Friday, May 25, 2007

A My Name is Alice

As a kid, one of my all-time favorite games was "A My Name is Alice".

I was thinking about this game as a I paged through a recent Economist, with its articles on gay rights in Peru, corruption in Cambodia, and rioting in Denmark. How profoundly the world has changed in terms of our awareness of it, our interconnectedness, our place in it.

If you're not familiar with the rules "A My Name is Alice", you go around in a circle - sometimes bouncing a ball while you're doing it -taking a letter of the alphabet and supplying a feminine name, a masculine name, a place, and an item. As in:

A my name is Alice.
May husband's name is Al.
We come from Alabama.
And we sell apples.

Of course, when I played this game, we stuck to the basics. Sure, we could get pretty exotic with the names, especially in later rounds when we got to letters like "Q" and "X".  But early on, we kept to the Alices, Bobs, and Carols - names that real people actually had in our constrained little world.

The things we sold tended to be pretty straightforward, too. Apples, balloons, cars. Every once in a while, we'd get fanciful and through in the name of something - animal, vegetable, mineral - that didn't come from the U.S. ("We sell emus.") But for the most part, there was so much "stuff" made in America that we didn't have to think about things coming from "overseas", other than the cheapo, postwar conquered-nation goods of dubious quality, like the scissors that fell apart in your hand when you cut string with them. We used to turn things over (cheap toys, salt and pepper shakers) and when we saw Made in Japan stamped on the bottom, we'd laugh. Made in Japan! What crap!

Forget about where it's made. In this day and age, there's so many more things that just didn't exist when I was a kid (or an adult, even). I grew up during the post-war, junk-a-rama boom. Yet the amount of stuff I had as a child looks like the small-sack-of-marbles-and-corn-husk-doll existence of Laura Ingalls on Little House when compared to the plentitude of a modern middle-class childhood.

When we played "A my name", we also kept our place names pretty much to the good old U.S. of A. We were playing this game, after all, smack-dab in the midst of the American Century.

I'm guessing that, if kids still play this game - other than when they're riding around with their Baby Boomer aunts - it's gone through a major overhaul.

No more pedestrian "A my name is Alice."

For starters, there are all those names that weren't in existence "then". Ashley. Tiffany. Heather. Some of the new names are ones that we used as place names in the day. (See: Cheyenne, Dallas.) Then there are all the places people could come from - that's all changed, too.  Some places are gone (Rhodesia). Some are new: (Bangladesh). Some are renamed (Beijing). But mostly there's a greater awareness of the world at large than we had in the past. It wasn't so much isolation or isolationism. It's just that the only places that really mattered when I was a kid were the United States and wherever in Europe you roots were.

Here's a starter set for a 21st century round:

A my name is Ashley, my husband's name is Alex. We come from Azerbaijan, and we sell anti-ballistic missiles.

B my name is Brittany, my husband's name is Brandon. We come from Belarus and we sell ballistic missiles.

C my name is Cheyenne, my husband's name is Chad. We come from China and we sell all the cheap crap that you buy at the Christmas Tree Shoppe.

The alphabet is long, my patience is short...

No profound thoughts here:

  • The world is getting smaller
  • There's more stuff in it 

And, of course, the notion that one of the pleasures (and pains) of getting older is reflecting on the changes you've seen in your lifetime - from meaningless ones (while there were 8 or so Maureen's out of 90 or so girls in my high school class, nobody names a daughter Maureen anymore), to the economic, political, social, and demographic shifts that have put iPods, Kosovo, WiFi, and hedge funds in our kids' sing-song games.

Z my name is Zelda, my husband's name is Zeke. We come from Zanzibar and we sell zebras....


Minter said...

I was on a little bit of a name game trip myself. My angle was on the names at the beginning of the alphabet as part of our socio-cultural stereotyping... see

cheers, Minter

Anonymous said...

This game has gotten much easier over the years...

C my name is Charlie, my husbands name is Calvin. We come from California and we sell Cannibis

Anonymous said...

I'm a middle class teen in America and me and my friends play this game when we're bored all the time, you're right our version is a bit different.

C my name is Cecile, my husbands name is Cedric, we come from Calcutta, and we sell Crayons.