Even the Macaques Say, "Shut That Kid Up Already!"

With a shudder, Dr. Awesome recently told me a story about going grocery shopping with his father and two older sisters when he was kid. He couldn’t have been any older than three or four, which would make his sisters under 10 at the time. The girls wanted something Jimbo, as Bartoo the elder is known, was unwilling to buy. A joint temper tantrum ensued. Dr. Awesome recalls with no small amount of awe the fearful sight of their freakout, fists pounding the floor of the supermarket aisle, voices close to shattering the store windows. Jimbo was having none of it. He said something along the lines of, “When you’re done, I’ll be in the dairy aisle,” and rolled the shopping cart off with little Dr. Awesome sitting inside, mouth agape, looking back over his shoulder, unsettled by the whole thing.

He’s still unsettled by it decades later. That’s how much a kid throwing a fit can freak out everyone around it.

And apparently the situation is no different for rhesus macaques. A recent study conducted by a joint U.K.-Puerto Rico team on Cayo Santiago, an island off the coast of P.R., revealed that macaque mothers are far more likely to give in to a tantruming macaque baby if there are other macaques around—particularly aggressive males and dominant females—who might decide they’ve had enough of the noise and are going to take matters into their own hands.

The BBC has a brief article about the research here. To quote heavily from it:

As many human mums will attest – if the infant is ignored, a tantrum can result that can sometimes grate on bystanders….

Stuart Semple, a primatologist from Roehampton University in London who carried out the research, said: “The baby monkeys’ cries are high-pitched, grating and nasty to listen to—not just to their mother but to animals nearby.

“And we found that the way mothers respond to their crying infants is affected by who is around them at the time.”

Further study of the population revealed that although attacks were rare, mothers and infants were more than 30 times more likely to face aggressive behaviour from angry onlookers when a baby was crying than if the baby was content.

Dr Semple explained: “The mothers seem quite reluctant to give in to their infants, but when there are big dominant animals around that pose a threat to either them or their infants, their hand is then forced—they have to give in to their infants’ cries.”

The researchers added that while there had been no directly comparable studies carried out on humans, some anecdotal reports suggested that human mothers were more likely to acquiesce to a screaming child if faced with irritated onlookers.

Jimbo didn’t. And the protoparent in me says this is the right tactic—not to give in, because that’s pretty good reinforcement for the behavior to happen again. But the fellow supermarket shopper in me can imagine the annoyance and dismay I might feel watching him walk away from that screaming snarl of tantruming girls, as if he had spilled corn oil all over the floor but was going to let someone else clean it up. That’s your mess, man. I mean, how many times have you been near a child having a tantrum and felt three seconds away from snarling, “Shut that kid up already!”?

Oy. I simply can’t wait to be on the Decider side of this interaction: yield or resist? I swear my womb reflexively contracts every time I pass a monster-like child who has clearly—and hopefully temporarily—crossed over to the Dark Side. What was I thinking, wanting to do this parenting thing?

Looks like neither we nor the macaques seem to have a sure-fire method for handling a screaming child.

A Kid By Any Other Name

“I don’t want to be ‘HusbandMan’ anymore,” HusbandMan said the other day.


“By the way, HusbandManâ„¢ is trademarked,” he added.

“Noted. So what do you want to be called?”

“Dr. Awesome.”

So HusbandManâ„¢ will from now on be called Dr. Awesome. After all, “HusbandMan” was my coinage. (For the record, I’m alternatively known as WifeLady, FoodLady and CandyPants. But I digress.) Dr. Awesome has every right to name himself. Plus, as a good wife, I like to support him—in this case, with a public forum and plenty of rope.


If only it were this easy to name The Kid. It’s a big thing. It’s huge. Giving name to a thing is at the universe’s essence, according to the Christians. (John 1:1—”In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”)

Names are both terribly important—it would be impossible to function if every object were called “thing,” for instance—and yet arbitrary. No object has an inherent name. It is only called what we call it. A name is therefore simultaneously full and empty of meaning.

Juliet Capulet said it famously well:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title.

Like Dr. Awesome, Romeo was down for a name change:

Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized;

Henceforth I never will be Romeo.

Henceforth The Kid will be known as … Finnegan. Finn for short. This is a double literary reference: James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, one of Steve’s favorite books, and Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, one of mine. My father suggested that in movies from the ’30s and ’40s, “Finnegan” was invariably the neighborhood drunk or buffoon. I’m not surprised, considering the long-standing casual bigotry against the Irish throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries (see Millhouse: “Look out, Itchy, he’s Irish!“). But hey—as our genetics counselor established in our family tree, alcoholism is our most prevalent family ailment. Who are we to push against the tide?

This was an easy enough decision to make. I had first suggesed Phineas—which burbled out of me without the Jules Verne association—to which Dr. Awesome said, “Do you want the kid to get beaten up?” I argued that we’d always call him Finn, and the full name would be limited to the birth certificate or if The Kid got into trouble. (“Finnegan Bartoo, go to your room and count how many times I’ve told you not to dip the cat in paint.”) And he pointed out that policy would be undermined on the very first day of every school year, when the new teacher would read out his full name.

But then Dr. Awesome suggested Finnegan. Finn it would be. Fini.

However, his middle name is still up for debate. And here’s where things have gotten tough.

First of all, we have some creativity to make up for, because our own names are so very common for our generation. Our respective parents are perfectly nice folks, but groundbreakers they ain’t. According to the Social Security Administration, which keeps track of such things, Steven was the 15th most popular name in the U.S. in 1968, when Dr. Awesome was born. It lingered in the mid-20s throughout the ’70s and ’80s. In 2007, the last year for which there is data, it ranked #97.

Over roughly the same period, Jennifer was so common it was nearly as viral as the common cold. (The author of The Baby Name Wizard reserves special scorn for the name. “If you don’t choose a name for your daughter,” she warns at one point, “she’ll end up Jennifer.”) It was the #1 name in the U.S. from 1970 to 1984, and didn’t drop out of the top 10 until 1992. Of course, even without the SSA statistics I could’ve told you the same thing, if anecdotal evidence about the preponderance of Jennifers in every freaking school class I ever had is a reliable indication. In 2007, Jennifer ranked #64. Today it’s Emily, Isabella, Sophia, Madison and Olivia who will fight to be the AlphaEmily or AlphaIsabella of their class.

(Finnegan was ranked #653 in 2007. But here’s something uncanny: I just now went to The Baby Name Wizard website for the first time—I have the book—and the featured name on the homepage is Finn. WTF?)

However, we don’t want to be as creative as either a) hippies or b) Mormons. For instance, we recently found out that one of our favorite bartenders, also named Steve, was actually deemed Juniper at birth. He’s a lovely man, so apparently he wasn’t scarred for life by it, but hell no. There will also be no self-naming. Sure, HusbandManâ„¢ can rename himself Dr. Awesome, but The Kid cannot, at age 4, do the same. This happened to one poor child—now an unfortunate grown man—who went to high school with one of our friends. I don’t know what SunKing Steinberger does with himself these days, but I hope it doesn’t involve gunning people down at the post office.

When it comes to Mormon naming practices—well, I had no idea John Smith’s flock was so mindblowingly creative with baby names; the Mormon world remains exotic to me despite my one visit to Salt Lake City (“Look out, Jen, they’re Mormon!“). My sister-in-law Gill enlightened me otherwise via the Utah Baby Namer.

Take a look at this wondrous compilation (culled from Utah publications, obituaries and birth announcements), then tell me: Do you suppose Aquanetta grew up to be a hair dresser? How do you think Iron Rod, Treasure Cocaine and Rocksan Violin spend their free time? Does Jennyfivetina work for the CIA, perhaps with fellow agents Oa, NB, Q, J’l and Hi-D? I imagine Chinchilla Zest loves animals, while Beefea loves to eat them; both Reaka and TaffiLyn need a shower; Abcde is a mediocre speller; Czar is bossy; and VulvaMae and Clitoris are mature beyond their years.

If someone can tell me how to pronounce Desdedididawn, NaLa’DeLuhRay, Phakelikaydenicia or Saunsceneyouray, I’d be much obliged.

But we can, IMHO, also err on the side of uptight safety. Dr. Awesome once suggested Case. “That’s so WASP-y,”  I complained. “I know your grandparents would be spinning in their grave if they knew you married a descendant of dirty Papists, but, I mean, come on.”

“What? I like Case.”

“Ugh. it’s like, I don’t know, ‘Case Winterbottom III.’ ”

At which point Dr. Awesome laughed so hard he bent in half.

There are lots of great names from around the world, and I’d like to pick something that has some resonance for us: a name from a country we’ve traveled to, for instance. Among the options are the British Isles, France, Turkey and Iceland. Finnegan is so superpowered Irish that I want to get off the British Isles. My sister-in-law Delphine is, as you might have been able to predict, French, so going that route has, like, so been done. That leaves us Turkey and Iceland.

Most people don’t know how to navigate Turkish diacritical marks and pronunciation, so we have to find something that avoids the tougher stuff. (Last year in Istanbul we terrified a Turkish friend by telling him that in the U.S. his name would not be pronounced “Du-AHN Sell-jook,” as is proper, but “DOE-gan Sell-cook.” He shivered. “You—you are not serious, are you?” Yes, my friend. Yes, we are.)

I’m also suggesting names from countries I’ve been to on my own, including India, China and Poland, because that expands our options considerably.

The result is a debate that has a lot of ideas but little consensus. One recent IM exchange we had on the subject:

6:53 PM me: middle name: bhai

it means ‘brother’ in hindi

finnegan bhai bartoo
7:33 PM ok, it’s all hippie of me – thinking of him being a brother to all humankind – but it also sounds nice
7:36 PM sinistar: pronounced b’ha?
me: “bye”
sinistar: nooooo
me: why not?!
sinistar: bye bartoo
7:37 PM me: lol, ok
it’s his MIDDLE name. as you’ve pointed out many times, no one’s gonna say it anyway
sinistar: Dagur
7:38 PM me: pronounced “dagger”? do you have to try to make him such a hard ass?

let the kid sort his own testosterone out
sinistar: Eyvindur
sinistar: Margeir
7:39 PM Ragnar
these are all icelandic, btw
7:41 PM me: dude, i HATE the vikings
fucking barbarians
and waaaaaaaay too cheesy metal
7:43 PM oh – and nearly impossible to pronounce for most folks
7:44 PM sinistar: bye
how bout phai
pronounced “pie” cause everyone loves pie
7:45 PM me: everyone’s gonna say “fie”
7:48 PM what does “phai” mean?
sinistar: I’m making fun of “bye”
7:49 PM me: oh
well fine, mock universal brotherhood
you cynic
7:50 PM sinistar: fuck universal brotherhood, how bout some universal goddamn common courtesy
7:51 PM me: so name him finnegan “be nice!” bartoo
7:52 PM sinistar: Finnegan “trying hard not to be a jerk” bartoo
7:53 PM me: Finnegan “so sorry, am I in your way?” bartoo

After this exchange, Dr. Awesome turned to the past: specifically, to Mesopotamia. I wasn’t particularly surprised, because he’s spent the last five months trying to convince me that Enkidu is an appropriate name for The Kid. While I like Gilgamesh‘s pal fine enough (and the idea that he was “civilized” by knocking boots with Ishtar, a view of sex so much saner than the hide-our-shame ways of the Judaic, Christian and Islamic cultures that eventually took root on the same Near East soil) as well as the epic’s view of life, as was so wonderfully translated by Stephen Mitchell—

Humans are born, they live, then they die

this is the order that the gods have decreed

But until the end comes, enjoy your life

spend it in happiness, not despair

Savor your food, make each of your days

a delight, bathe and anoint yourself

wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean

let music and dancing fill your house

love the child who holds you by the hand

and give your wife pleasure in your embrace

That is the best way for a man to live

—the fact remains that I do not want a kid named Inky.

To avoid having to hear Enkidu one more time, a few days ago I handed Dr. Awesome Ancient Mesopotamia, one of my archaeology textbooks. He turned to the index and started reading out the names of long-gone cities and citizens once nestled up to the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

This sounds easier than it actually is. Sure, we can all say Sumeria, Babylon and Assyria with relative ease. But the languages that developed these place-names probably used sounds that may have largely have passed out of the human tongue. We don’t know. Nobody really knows how Mesopotamian languages were pronounced because they were rendered in cuneiform, a pictographic language. Same thing as with ancient Egyptian. But my guess is that the phonetics of these languages don’t really persist in the Semitic languages of the region today, namely Arabic and Hebrew.

“Nineveh,” Dr. Awesome said, a finger raised in the air.

“Way too Old Testament. Also, isn’t that a line of skin-care products?”




“Hmm, okay. It’s on the short list.” Other names on the short list, incidentally, are Rishi, Jay (after evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould), Tycho (after the noseless astronomer Brahe) and my favorite—Zeki, which means “clever” in Turkish.


“We need a two-syllable limit. HIs first name already has three syllables. How much name are we going to load up on The Kid?”


“Too much like nipple. Can we call him Ashurbanipal? At least that’s fun to say. And he had a palace. In Nineveh. A very famous palace.”


“Nice code, but no.”

“Well, it wasn’t really a nice code. But it was the first recorded set of laws. And that was a nice development for, you know, civilization.”

“True. But Ashurbanipal. He also had a very famous library. It’s where they found the tablets Gilgamesh was inscribed on.”


And thus go our debates. They always end the same way, with Dr. Awesome eventually throwing up his hands and saying: “Fine. We’ll call him Dave.”

Eight Ain't Enough…

…For Nadya Suleman, the woman who gave birth to a litter of humans 10 days ago. While she’s returned home to her first (!) six kids, her eight babies remain in the hospital, having been born more than two months early. Their health doesn’t seem to be in immediate danger, but as preemies, they’ll be susceptible to a whole host of developmental problems.

She always wanted a huge family, Nadya tells Ann Curry in an interview that will air on Monday and Tuesday on Dateline and Today.

Not to put too fine a point on it: Nadya strikes me as batshit crazy. Certifiable. Loony. Get out the straight jacket. I’m just sayin’.

I’m trying to do the math here. Let’s say Nadya’s brood of 14 is awake 16 hours a day. If CrazyMom devoted every single minute of those 16 hours to looking after the kids, each child would exclusively get one hour and seven and a half minutes of care per day.

Parents are way too much up in their kids’ biz these days—on his fourth birthday, I plan to give The Kid a knife, a Metrocard and pants and let him fend for himself—but c’mon, an hour? For everything? I hope she sets up a feeding trough in the kitchen and a poo catch in the bathroom. In their expansive three-bedroom house, of course. Jesus. People jammed into Lower East Side tenements in the late 19th century had more leg room.

Here’s more rudimentary math: she’s 33. Her oldest child is 7. According to the L.A. Times story linked above, she tried for seven years to get pregnant before turning to IVF. (Whether those attempts to conceive were through old-school methods or by artificial insemination is unclear.) Which means her quest for a “huge family” began when she was all of 19 or so.

Nadya must’ve been the loneliest girl in the history of the world. Maybe that would drive anyone mad.

Steve & Jen's 10-Point Guide to Parenting

Sure, we have no idea what we’re talking about, but when has that ever stopped us?

This, we hope, will cover about everything we’ll ever need to say to our kids. (Steve—AKA HusbandMan—will elaborate on his, ahem, singular take on parenting in a guest post soon.)

1. Eat this.

2. Don’t eat that.

3. Let’s hug!

4. Knock it off!

5. You’re fine.

6. Yes, you can.

7. Don’t do that.

8. Take that X out of your Y!

9. I love you!

10. [variable]

So—all you actual, experienced, honest-to-god parents out there: Have we missed anything? #10 is supposed to cover everything else. What would be your top suggestion for that slot?