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    Got a short little span of attention

    I would just like it to be known that I’m all topped out on Alans. My best friend is named Alan. There’s a reader and commenter here with whom I sometimes correspond named Alan. There’s another Alan–from the same city in the UK as my friend, no less–whom I’ve now met enough times that it’s going to be considered rude pretty soon if I don’t remember his name. And a few nights ago I met yet another Alan who’s here in Tokyo indefinitely who will also, presumably, tire quickly of being told, “Sorry, man, I forgot your name again.”

    Major cognitive dissonance here.

    I mean, when you’re an American my age, you expect to know 90 Michaels (of whom, if you’re gay and hang out with people in the Tribe a lot, only 15 will go by Mike), 80 Brians (bonus points for being able to remember who’s an i and who’s a y), 60 Jasons, and 50 Stephens (including the Stevens and Steves, naturally). You never start to greet someone you know casually and think, Wait a minute–this can’t be Brian; I already saw Brian an hour ago. If you don’t know multiple Brians, you don’t get out much.

    Also, if you live in Japan…well, the language only has forty-odd syllables, so you quickly become accustomed to not referring to Shinji or Jun or Taka in a conversation without making it clear whom you’re talking about before proceeding.

    Alan, however? Perfectly nice name. I’ve come to associate “Hey, Alan” with a feeling of “Am I ever glad to see you, honey!” and warm greeting back of “Hiya, darlin’.” But I have trouble remembering names so as it is, and even though I’m aware that there can be clustering in perfectly random statistical samples, who knows four Alans? Anyway, the Alan-storage synapses in my brain are now officially full.

    So if you’re a gay guy called Alan and plan to be running into me in the near future, please distinguish yourself by changing your name to, say, Fred first. Or, if that seems like too much trouble, go hetero.

    Much obliged.

    10 Responses to “Got a short little span of attention”

    1. Maybe half the gay Alans should change their name to ‘Debbie’

    2. Sean Kinsell says:

      I guess that would be a nice mnemonic, though I think the choreographer’s surname is spelled Allen. And besides, I’d still have to remember the Alan part, anyway. I like Fred. There aren’t many of those in the cohorts I’m likely to run into.

    3. Toby says:

      What about Jason with a “y”? You do get them in the less AB parts of Australia…

    4. Sean Kinsell says:

      Jayson Blair was the first instance of that that I’d encountered, though it’s likely that there are quite a few guys named Jayson around who are in their mid-20s by now. The popularity of Jason only really effloresced in the States a few years before I was born, so there hadn’t been time for a lot of people to decide they needed to get “distinctive” with the spelling…or for a lot of people who had heard rather than read it to come up with the closest phonetic equivalent.

    5. Toby says:

      What about “Jaysyn”? Have you read Freakonomics on the statistical correlation between socio-economic status and names? Very interesting reading.

    6. Sean Kinsell says:

      When I was on my semester abroad in London, an English friend–one of those soft-spoken guys whose every third sentence contains a barb you don’t register until three beats later–was describing one of the girls who lived in the dorm: “She’s called Gemma, and…well [near-imperceptible wince], she has a voice like a Gemma.” It was clear that “Gemma” in this case was spelled c-o-r-n-c-r-a-k-e.

      I hadn’t read that in Freakonomics. Was it a discussion of the likelihood that you won’t be perceived as solid and presentable if you have a made-up or porn-star-ish name? Or was it about the likelihood that someone with a made-up or porn-star-ish name will be born to poorer parents?

    7. Toby says:

      Ch 6 Perfect Parenting…Would a Roshanda by Any Other Name Smell as Sweet?

      Basically, Levitt and Dubner measure California’s birth register. Every birth registered also has socio-economic details of the mother noted. They then correlate this with the names.

      What they find is a cycle – nice, upper class people call their children Gemma (my aunt is called, that, but that was U in the 1950s), or Lauren. Then, about 20 years later, as this cohort of nice people hit adult age, and presumably have passed through schools, the lower socio-economic classes start to track them, and their kids are then called Emma (often spelt wrongly, of course), and the nice people go off the name pretty quickly. A classic example was “Madison” – in the 90s, it was “high end” – now, as “Madisyn”, it is “low end”.

      Ingenious, and very interesting, really. It also coincides with commonsense, which is always good.

      What is most fun, of course, is watching Americans squirm with the whole concept of class. Since the US is classless, it is always hard to talk for Americans to talk about these things! In England it is still relatively easy, and in Australia, there are only two classes – the speaker and bogans. Madisyn is a bogan name.

    8. Sean Kinsell says:

      Oh, that phenomenon. One of my favorite books in junior high school was The Guinness Book of Names . (Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t have an image of the cover–it was a cool acid green.) It was certainly not specialized or densely scholarly, as you might expect from the title, but it had been written before the Cultural Studies era made Lite an imperative, so it didn’t feel dilettantish, either.

      Anyway, one of the topics was how names suddenly rise in popularity. Your mentioning Emma and Madison is very interesting, actually. I would have said that, in the States at least–and I know you were talking about England in the first case–Emma has Austen and Avengers associations. Both are pretty self-consciously literary, so I would have expected it to catch on first with the hangs-out-at-independent-bookstores urban set. Madison, I’ve read, started catching on after Daryl Hannah’s mermaid character adopted it in Splash, so I would have expected it to be favored from the get-go by…you know…a different demographic [fidgets slightly at sub-surface suggestion of class divisions].

      The class thing is rather funny. Several weeks back when I was out, an American friend of mine ambled over to talk for a bit and said, “I just introduced two friends to each other, and they’re both Brits, so I figured I’d give them twenty minutes to do their whole class/region/university dance before I head back to resume the conversation.” I almost snarfed my vodka laughing. But of course, we have strata in the States, too. Was it Studs Terkel who said that the ritual when he did interviews was for everyone to say, “We don’t have classes in our town,” and once that was out of the way, they’d get down to the business of describing exactly what the town’s class divisions actually were, just without the offending word? When we’re about to draw a class distinction, our code–you probably know this already–is usually “people of similar backgrounds.”

    9. Toby says:

      The one name that never seems to leave the upper and middle bourgeoisie is Toby – except to go to dogs. I have encountered innumerable pets (even a horse), called “Toby”, but it is relatively rare for humans outside those specific classes. It is hard to imagine Billy Ray Cyrus called “Toby”, non?

      The English anecdote is amusing – even if 20 minutes is rather long. I have been in situations in Australia where it has taken about 6 words – admittedly some time ago, when a petrol pump attendant filled your car, I once pulled up in my parents’ car and asked the man to fill it up, and (since he was English non-middle class) he instantaneously picked up the accent clues and called me “Sir”. In Australia, “sir” is never used as it smacks of smarminess or English class consciousness (unlike in the US, where Hitchens thought it was such a great sign of US egalitarianism that people could neutrally use “Sir” – it is always nice to hear Americans use it as they are, as a rule, unfailingly polite, in a very natural way).

      Re class in America – it’s all about PLU or NQOCD, isn’t it? They are universal!

    10. Sean Kinsell says:

      I don’t know–a lot of Bible names are, at least in America, associated with Appalachian holler-dwellers. You know, Jedidiah and Asa and Keziah and such. Of course, Tobias is only Biblical if you’re Catholic, I think. (Fun fact: The church I was brought up in forbade women from wearing make-up through most of the 80s. One of the reasons it was re-permitted was that faithful Job’s daughter’s name was Kerenhappuch, which means “horn for eye paint” and is possibly the least mellifluous collection of syllables ever. I guess the idea was that, having come back into God’s good graces, Job was unlikely to give his littlest girl a name that pegged her as a future whore. I always rather liked Jemima, actually, though Keziah has a vaguely witchy sound. What was I talking about?)

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