My sister-in-law, the one who was recently re-married in the Catholic church, is pregnant. Does it count as a shotgun wedding if you’re already married with children? Anyway, after her re-wedding ceremony, at the party where Ward pondered deep questions of names and knowing, people were talking about names for the upcoming child. Several names were suggested, and most discarded. But all of the suggestions were first names. They hadn’t moved on to middle names yet.

Patrick, the soon-to-be older brother, is pretty sure the child is going to be a boy. His logic is that he already has two sisters, so a boy is required to even out the gender imbalance. This boy has a future in statistics. He doesn’t quite understand middle names though. His middle name is “Julius,” and when he’s in trouble, he’s “Patrick Julius,” so he’s familiar with his own middle name.

But as the first names were suggested at the party, Patrick tried them out by testing what he assumed would be the full name of this boy. “John” became “John Julius Namoff.” “Robert” became “Robert Julius Namoff.” It soon became clear that Patrick thought all boys in his family will have the same middle name.

When he was younger, Patrick’s cousin Alex apparently had a different confusion about middle names. He once thought he had two middle names, “Ander” and “Michael.” Because when he was in trouble, his mother would say what he heard as “Alex Ander Michael,” actually “Alexander Michael.” Silly kids.

But middle names are clearly counter-intuitive. Why do we have them? Wikipedia offers a few reasons, but none of them seem worth the trouble. I think if I have a child to name, I’ll lobby hard for no middle name. If they grow up and find they don’t have enough names, they can always add more later. But I don’t really need to establish a line of royal ancestry or anything, so I don’t see any reason to give a child a third name before they have a personality to attach it to.

My friend JJ recently gave me an additional name. A while back, I made the mistake of talking about my self-diagnosis of Asperger’s. Shortly after that, JJ introduced me to another friend of his, also named Scott. To differentiate between us, he has since referred to me and introduced me as his “autistic friend Scott.” So to JJ’s friends, my middle name is effectively “autistic.” Lucky for me, anyone who knows JJ just passes right over this as we meet.

I have a similar additional name for JJ, but mine is non-verbal. Whenever I talk about JJ with people who have met him, I make sure to clarify exactly who I’m discussing by moving my hands around where my hair would be if it were as large as JJ’s. So his middle name is effectively a hand motion about four inches from the head.

My "autistic" name has a small problem: I’m not actually autistic. And JJ’s hand-wavey name has a problem whenever he gets a haircut. But I think these ad hoc additions to our family and given names are far superior to middle names. I think that’s enough about names for now. On to faces?

 

My last name is “Reynen.” Chances are good that you just pronounced that incorrectly in your head as you read it. Chances are also good that if I spoke it aloud to you, you’d spell it wrong. And then you’d probably pronounce it wrong still. It’s a horrible name for someone like me who is interested in efficient communication. So I’ve thought a lot about changing it.

When I was younger (is 26 old enough to say that?), I thought about changing the whole thing: first, middle, and last name. My ideas for new names were awful. “Justin Case” is one I remember. I’m sure glad I didn’t follow through on that idea. I would have had to pull a Prince and try to undo the damage.

Later, I thought about just replacing my last namewith my middle name. “Scott Michael” sounds okay. But for a long time, I didn’t know how to spell “Michael,” so I worried that wouldn’t actually solve the spelling problem. (Turns out most people could spell my middle name better than I could.) Plus, it makes me think of George Michael, and I’m not really a fan.

After that, I didn’t seriously consider changing my name until I got married. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is “Montgomerie,” which is not exactly a step up on the ease-of-spelling scale. So I kept my last name, and she kept hers, which leads to the question of what last name we might give to potential children. All I know is, it certainly will not be “Montgomerie-Reynen.” I wouldn’t inflict that kind of pain on my worst enemy, much less a child. So maybe a completely new last name would be good. Any proposals?

 

A while back I was thinking about my grandfathers. I believe I was listening to some radio program in which a man was sharing a memory of his grandfather. Both of my grandfathers are dead, and I remember very little about them. I know a lot more about them than I actually remember, from stories others have told me or pictures I’ve seen. But I think what I remember is more interesting. I remember two things about both of my grandfathers.

My mother’s father was Charles Weaver. The first thing I remember about him is puzzles. We did puzzles together. Big puzzles with small pieces. They took a long time, and being a kid, I did very little of the work. Usually the puzzles were completed by my grandfather late one night as I slept. But he’d always leave out one piece, so when I woke in the morning, I had that satisfaction of completing the puzzle, even though I didn’t do the work. So my grandfather Weaver taught me to be lazy.

The second thing I remember is that he wouldn’t repeat himself. He would say something when I wasn’t listening, and I would say “what?” and he just wouldn’t respond. I think he explained this once as an attempt to encourage listening. Or maybe that was just how I thought of it — I’m not sure. Either way, this taught me not to let my principles turn me into a jerk, a lesson I apply less consistantly than laziness.

My father’s father was Cornelius Reynen. He was a minister, but I don’t remember him ministering in any professional capacity. I think maybe he had retired by the time I was born. I do remember two things about him that revolved around his ministry. The first was the post-dinner Bible readings at his house. My brothers and I were expected to sit around the table after the meal while he read to us from the Bible.

I don’t think it was even the interesting stories either — just whatever happened to come next. Sometimes he would ask us questions at the end to make sure we were paying attention. It was a horrible experience for a child. But from it, I learned how to never be bored, by thinking.

My second memory of this grandfather was Rummikub, which my family would play with him in the evening. If you’re not familiar with Rummikub, it’s almost exactly like Rummy, only with tiles instead of cards. You might ask: why would anyone bother with tiles instead of cards? Well, because playing cards are evil, naturally.

Granted, there are some slight differences between Rummy and Rummikub that make playing with tiles a little easier. But Cornelius, my grandfather, wasn’t interested in those differences, as far as I could tell. He was interested in avoiding cards because he was raised with and maintained the idea that playing cards are evil. So from playing Rummikub I learned to keep faith bounded by reason.

That’s it. That’s all I remember. I wish there were more, but given the small amount of time I spent with my grandfathers, I think these are pretty good lessons to take away. They’ve served me well so far. When I die some day, I hope the lessons I unintentionally pass down will be so useful.

 

My cousin David is working on a genealogy of the Reynen family. I'm hoping to convince him to move it off of Tripod onto my hosting, and eventually replace the static HTML with something database driven with auto-generated family trees and whatnot. He already has a lot of information and it's an interesting read for me.