Friday, January 27, 2006

A rose by any other name

In the dim and distant past – when I was a useful member of society and a teacher with more than 30 years' experience – one of my “favourite” lessons had as its theme, “Why I'm not a very important person in the great cosmic scheme of things”. Sounds good, doesn't it! I enjoyed it – pupils hated it.

One of the real difficulties teachers face is knowing when to abandon the carefully-crafted lesson plan you have lovingly and skilfully prepared and move on to something that may be initially “painful” but, in the long run, ultimately more important than Shakespeare's sonnet 54. This is one of those occasions.

Those with sufficient teaching experience will recognise the symptoms easily enough. Pupils have stopped engaging in the topic at hand, i.e. they are no longer listening to a word you are saying. Your usual techniques for dealing with this all too common situation no longer work. Your attempts to regain the pupils' attention are met with either bored acquiescence (not a problem) or truculent animosity (this is a big problem)! Teacher really needs to get a grip and fast!

First of all you will probably have to shout and at least pretend to be very angry and disappointed. You may well need not have to pretend. Having regained the pupils' attention, the rest of the lesson goes something like this: “In the great cosmic scheme of things you people are really not very important!” Best delivered with clear disdain in your voice and louder than normal. The effect you are searching for is “scathing, disappointed and annoyed”. “Disgusted” often also works.

Pupils don't, as you may well imagine, take too kindly to being told – no matter how well-meaning you may appear - that they are not really very important. It's as well to qualify your remarks by explaining that at this point in their lives pupils are really only important to themselves, their friends and their families. They will become important to society in general when they have matured enough to ( a ) listen when told to by the teacher, ( b ) achieved something worthwhile to society in general or ( c ) won the lottery! Until then, it would really be best if they would forget their agenda – whatever that was – and followed yours. On a good day I could make this “lecture” last for 30 or 40 minutes. As I said, pupils hated it.

As a corollary to this, over the years I developed an innate sense of which pupils were most likely to suffer from what is essentially an over-inflated ego simply by looking at their names on a list. All pupils named Kevin, Greg, Suzie or Samantha were bound to be trouble. This is not very scientific - but I swear it works. I developed a theory to account for this. The more “strange” a name a pupil had the more likely it was that they would be troublemakers. I swear it works! But, what's the mechanism?

I imagined that it would be something simple like: parents name child after film star, Rock Hudson; child learns that he is named after someone famous and begins to assume he is famous; child assumes that he is far more important than he is. Child begins to exhibit those qualities that lead to a breakdown in class discipline. Pretty neat, huh!

As a theory, this has a lot to offer.

Only one problem. It mostly works the other way.

I know this because I like football. Real football. Gridiron football. Not that “nancy” effort that should be called soccer, instead of football. Having not much else to do, I decided to investigate my theory with a scientific approach and real data. I found that for the last year data is available, 2004, the most popular names for boys born in that year were:

  • Jacob

  • Michael

  • Joshua

  • Matthew

  • Ethan

  • Andrew

  • Daniel

  • William

  • Joseph

  • Christopher

These were obtained from the Dept. of Social Security web site. Good to know they're doing something useful.

I wouldn't have any problem with any of these – except for, maybe, Daniel. I've seen a few Daniels in my time that would drive you to drink!

Now to make this really scientific we need something to compare these with. I chose players in the NFL. If my theory, developed over many years of observing real children, is correct, then NFL players should have mostly “normal” names. Makes sense. By definition they have all, OK mostly all, graduated from institutions of higher education. They have been successful – in educational terms. Not a chance! Fully 33% of the players currently on NFL rosters have names that range from just weird to absolutely so far down the left field line and in foul territory as to probably be in another state – if not country!

Some examples: Flozell Adams (sounds like you should do it to your teeth), Boss Bailey and his brother, obviously Champ, Anquan Bolden, the Barber brothers, Tiki and Ronde, Dre' Bly (what kind of name could Dre' be?), Plaxico Burress (one of my favourites – do you suppose he was conceived in a place called Plaxico – ala' Brooklyn Beckham?), Romby Bryant (perhaps his head came out as a mathematical shape - like a rhombus, poor kid), Rock Cartwright (now this is a football player), Koy Detmer (related to a carp?), Braylon Edwards (is this a new type of fabric?), Bubba Franks (obviously the original good ol' boy), Jocelio Hanson (I'm not making these up!), Tebucky Jones (OK, Mr and Mrs Jones – what were you thinking?), Daylon McCutcheon (another new fabric?), Stockar McDougal (he was meant to be either a demolition derby driver or a cowboy, what happened?), Monsanto Pope (named after the chemical company?), Robaire Smith (OK, I've got the hang of this one! Mr and Mrs Smith were watching a French film and heard the hero being called Robert!), Jerheme Urban (same principle – heard Jeremy somewhere), Pork Chop Womack (he's on the Seahawks roster, honest), Kailee Wong (in England this is a girl's name spelled Kayleigh or Keighleigh).

I think you've got the idea. But, just to prove the point – take the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, sons of Archie. Notwithstanding the obvious advantage genetically in having an NFL quarterback for a dad, Archie had the sense to apply his knowledge of NFL players to give his new-born sons weird names, just to make sure they will make millions and keep him comfortable in his retirement. Way to go Archie!

All those years I tried very hard to inculcate a generation of kids with the eminently sensible plan of naming offspring sensibly. God, I hope they weren't listening.

For comparison log on to the net and search for United States Senators. I can assure you there ain't no Bubbas or Jocelios or Tikis. Something interesting is going on here – that's for sure!!

No comments: