Sunday, November 16, 2014

How Baby Names Are Getting Longer

In my latest Nameberry post, I look at how U.S. baby names have grown over the past century — especially in terms of syllables. Names like Mary, Ruth and Grace have given way to Sophia, Olivia and Isabella.

The numbers don't really account for nicknames, of course. (My name is officially three syllables, though I only use one of them.) But it does speak to America's changing tastes. Names that were once considered perfectly acceptable birth-certificate material now feel clipped (or as one commenter eloquently put it, "unfinished").

Sophie is a good example. Most Americans would see that as the nickname version of Sophia. But a century ago, Sophie was more common than Sophia as a given name.

Some of this is due to the growth of America's Spanish-speaking population. It's natural that they would prefer Spanish name suffixes ("-a," "-ia") over English and French ones ("-e," "-ie," "-y"). But I think the preference for, say, Isabella over Isabel transcends ethnicity. Same for Olivia over Olive.

It goes back to this idea of names feeling unfinished — something that hits home for us. Is Lucy an unfinished name? Some people might think so. Should it be Lucia or Lucille or Lucillia (yes, Lucillia is real).

As I noted before, the British take the opposite tack, preferring nickname-y options (Harry, Jack, Alfie) over more formal-sounding versions.

I'm not sure which approach is better, but Americans should probably realize that their thirst for longer names is based on modern tastes — not some historic authenticity.

Monday, November 10, 2014

A Return to Socrates Sculpture Park

The great thing about Socrates Sculpture Park, the outdoor museum in Queens, is there's always something new to see.

"Balance" by Kimberly Mayhorn

It's been a while since we were there last — I previously blogged about it in November 2012 — so I figured I'd take the kids for another visit (it was the first trip for Lucy, who's never explored this part of Queens).

"What's Progression" by Fitzhugh Karol

Here's a sampling of what we saw.

"Homeland" by Edward Schexnayder

"SkyWatch Spider" by Zaq Landsberg

"Portal" by Amanda Long

"Moon Lasso" by Dane R. Winkler

"Far From This Setting in Which I Now Find Myself" by Meredith James

"06.Sixt_een. O four" by David Wilson

"Solos" by Jordan Griska

"Corner" by Eto Otitigbe

Saturday, November 08, 2014

I'm Not Even Living Large by 1950s Standards

I came across this infographic on Twitter (hat tip: Burrito Justice). It shows how American families have been shrinking in size despite living in increasingly large houses.

Courtesy of via

According to this, the average home is approaching 2,500 square feet. For someone like me, who has spent most of his adult life in San Francisco and New York, that's hard to fathom.

Even when we lived a more suburban existence in Berkeley, our house was less than half that size.

Our family, meanwhile, is about twice the size of the current average. While our apartment feels spacious by New York standards, it's under 1,000 square feet. That means each person has less than 200 square feet apiece — significantly worse than a 1950s family.

In 2011, before I knew we were moving to New York or having a third child, I complained about how our space per person had gradually declined. ("It seems unlikely I will ever have room for a proper man cave," I groused.) I had no idea how bad it would get!

But I hereby vow to keep this family above 100 square feet per person, which I believe is the level at which your home becomes a Chinatown bunkhouse.

And at least we still have it better than the "Too Many Cooks" family.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Shittens, You Have Found Your Target Market

There's a new brand of mitten-shaped moist towelettes called Shittens, and it's available on Amazon. I can't really tell if this is a gag product or not (the fact that it was launched on the Howard Stern show gives me pause), but I want it.

With three kids, I struggle to clean bottoms without using a ton of wipes — and even then, I can't always contain the poop. Shittens would really boost my confidence.

However, based on the Amazon reviews, people don't appear to be taking Shittens seriously.

"Gave me my life back...every day of my life has been an unending struggle with the anguish brought on me by horrendous shitwrist! But now I have the strength to face the day thanks to these amazing poop gloves." 
"Finally!!! A wet wipe to accommodate my opposable thumb!!!" 
"Two (no longer brown) thumbs up!!"

For me, a couple concerns might hold me back from becoming a Shittens customer.

1. Even at the discounted Amazon price of $15.95, that's almost a dollar per Shitten. Considering how much poop flows through this household, I'm not sure that's economical for us.

2. Now that our 6-year-old can read, I might not want to leave these in the kids' bathroom.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

An Old-New Tradition: Halloween on Roosevelt Island

One of the joys of living on Roosevelt Island is the many festivals, including the annual Halloween event.

I love that the same rides and inflatable houses appear every time (courtesy of Aardvark Amusements, which I assume locked down the contract by being first in the phone book). We've only been here since 2012, but the Halloween festival already feels like a time-honored tradition — especially for the kids, since even our oldest can scarcely remember life before we moved to this strange little isle.

Here's a video of this year...

...and last year.

And fortunately, Alice didn't barricade herself in a bouncy castle this time around.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Who Wore It Best: Skeleton Pajamas

We have an ample supply of hand-me-down clothes with seasonal themes, which can be risky: What if the kid outgrows the thing before the timing is right to wear it? (Frankly, though, we've been known to send kids out in July wearing Santa Claus shirts.)

So I was happy to see Alice and Lucy both fit into these skeleton pajamas, just in time for Halloween.

Here's a shot from October 2012.

I suppose we'll be passing down the oddly gender-specific skeleton PJs to another family soon enough.

As Hamlet once said to a skeleton (well, a skull): "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him...a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times."

May these pink skeleton PJs be worn a thousand times too.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Ultimate Baseball Name: Gehrig

In my Nameberry post on baseball names, I neglected to mention a biggie: Gehrig.

Lou Gehrig, of course, was the Yankees first baseman who played 2,130 consecutive games and only broke his streak because he was stricken with a fatal disease.

The man who called himself "The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth" when he knew he was going to die before reaching age 40.

The man who was the first player to have his number (4) retired.

The man who inspired the nation to fly flags at half-staff when he died.

So it's obvious why people would want to name their children in honor of him. And using the name "Lou" doesn't really do the trick. (Lou Gehrig's birth name was actually Henry Louis, and his nickname was once "Buster," though few remember that now.)

So Gehrig has become a baby name.

Former Phillies pitcher Curt Schilling named his son Gehrig (and his son is now a pitcher too).

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Pat Neshek also named his son Gehrig, though the boy died within a day of being born (a tragic fate for a tragic name).

The rest of America, meanwhile, has been warming to the name over the past two decades.

Though Gehrig has never ranked in the top 1,000 of the Social Security database, there were 43 babies named Gehrig in 2003. It hasn't reached that peak since then, but the name appears to be threatening to go on another rally (it's up in each of the past three years).

And as BuboBlog's Sacramento correspondent Ellen points out, the name sounds similar to the Jarrod/Jarrett/Jared names that are already rampant in the major leagues. Maybe that could give it a boost.

Still, the association with the disease may make it a tough sell for some parents. It's also interesting to note that Gehrig was nowhere to be found in the baby-name databases in 1939 (the year Lou Gehrig retired) and 1941 (the year he died).

As I've mentioned before, people didn't care for surname-style names in the middle of the 20th century. Even one of the most inspiring stories in all of baseball wasn't quite inspiring enough to sway parents back then.

We'll see if today's parents are willing to give it a shot.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Giving Your Kid a Baseball Name

With the World Series starting this week (go Giants!), I did a post for Nameberry on mining major-league rosters for baby-name ideas.

One of my biggest findings was how many players go by initials: There are eight AJs, two BJs, two CCs, three CJs, a DJ, a JA, a JB, a JD, two JJs, a JP, a JT, an RA, an RJ and two TJs on active rosters. (See the full post here.)

There also are six Caseys — a disproportionately high number. Clearly some of the parents of those kids were inspired by "Casey at the Bat."

This would support the idea of names determining destiny. These parents gave their children "baseball names," then sure enough, the kids became professional baseball players.

The most extreme example of this may be Robinson Cano, the former Yankee who now plays for the Mariners.

He was named after Jackie Robinson, a move that ultimate led to him landing a $240 million contract last year. Nice work, parents.

Of course, Cano's dad also played pro baseball, so Robinson clearly inherited some genetic gifts.

In other words, this naming strategy may not work for everybody.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

We Need a Structural Engineer in This Family

Roosevelt Island's arts festival was nearly rained out on Saturday. Fortunately, the afternoon was relatively dry, providing a pleasant showcase for art, music and crafts.

We took advantage of the fort-building station to create a towering edifice honoring New York's history of groundbreaking architecture.

Unfortunately, our structure — standing in view of the Empire State Building — didn't quite prove worthy.

I'm just grateful Lucy escaped in time.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Subway-Themed Coat Rack

Kelly found a coat rack that seems perfect for any New York apartment. It looks like a subway map, with red, yellow and light-blue lines and hooks that resemble station stops.

The $40 item, designed by Alan Wisniewski for Umbra, is a fun addition to our home. But I'm sad that it doesn't include our neighborhood F line, which is orange.

In fact, wait a minute...

What subway network is this supposed to be exactly? New York doesn't have a light-blue line. (The ACE lines are more of a darker blue.)

Is this actually Atlanta?

I suppose it also could be the Muni Metro.

Civic Center was my old stop, and it serves both the light-blue K and the red T. So I'll be sure to hang my coat on the peg where those two lines intersect.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Bringing Autumn Indoors

In springtime, Kelly helped usher in the season by putting a blossoming tree on the wall.

Now that it's fall, she gave the branch some tumbling leaves.

Decorating the apartment to mark the season has become a fun tradition for us. The kids also made deciduous trees out of lunch bags and tissue paper.

With these colorful trees around, you can barely tell we're not in the middle of Vermont.