense of gender. Some days I think in terms of masculine pronouns, and some days they’re feminine. Lately I’ve been visualizing a male baby only because I’ve been trying so hard to come up with boy names that I love — which is funny, because I feel as though I may have fallen¬†out of love with my girl names, so I’m basically just a big mental mess in that regard. I’m not worried. It’ll all figure itself out. I have a hard time knowing what it would be like to raise a boy; I was never really around little boys growing up. As a result, when I think about the next few years, I tend to think in terms of a little girl, simply because my imagination knows how to fill in those blanks. I know I will be happy either way, especially if I eventually have at least one of each.

I know that there are ways that we could find out the gender earlier. There are blood tests your doctor can give you, urine tests you can buy, and independent ultrasound clinics you can patronize. But we haven’t really felt the urge to hurry it all¬†that much. Now, if Shenanigan keeps his/her little legs crossed and refuses to let us know, we might consider an alternative option — we’d really like to know ahead of time! But for now, anyway, the appointed time is fine.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I haven’t asked Dr. Google. And, as might be predicted, it was very helpful.¬†According to Baby2See’s baby gender predictor, it’s a boy.¬†According to BabyMed’s Gender Prediction Quiz, it is a girl.¬†The AskManisha predictor says the baby will be a boy.¬†According to THIS¬†Chinese Gender Chart, it will be a¬†girl…¬†but according to this¬†Chinese Baby Gender Prediction, it will be a¬†boy.¬†BabyZone’s Gender Predictor thinks it’s a girl, too, but I express skepticism that the only contributing factors are my birthdate and the month of conception.¬†The Mayan gender prediction method says it’s a boy, because the year of conception and my age are not both odd or even. If they were both odd, or both even, it would be a girl.¬†The one at Childbirth.org¬†concludes that it is a girl, but then confuses the matter with the following explanation:

You are carrying the extra weight out front, so it’s a boy.
The hair on your legs is not growing any faster during your preganacy, so it’s a girl.
Boys are carried low. You are going to have a boy.
Sleeping in a bed with your pillow to the south indicates that you will be having a girl.
Your feet are not colder than they were before pregnancy. You are having a girl.
You refuse to eat the heel of a loaf of bread. You are having a girl.
Dad-to-be is gaining weight right along with Mom-to-be, which means that you’ll have a boy.
The maternal grandmother doesn’t have gray hair (dyed or natural), so a girl will be born.
You had morning sickness early in pregnancy, so you are expecting a girl.
You are looking particularly good during pregnancy. Therefore, it must be a boy, because girls steal their mother’s looks.
Your chest development has not been very dramatic during pregnancy. You should expect a boy.
Since the sum of the mother’s age at conception and the number of the month of conception is an odd number, it will be a girl.
You have a craving for salty or sour foods, which means that it is a boy.
Your nose hasn’t changed during pregnancy, which indicates a girl.
You have been craving meats or cheeses, so it is a boy.
Your baby’s heart rate is 140 or more beats per minute, so it’s a girl.

Having taken these tests and seen what their results were based on, I felt pretty confident in my own ability to create a gender prediction computer model. So I invite you — even if you’re not currently pregnant, BECAUSE IT IS THAT GOOD — to take my own Highly Accurate Scientific Gender Prediction Tool.

hasgpt

So? What do you think?

Silliness aside, I am feeling a little bit uncertain as to what to do after we find out. I think Ryan is in shout-it-from-the-rooftops mode. I know my students are anxious to know (they’ve been bugging me about gender ever since they found out we were expecting). And I certainly plan to make the gender known to the world before the baby arrives, although I am leaning toward keeping final name choices to ourselves.

gender-reveal cake: a cute ideaBut… do I want to do it right away? Do I want to go straight to Facebook and announce pink or blue? Do I want to have, as one of my very charming students suggested, a Pinterest-worthy gender reveal party? Stage a cute (or disgustingly cutesy) photo reveal? Bake blue or pink cupcakes and share them during our department prep period?

Do I immediately want to share the news?

I don’t know.

(In all actuality, the ultrasound is on my birthday and I don’t really plan to go straight home and plan elaborate gender reveal mechanisms, so it’s either going to be a simple “It’s a _____!” or it’s going to have to wait for a couple of days. Oh, and I’m not really at all sure that “Pinterest-worthy” is in my repertoire.)

Part of me wants to relish the secret for a little while, give us time to absorb this new bit of information and whatnot. Part of me knows I’m going to be ridiculously excited and eager to share.

Part of me wants to take me by the shoulders and say, “You are being ridiculous. Why are you thinking about all of this so much?” But it’s not like I’m stressed out about it. I am, despite all of the hemming and hawing I post here, enjoying myself immensely….

And I will almost certainly be blurting out the ultrasound results very shortly afterward. It’s just that, a week out… I’m not sure.

Hashtag

I love The Bloggess for her over-the-top irreverence and the wonderfully crazy things she has to say, especially in conversation with her husband, Victor. The other day, she posted an amusing exchange she and Victor had about a newborn baby who had become Internet Famous due to the unfortunate circumstance of being named Hashtag.

hashtag facebook post

A hashtag, for those who might not know, is something generally used in Twitter to categorize posts based on keywords. It’s a word (or several words with the spaces removed) prefaced by the # symbol. So, if I were a Twitter user and wrote a post about Black Friday, I might write #blackfriday at the end of the post; then, anyone who wanted to read only posts about Black Friday could search for that hashtag and my post would be included.

I share with many other people a certain amount of skepticism that this baby is actually named after a Twitter metadata sorting mechanism. Isn’t it possible that “Hashtag” was the joke name,¬†a la Kermie or Shenanigan, that the parents were using prior to choosing or sharing the real name? I can certainly see myself uploading a picture with the caption “Welcome, Kermie Batman!” — either for a giggle, or because at the last minute we decided we were uncertain about the name we thought we were going to choose. And I have to admit, despite knowing all-too-well that people name their children AWFUL things, that part of me refuses to believe that anyone would saddle a kiddo with this moniker.

I went to high school with two girls who were named after car brands and a handful of kids whose parents had clearly never given up the ghost of their hippie days. I’ve taught students with some pretty unique names. But little Hashtag, if that’s really her name, joins a new pantheon of babies who are named after 21st century technology. Laura Wattenberg, the Baby Name Wizard, responded to the Hashtag story by pointing out recent babies named (or allegedly named) Yahoo, Facebook, Google, and Like (as in the Like button on Facebook). She also reminded us of an article she wrote in 2010 about babies being named after video game characters. (I’m pretty sure I have read about a child named Nintendo as well, but I can’t find the reference right now.)

In some parts of the world, parents must operate within rigorous legal parameters when choosing the names for their progeny; Dylan Matthews of Wonkblog recently wrote about countries like Denmark and Sweden with exceptionally strict naming regulations, including the prohibition against gender-neutral or -ambiguous names. In America, land of the free, there are relatively few restrictions on what we name our children. We aren’t allowed to use numbers or most non-letter symbols, and some states have pushed for a certain level of censorship, but otherwise we have free rein. Consequently: bizarro spellings (and misspellings), portmanteaus, inappropriate homages, and names we hope are urban myths like La-a (pronounced Ladasha) and Shithead (pronounced Shuh-thay-duh). In other words, Ryan and I are free to name our child Shenanigan — or Kermie, or Batman, or He Who Shall Not Be Named — but we can’t name her 820. Alas.

And after all, as Katy Waldman recently wrote for Slate, what’s wrong with some names over others? Why are some noun-names (Rose, April, Hunter) okay and others are not?

Why is it that you can call your daughter Wren but not Seagull? Why can my Southern colleague marry a guy named Tripper without thinking twice, but George Costanza draws fire for wanting to dub his firstborn Seven? It all seems so arbitrary.

When push comes to shove, I guess it really does come down to parental choice. But that doesn’t mean I don’t feel awfully sorry for the Hashtags and Seagulls of the world. Middle school’s gonna be rough.

A Rhino By Any Other Name

Juliet, while trying to problem-solve the fact that she has fallen madly in love (within the space of five minutes) with her family’s mortal enemy, declares that “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

A few hundred years later, another heroine begs to differ.

Anne looked thoughtful. “I read in a book once that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but I’ve never been able to believe it. I don’t believe a rose would be as nice if it was called a thistle or a skunk cabbage” (Chapter 4).

As previously mentioned, I’m a wee bit obsessive about names and am simultaneously delighting over this excuse to obsess and panicking over the responsibility of finally nailing it down to that One Right Name. After all, I wouldn’t want to inadvertently pick a skunk cabbage for my progeny!

I was jotting down a list of actual possibilities (taking out the names I’ve always liked but wouldn’t actually pin on a child, at least not with my last name) and realized that while I could name a Duggar household full of girls that I had very few boy names that actually made the cut. And so, I pulled out The Very Best Baby Name Book in the Whole Wide World and a helpfully condensed volume, Bring Back Beatrice, and began reading. After a while, I handed BBB to Ryan and asked if anything jumped out at him.

Here’s BBB‘s schtick: It’s a compilation of good, solid names that the author felt deserved another look (like Beatrice) because they’d fallen out of popularity. No trendy Frankennames. And then, to spice things up, every so often there’s a little sidebar of off-the-wall names in a given theme — for example, So You’d Like to Name Your Child After an Egyptian God. Or So You Want Your Child to Sound Russian. As anticipated, Ryan gravitated (with a goofy gleam in his eye) to the most oddball options, suggesting all kinds of wonderful ideas.

“How about Salvador?” he asked.

Now, while it might not be immediately obvious to anyone outside of our immediate family, “Salvador” is basically the best name ever, because of one of the best movies ever, Midnight in Paris:

“I love it!” I replied. “Salvador Rhinoceros Baker! We have a winner!”

And then, because it seemed like an excellent idea at the time, I decided to share our comedic genius with Facebook.

If you’re a parent or a soon-to-be parent, you may have heard or read the advice that you should never share your baby name possibilities with anyone else. It turns out that is VERY TRUE. Not only did our friends think we were serious about naming a child Salvador Rhinoceros, they hated the idea and didn’t mind telling us so in very clear terms!

Salvador Rhinoceros

So… that was kind of funny. I couldn’t believe anyone would think we were serious. Worse, I couldn’t believe that anyone thought we were serious and, believing that, felt comfortable being so critical! Maybe it’s the Southern in me, but if I thought a parent seriously loved a name, I’d pretend to like it too, to their face. (Which I suppose is a dumb thing to worry about, since I was the dummy who asked for opinions.) Anyway, it didn’t matter, because we didn’t like the name in the first place. We had a good laugh, and moved on.

And then Ryan found the Egyptian names. Suddenly, we were entertaining the possibility of a Khufu Baker. Khufu was a pharaoh, but the name makes me think of the mummy in a crazy board game called Atmosfear. I nixed the idea, and then Ryan moved on to — wait for it — Ozymandias.

What a name, right? History! Poetry! Power! Philosophy! Superhero (er… villain?) reference! Fantastic nickname options! Not going to require a last initial in grade school! What’s not to love?

Apparently… a lot.

Ozymandias

The funny thing is… when I first posted this, it was a joke. But the more people hated on the name, the more I was like — hey, wait. I actually kind of liked that. It had a certain sort of potential. I mean, not serious potential; if I’m going to cross Elwood off my list, I sure don’t have the guts to saddle a little boy with Ozymandias. But I might have. Oz is an awesome name. Ozzy is an awesome little kid name, Osbournes be damned (ha ha). And heck, it’s not as if Ryan and I are likely to have a Joe Average child who has to worry about the popularity rating of his name lest he run the risk of not making Homecoming Court.

My amusement at the horror inspired by Sally Rhino developed into a slightly sour taste in my mouth after all of the Ozymandias comments, so I guess I’ve learned the lesson I thought I already knew: DO NOT ASK PEOPLE WHAT THEY THINK ABOUT NAMES. They can all just wait until the birth certificate is signed. So there. ūüėõ

Postscript: I went back and re-read the comment threads, and actually — people weren’t actually that negative about Ozymandias, were they? I think I must have still been a little touchy over Salvador and I let it bleed over into Ozzy! Oh well. It’s still kind of funny.

Cats and Babies

Ever just need an animated gif of a cat and a baby? Well, I do this afternoon, and so I bring you the following:

Murder or Snuggle?

The guilty “uhhhh, nothing!” as the claws retract cracks me up… although I suppose I wouldn’t be laughing if it had decided to attack! In fairness, my cat does the outstretched paw thing, just like this cat, as an affectionate “petting” sort of gesture. I don’t think this cat is actually the least big aggressive.

Then and Now

I was not the little girl who planned out all of the details of her wedding before she turned 12.

I planned everything else, though. One of my favorite pastimes was to go through catalogs and magazines, clipping things (furniture, jewelry, muscle cars, horses) that I wanted to have in my adult life, and pasting them into spiral notebooks. I’d devote pages, not only to nurseries and baby toys, but to carefully curated photographs of infant models that looked like they could, hypothetically, be the product of my loins. The only thing I conspicuously left out was a man.

The Best Baby Name Book in the whole wide world by Bruce LanskyFrom a very early age, I was obsessed with names. My sister was born when I was five and a half, and I clearly remember gradually taking possession of my parents’ dogeared blue baby name book until it took up full-time residency in my room. Man, I love that book. I think I still have the original copy, now probably held together by no more than sheer willpower, but I also have at least a few copies of the updated version that I’ve picked up at library sales. One of them is in my classroom library, where I used it with my creative writing class and, more recently, with my freshmen when they wanted to know whether their own names would smell as sweet after they found out what they meant. The 2004 edition has 30,001 names to the 1984 edition’s 13,001, but I personally prefer the original; most of those 17,000 new names are “American inventions” — names like Shaquanda and Deshawn that don’t have meanings (my favorite part) and aren’t really applicable to me.

Anyway, as a child obsessed with names, I naturally christened my baby dolls (and the hypothetical children in my notebooks) with great care. My girl babies were Olivia, Julie, and Jill (there may have been an Opal in there at some point as well) and my boy babies were James, Alexander, Piers, and Philip. I am not ashamed to admit that that last name was a favorite simply because it meant, according to my blue book, “lover of horses.”

Looking back through those notebooks, it’s clear that taste changes as you grow up. I had invented a lifestyle straight out of the opulent late 1980s/early 1990s, replete in ornate furniture, gaudy animal-themed jewelry, and impossible housepets (think “safari”). Everything was dark wood, tapestry, gold, jewel-toned, big, ruffled, brassy. I must have been picking the most expensive, over-the-top items I could find out of that J.C. Penny’s Christmas catalog. This was not the future lifestyle of a high school teacher, but then again, I had no intention of being a teacher at that point in my life. I was going to be President, perhaps, or a best-selling author, or a world-famous paleontologist/stormchaser. Or Queen; perhaps the reason no man ever made an appearance in my notebooks was that I was saving myself for Prince William, who would eventually marry an entirely different Katherine Elizabeth. The bastard. (I do know that a significant part of my early aesthetic was influenced by the 1981 royal wedding; Grammy had a commemorative picture book that played a big role in my young imagination.)

My taste in names has evolved as well.¬†Julie, Opal, and Philip¬†no longer hold any appeal to me as baby names, and¬†the connotations I once associated with Olivia and Jill have been overwritten by real-life acquaintances. I still like James (and Jim) but have come to the conclusion that I’d really prefer not to use any family names. Piers — a name I liked because I liked the author Piers Anthony — has picked up too much pretention and foreign-ness, a la Piers Morgan, for my taste. And while Alexander is a perpetual favorite, the “er” ending goes poorly with our last name, and I’ve just known too many Alexes at this point to really want to use it for a child.

Today, my “possible baby name” list shows that I tend to prefer traditional names, often with a literary connection. I veer more traditional for boys than I do for girls. There are many more girl names that I like than there are boy names, and I’ve discovered that while I have some strong prejudices in the masculine moniker department (I don’t like one-syllable names with hard consonant endings, and I don’t like names that sound too “cute” for a grown man) there’s no real pattern to what I like or don’t like for girls. For girls in particular, I like names that have a dignified long form and a cute short form (preferably ending in an -y sound); I’m a big fan of shortening and playing with names, so it’s important to me that a name be not only truncate-able but that the short form is pleasant to me as well. (This has caused problems with a former favorite, Sydney, because I really don’t like Syd/Sid.) With boys, that’s still important but not quite as much so — and no, I can’t tell you why. While none of my favorite names are really what you’d call exotic (unless you count Anjuli, which I’ve always loved but wouldn’t seriously use, at least not as a first name), the girl names are¬†more so; I think a (vaguely chauvinistic?) part of me feels like men need nice, solid, conservative names while women’s can be more adventuresome.

Now, when I think about names, it’s less important to me whether they mean “lover of horses” and more important that it’s a name that will serve them well throughout their lives. I think about what that name will say about my adult child, how it will look on a business card, but I also think about what it will sound like shouted in mocking tones in the seventh grade hallway. I love traditional Irish names with their enigmatic spelling, but think twice about how many times a child would have to explain the spelling and pronunciation of Siobh√°n or Diarmuid.

Most of all, though, because parenthood is nothing if not a collision of selflessness and vanity, it has to be a name I like. ūüôā

So what about you? Have your favorite names changed since you were younger? What do or did you consider when naming progeny? Were you as geeky/obsessed as I am (and if so, is The Baby Name Wizard your favorite website, too)? What do you like or dislike in a name?

(BTW — if you’ve had problems posting comments on this site, try not typing in an email address. I’m troubleshooting the problem and think that might be a band-aid.)

My Favorite Foreign Language

This poem, David Kirby’s “My Favorite Foreign Language,” made me smile. An excerpt:

¬†“What’s your favorite foreign language?” asks the cabbie,
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†and when I ask why, he says he knows “butterfly”
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† in 241 of them, so I say, “Okay, French!” and he says,

Papillon!” and I say, “German!” and he says, “Schmetterling!
¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†and I’m running out of languages I know…