Monthly Archives: July 2011

What’s In A Name?

It’s my favourite time of year! 

Every year about this time, the NZ Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages publishes a list of baby names that parents have proposed naming their children but which the Registry considers too weird. 

It all started a few years ago when it was learned that some loving parents had named their child “Talula Does The Hula in Hawaii.”  Apparently the poor girl was so traumatised that at age nine she applied (successfully) to the courts to have it legally changed.

The official line is that such names are deemed “too creative,” but you really have to wonder if something other than creativity is driving some of these parents’ decisions.

You’re probably wondering what sorts of names get rejected.  Well, this year Lucifer got rejected not once, but three times.  There was no mention of Satan or Beelzebub.  But Messiah was also given the thumbs down.  Nice try.

Punctuation marks are also out.  Someone wanted to name their kid *.  I don’t know if they planned to call him “Star” or “Asterisk” or what his nickname would have been in that case, but they wanted the symbol.  If I were those parents, my second choice would have been The Child Formerly Known As *.

Speaking of which, you can’t name your kid with a title.  So Prince is out along with King, Knight and Bishop.  But there was no mention of Pawn.  Usually names made of single letters are rejected, such as C, D, I and T.  But Q and J were deemed OK.

Some of the all-time favourites on the list of rejected names include Fish and Chips, proposed for twin boys, Sex Fruit and Stallion.

I decided to do some research to find out why people give their kids bizarre names.  My first thought was that people might be trying to emulate celebrities and not getting it quite right.  As bad as Harper Seven, Sage Moonblood or Moon Unit might sound, they are a lot better than Sex Fruit.

Unfortunately, the evidence points to an even more disturbing reason.  Apparently the main reason for giving kids unusual names is that parents think that run of the mill names like Mary and John are boring and insufficiently representative of the special uniqueness of the fruit of their loins.  The truly scary corollary to that line of thinking is that people think that a unique name makes the person unique.  One extravagantly named teenage was quoted as saying “If my name was Jane, I’d be plain like everyone else.”

Instead, she is unique just like everyone else. 

There are even web sites where prospective parents can search for “Unique Baby Names.”  I checked a few out.  They don’t say whether they guarantee that your child will be unique if you give them one of those names, but a quick look at the list makes one wonder whether a kid with one of those names would be in for some unique treatment on the playground.  For example, the offerings for boys include Ham, Innocent, Serius and Yorick.  Girls are equally at risk:  Flick, Lettice, Ralphina and Yaffa.

 In Status Anxiety, Alain de Botton says, “according to one influential wing of modern secular society, there are few more disreputable fates than to end up being ‘like everyone else’; for ‘everyone else’ is a category that comprises the mediocre and the conformist, the boring and the suburban.  The goal of all right thinking people should be to mark themselves off from the crowd and ‘stand out’ in whatever way their talents allow.”

It’s a scary thought if uniqueness is measured by the ability of one’s parents to pick a funny name from a web site.  We might as well all run out and get tattoos to differentiate ourselves.


I Learn Something New

As you know, I have not always been charitable to Gen Y, viewing them as self-centred and overly focused on technology toys and generally uninterested in the wider world.  But lately I’ve had to reassess that view.

In order to meet our tree planting goals at the farm we have found it necessary to get additional help.  Our goal this year is to plant 21,000 trees and on a good day I can do about 100 and then require a week off to recover.  So reinforcements are needed, and we’ve gotten a lot of wonderful volunteer help.

One of the sources of volunteers is an organization known as Conservation Volunteers.  For a fee, they send out a group of volunteers, usually around 8 people and a professional leader and they spend a week planting and doing any other work that needs to be done.

The first time we used the Conservation Volunteers, my wife had made all the arrangements and I didn’t know anything about the program.  When a van full of young people wearing high visibility vests pulled up I assumed that they were a bunch of proto-felons doing community service.

Wrong!  They are young people, usually aged 18-25 from all over the world who are spending their vacations doing conservation work.  Instead of booking a Contiki tour or a week on a beach somewhere, they pay Conservation Volunteers for the opportunity to work.  They can sign up for as many weeks as they want and most of the people we’ve dealt with have come to work for three weeks or more.  They show up at the Conservation Volunteers headquarters in Auckland and are randomly assigned to clients anywhere in New Zealand.  They could work for a local government, at a national or regional park, or at a private project like ours.  

As far as I know, there was no such thing as Conservation Volunteers when I was that age.  And I am fairly certain that if there had been I wouldn’t have been a volunteer.

But these young adults are willing to come to a strange country, work outside all day long in all conditions from hot summer to wet winter weather, eat their lunch in the field and come back to whatever accommodation the site may provide.  We at least give them a reasonably comfortable cottage but in some places they stay in Department of Conservation huts which, if they were used to house prisoners or refugees would get someone slapped with a human rights violation.

We’ve now had four different groups of volunteers out for four weeks and I’ve gotten a chance to find out a little bit about their motivations.  They’ve come from Korea, the US, England, Ireland, France, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Switzerland and Austria and the common denominator is that they all want to do something positive for the world and be part of something bigger than themselves.  Some of them don’t even take time before or after to do touristy things–their entire visit here is spent working.  

The amazing thing is what happens at the end of each week.  They have spent the week outside of their comfort zones doing demanding physical work under difficult conditions and the result is that they feel newly empowered and keep thanking us for giving them the opportunity.

I don’t know how representative of their generation these young adults are, but it’s a breath of fresh air to meet people who are altruistic, energetic and see the world as a bigger place than Facebook.  You can see all of the contributions the different groups of Conservation Volunteers have made by checking out the What’s New section of the CUE Haven web site.  

They’re At It Again!

You remember our friends over at Beautiful People? They are the dating site that only accepts beautiful people. Acceptance of prospective members is contingent on them being voted sufficiently beautiful by the existing membership.

They made news a while ago when they whacked about 5,000 members who had posted updated pictures of themselves. Based on those pictures, the arbiters of beauty decided that the members in question had put on too much weight to justify continued status as beautiful people. The founder of the site famously pointed out, “letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model.”

A few months later, the site made news when they decided to diversify and set up a sperm and egg bank which would be a repository of beautiful DNA. They had a moral dilemma when the question of whether non-members (i.e., ugly people) would be able to access the repository. In a move which was undeniably a big step forward for the human race, the same guy this time famously said, “Initially, we hesitated to widen the offering to non-beautiful people. But everyone — including ugly people — would like to bring good-looking children into the world, and we can’t be selfish with our attractive gene pool.”

Well in spite of them clearly being altruistic, they have run into a small problem. Somebody hacked into their system and disabled the module that makes the yes/no decision after the members have voted on a potential new member. As a result, 30,000 people were erroneously accepted into the Beautiful People fold!

Talk about a cruel hoax. Imagine being accepted into the rarefied world of Beautiful People one day and the next day being turfed out. Because of a computer glitch!

The problem was discovered in two ways. First, someone in management noticed that the acceptance rate was running at an unheard of 100%. Second, and more heart-warmingly, there was a raft of complaints from the existing members who, upon seeing the pictures of their new colleagues, complained about eroding standards.

All 30,000 people have been summarily removed from the rolls. Not only has their membership fee been cheerfully refunded, they have also been offered free counselling to help them deal with the emotional trauma. According to the article I read, 400 people have taken advantage of that offer.

The people who were delisted have also been given the option of re-applying to see if they are, in fact, beautiful after all.

No one knows exactly what caused the problem. The Beautiful People management claim it was a computer virus, and are calling it, no surprise here, the Shrek Virus. But computer experts say there is no known computer virus that would be so selective. They suspect either a disgruntled person who had previously been rejected or more likely a disgruntled employee, hard as it is to believe that the people running Beautiful People could have rubbed someone the wrong way. After all, the founder claimed to be “very sorry” and sympathized with the losers “who believed, albeit for a short time, that they were beautiful.”

As scary as that statement is, what is scarier is that 400 people needed counselling because they believed it.