Graeme Wood

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How to Survive an Albanian Blood Feud

The current Mental Floss is running my “Spinning the Globe” feature about Albania.

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6 Baby Names You Probably Shouldn’t Give Your Kid

Mental Floss, February 2008

Forget Apple and Pilot Inspektor. If you really want to give your kid a hard time growing up, just pick from the following list.

1. BATMAN.

Venezuelans are among the world’s most creative namers. In fact, according to their own government, they’re too creative. In September 2007, after hearing about babies named Superman and Batman, state authorities urged parents to pick their names from an approved list of 100 common Spanish monikers. Those conventional names (such as Juanita and Miguel) quickly acquired a patrician ring, ironically giving rise to more novel names, like Hochiminh (after the Vietnamese guerilla) and Eisenhower (after the president). There are also at least 60 Venezuelans with the first name Hitler.

2. ECLIPSE GLASSES.

In June 2001, a total solar eclipse was about to cross southern Africa. To prepare, the Zimbabwean and Zambian media began a massive astronomy education campaign focused on warning people not to stare at the Sun. Apparently, the campaign worked. The locals took a real liking to the vocabulary, and today, the birth registries are filled with names like Eclipse Glasses Banda, Totality Zhou, and Annular Mchombo.

3. NAAKTGEBOREN.

When Napoleon seized the Netherlands in 1810, he demanded that all Dutchmen take last names, just as the French had done decades prior. Problem was, the Dutch had lived full and happy lives with single names, so they took absurd surnames in a show of spirited defiance. These included Naaktgeboren (born naked), Spring int Veld (jump in the field), and Piest (pisses). Sadly for their descendants, Napoleon’s last-name trend stuck, and all of these remain perfectly normal Dutch names today.

4. VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY.

a.va.jpg The people of Iceland take their names very seriously. The country permits no one—not even immigrants—to take or keep foreign surnames. So what happened when esteemed Russian maestro Vladimir Ashkenazy asked to become an Icelandic citizen? Well, the government finally decided to make an exception. Vladimir Ashkenazy is now on the short list of approved Icelandic names.

5. YAZID.

Imam Husayn ibn Ali is one of the holiest figures in the Shi’ite Muslim faith. In the 7th century CE, he lost his head on the orders of the Sunni caliph, Yazid, and the decapitation initiated the biggest schism in Islamic history. While the name Yazid remains common among Sunnis, it is disdained throughout the Shi’a world. The stigma attached to it is equivalent to naming one’s son Stalin or Hitler. Speaking of which…

6. ADOLF.

Memories of death camps and fascism have kept parents from christening their kids Adolf for quite some time. But one unlucky youngster acquired the name in 1949. He was the son of William Patrick Hitler—the dictator’s nephew, who moved to America in the 1930s to fight against his uncle. It isn’t clear why William preserved the name, but his four sons (including Alexander Adolf Hitler, now 57) made a pact to never have children in an effort to stunt der Fuehrer’s family tree at its branches.

Filed under: Mental Floss

The Annotated Pig

I wrote a spread for Mental Floss on parts of pigs that you can now, or will soon be able to, install in your body for medical purposes.  Examples: fetal pig stem-cells, potentially injectable into one’s brain to fight the effects of Parkinson’s; transgenic pig skin, to treat burn victims; human sperm, produced in bulk by modified pig testes.

I don’t have an electronic copy of this graphic, but when I have one, I’ll post it here.

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