Category Archives: Life events

My son’s name (2)

As promised, here is a list of arguments people gave against our not passing on either of our surnames to our son, along with my responses. They either come from friends and acquaintances, or from responses to my Yahoo! Answers question. I hope they will be helpful to people who are thinking of doing something similar.

How will he know he’s part of your family?

(Yes, someone genuinely said this!) If you have to rely on your last name to know who your family is, then your family has done something very wrong indeed. Or you’re adopted… in which case you’ll probably have your adoptive parents’ last name anyway. Or there’s been some other dramatic event severing ties with your family. In which case your last name is the last of your worries.

It’ll make things really hard for future genealogists.

Fine. I like to give them a challenge. Not that I think, given how good record keeping is now, that this will be much of a challenge. But it may at least be sort of interesting for them.

It’s not traditional.

Fine. I don’t see any point in being traditional for the sake of it. Besides, it sort of is traditional in Wales, as it happens. Since there are so few Welsh surnames (and they’re seen by some as something of an English imposition), lots of Welsh kids use given last names. I find it very intriguing that people seem happier with the idea when I tell them this. As if anything is justified by being traditional somewhere.

If you’re worried about him only sharing a name with one of you, then isn’t it worse that he’ll share his name with neither of you?

This sort of misses the point, which is that we don’t want his relationship with one of us to be emphasised more than his relationship with the other. In any case, I rather like the idea that, instead of his simply inheriting one of our names automatically, he’ll get a name that we worked together to choose specially for him

It’ll cause him no end of trouble filling in forms.

No it won’t. He has a first name and a last name, and a birth certificate to prove it. He’ll be in no worse a position than anyone else. In fact, it’ll be easier for him than for me, since I’ve always used my second name instead of my first (my parents’ choice, not mine). And that can get annoying.

He’ll be bullied.

If I genuinely thought this would make him much more likely to be bullied, I wouldn’t have done it. But I’m simply not convinced that it will, particularly given how many kids there already are who have a different name from at least one of their parents.

You’ll have to take his birth certificate along with you on flights and things.

This may be a little annoying, but it’ll be annoying for us than for him. And I don’t think it’s a very big issue.

So what do you gain?

No one actually asked us this, but I think it’s worth answering. What we gain is that we’ve given him what I think is a nice name, which is a little unusual, but which doesn’t sound too weird, and which we thought very carefully about before choosing. My wife doesn’t feel that her family’s been ignored at the expense of mine, and I don’t feel that mine has been at the expense of hers.

And if it turns out he grows up and doesn’t like it for some reason, he’s free to change it if he wants!

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My son’s name

When we married, my wife didn’t take my last name. This didn’t bother me in the slightest; nor does it appear to have bothered anyone else. We did, however, think for quite a while about our children’s names, and when our son was born the question stopped being hypothetical.

We had a number of options. Some people in the same circumstances give the child one of the parents’ two surnames. We didn’t want to do that because neither of us has a particularly interesting surname that we were keen to pass on, and because we didn’t like the idea of emphasising our son’s relationship with one of us, but not the other.

Another option is to combine the parents’ surnames. But we don’t especially like double-barrelled names, and, what’s more, they don’t really solve the problem: You have to make equally difficult decisions about which name comes first, and they get unsustainable after a generation or two. There was also no obvious way of merging our names more creatively to come up with something we liked.

Then we considered the Welsh option of calling our sons X ap Gareth, and our daughters X ferch Lottie (you can read more about this here), or some variation on this. But this still involved emphasising our son’s relationship with one of us, but not the other.

Then it occurred to us that you don’t need to make reference to the parents’ names at all. So we didn’t. When we filled in the birth-certificate form at the hospital, we put Iorwerth in the first-name box and Rowan in the last-name box. Rowan was just a name we happened to like (in fact it was in the running as a first name for quite a while). We’ll choose other last names for our other children.

No one since his birth has criticised our decision. When we suggested it to people before the birth, however, we were quite surprised by the negative reactions. Some people liked the idea very much. Others disliked it a lot. I also posted a question in the relevant section on Yahoo! Answers to see what people there would say. The reaction was very negative. Perversely, however, we were encouraged that we were doing the right thing. This is mainly because no one came up with a negative consequence that we thought believable and which would affect him rather than us. As far as I can see, the main disadvantage to doing this is that we may need to take his birth certificate along on certain occasions in case officials or school teachers refuse to believe we’re his parents. I can live with that.

I’ll list the main counter-arguments (and my responses) in a follow-up post, because I think they’re interesting. But to some extent I’m more interested in why some people seemed to dislike the idea so much. Part of it is probably that people get very uneasy when anyone does anything unconventional with children, however innocuous it may be. Another possibility (perhaps a superset of the other) is that a lot of people are simply much more conservative than I’d realised, and any flouting of normal practice puts them a little on edge. There’s another possibility as well. Some meat-eaters respond to vegetarians almost as if they’re offended by the vegetarians’ not eating meat, and I think this is because they take the vegetarians’ lifestyles as an implicit criticism of their own lifestyles. In the same way, I think some people assume that, by not giving our son either my surname or my wife’s, we were aiming a criticism at people who pass on their last names.

I would like to assure these people that we most certainly were not.

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The Iorwerth Rowan Song

A lot has happened this year. Well, two things. But they were big things. In February I moved to New York and started a new job. Shortly before we left, we discovered that my wife was pregnant. Our son, Iorwerth Rowan, was born on 28 September. Along with my day job (which, at busy times, like the last semester, has also been something of a night job) he’s kept me pretty busy over the last couple of months. This has kept me from my blog, but I shall attempt to remedy this by posting a song I wrote for him:

If you call for help, he won’t save the day,
He’s too young to understand what you’re trying to convey
And his attempts at rescue would go fast astray.
He’s Iorwerth, Iorwerth, Iorwerth Rowan.

He’s only small, but he’s rapidly growin’
And the amount that he eats is already showin’.
He’s so healthy that he’s glowin’.
He’s Iorwerth, Iorwerth, Iorwerth Rowan.

For a baby he’s really quite easy-goin’
He’ll let you take him out if it’s cold and it’s blowin’
And he’ll brave it even if it’s snowin’!

Master of the fart and the unexpected pee
His command of bowel movements is uncanny.
How come they come so suddenly? Don’t ask me!
Ask Iorwerth, Iorwerth, Iorwerth Rowan.

He’s also got no money owin’.
His cognitive development is second to none
And shows no signs of slowin’.
He’s Iorwerth, Iorwerth, Iorwerth Rowan.

No rhymes left now apart from crowin’…
They’d better fade us out before we get to hoein’…
Fade out, you stupid slowan.

It’s to be sung to the tune of the Arnold Rimmer Song (the last verse isn’t in the video, as they faded out in time).

Enjoy the transition to 2012!

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Iori

Last Tuesday afternoon I got a text from my wife to say that she’d been having “some period pain type feelings. Not sure if it’s going to turn into anything more dramatic.”

By Wednesday it had turned into this:

He’s called Iorwerth Rowan (/ˈjɔrwɛrθ/), or Iori for short (/ˈjɔri/). He weighed 9lb 3oz at birth and was about 22 inches long. We shall of course be bringing him up bilingual.

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A sunny morning in Manhattan

I thought I might begin this week with a post of pictures showing the devastation Hurricane Irene wrought on my neighbourhood in Manhattan. But having gone out into a beautiful, cool, still, sunny morning, to see leaves on the pavements and very little else to remark upon, I decided not to bother. Living and working near the highest point of Manhattan helps, I’m sure. There’s been a little leak into my office (which is in a basement), but nothing very serious. There was no damage to our apartment, no power cut, and my wife didn’t suddenly go into labour. So that’s all right.

This Saturday, in fact, we enter the window where my baby could be born without being considered premature, which is enormously exciting and terrifying. This morning we met a paediatrician who seems to suit our requirements admirably.

Now back to work…

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Acupuncture, induction, and why I don’t know how much to squirm

We’ve attended a few birth classes here in New York, and they’ve been very good. The first was just an introduction to the Birthing Center at Roosevelt Hospital, but it included some general advice about low-interventionist birth. The second was a series of classes organised by Birthday Presence, which gave a broad overview of what to expect in giving birth, and how to cope with labour. We’ve been impressed, we’ve enjoyed attending, and we’d strongly recommend these classes. However, one thing has made me squirm a little: the frequent claims (in both classes) that acupuncture is a good, drug-free, way of inducing labour if the baby’s taking its time. These claims comes from both the teachers and the students. Apparently, acupunctural stimulation (actually moxibustion) of the little toes can also work wonders for turning a breech baby round.

This makes me squirm because there’s no scientific evidence for either of these claims. There’s also no good reason to think it would work.

And consider this: any expectant mother trying acupuncture as a means of inducing labour is likely to be pretty late in her pregnancy in any case, which means that she’s bound to go into labour pretty soon after any technique she tries. And she’s likely to be trying other techniques, some of which have some evidence behind them. In other words, most pregnant women will go into labour not very long after having acupuncture treatment to induce labour, which is a nice example of why correlation shouldn’t be taken to imply causation. Similarly, most babies turn around of their own accord eventually in any case (only about 3% to 4% of babies are breech at birth), and if they do so shortly after acupuncture treatment, then the parents are likely to associate the two things.

But I should be honest. I said there’s no evidence that it works, or reason to think that it should. What I really mean is that there’s no evidence that applying acupuncture needles (or warm mugwort) to particular special points of the body should do anything that other similarly dramatic rituals wouldn’t do. The point is that acupuncture is a relatively dramatic intervention, and there is good scientific evidence that dramatic interventions are associated with proportionally strong placebo effects. In fact, the placebo effect is really fascinating and much more powerful than people imagine. It would not be in the least surprising if labour could be induced by placebo (placebo does not mean that the effect is imaginary or “all in the head”). So while all the qi stuff and talk of special acupuncture points may be nonsense, acupuncture might in fact play a role in inducing labour. We might add that the ritual of acupuncture is also likely to be relatively calming, and to have something in common with grooming, which encourages the release of oxytocin, which helps induce labour (this is why having sex is supposed to help).

So maybe I shouldn’t squirm quite as much as I do.

You can read more about the evidence base of acupuncture here, by the way.

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Experiences of Unitarianism?

One of the difficulties of moving to a new place is meeting people. This difficulty is heightened in a large city like New York, and heightened even more if (like my wife) you’re not working. We’re also expecting a baby at the end of September, and we’re well aware that having a baby can lead you to feel yet more isolated.

With this in mind, my wife in particular has been making various efforts recently to meet new people. And one thing she’s suggested is joining a Unitarian Church. She’s pointed out many times before (and I’m inclined to agree) that religious groups offer something that is not inherently religious, but which is hard to find elsewhere: a community of people of all ages and backgrounds, who meet once a week and do things together that encourage cohesion and bonding (choral singing, reciting, rituals etc.). Humanist groups should be able to offer this, but I have to admit that I haven’t found that they do as good a job as one might hope. They tend towards being discussion groups, which doesn’t quite achieve the same goals. This is partly because many Humanists understandably get really put off by anything that looks a bit too religious (I’ve mentioned this before). The problem is that many of these things that aren’t religious but look it really work for a lot of people (including my wife) who don’t want to get them bundled up with things she doesn’t see any reason to believe in. Now, I do hold out hope that Humanism can genuinely offer people the good things of religion with the superstitions and the deities and the fairytales taken out, and that it will one day do this properly. But it would be nice to have an alternative in the short term.

Which is why my wife’s been looking into Unitarian-Universalist churches. A friend of ours has had a good experience with them elsewhere, and I’m also keen to find out what they can offer. As I understand it, modern Unitarian Universalism is more or less Christianity with the God taken out (somewhat like Anglicanism, but more so). It sounds rather like Humanism with more ritual, though also with more readiness to consider that there might be deities and other supernatural entities and so on. My main concern is that this readiness may not translate so much into the good kind of open-mindedness, as into an ill-defined “spirituality” that is annoying and anti-rational. But that may well be pessimistic on my part. I’m sure there will be people like that (I’ve met people like that in Humanist groups, after all), but I think it’s reasonable to hope this won’t be the overwhelming tone.

But what have other people found? I’d love to hear your experiences of Unitarian Universalism, of Humanism (does your group do things others don’t?), or of other communities that offer something similar to what I’m talking about.

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