Thursday, October 30, 2014

What's in a name?: Blaise Ramsay Edition

“So… you named your kids after cathedral ruins, a thorny African tree… and a nerdy large-nosed Frenchman who died over 350 years ago?”


Well, yes. Yes we did.

This is America after all, not Iceland. We can name our children whatever we want.

As is our wont, this is a blog post about the name we chose for our son. If you’d like to read the prior posts about the rock (Cashel) and the tree (Acacia), you can click for those links.

For information on the mathlete Frenchman's namesake, read on.


So we named our new little guy BlaiseIt's pronounced like “blaze” (as in “phase”), not “blase” (as in chase). If you need to be convinced, the first second of this clip has French footballer Blaise Matuidi saying his own name... since he's French and it's his name, I think we can count him as a pronunciation expert.

First of all, we (me, Cason, especially) just really like the way it sounds. I'm a fan of one or two syllable names that I can envision being called in for dinner from the backyard or yelled across a basketball court or soccer field, so “Cash,” “Acacia” (well, “Cacia”), and “Blaise” all fit the bill.

However, it was Colleen who picked the name in the end, because after her brave performance in the delivery room, I told her she could name him whatever she wanted, including “Puff the Magic Dragon” or “Princess Consuela Banana-hammock.” Surprisingly, she picked one of my favorite names instead of one from her list. She said that he looked more like a Blaise, and I agree.

In addition to liking the sound of Blaise, “Cash & Blaise” is a wickedly cool brotherly name combo that is destined to be a dynamic soccer strike partnership, a groundbreaking multi-ethnic rap duo, the name and stars of a reality TV show about pawnshop owners on Bravo, a pair of ambulance-chasing injury lawyers with annoying billboards ever 3 miles along the highway, or a mathematics team specializing in knot-theory that discovers a porthole to the 4th dimension... the possibilities are endless.

Blaise is a French name that actually means “a cleric” as well as, “stutterer, to lisp or stammer.” Not the most inspiring meanings. However, we’re found a few places that say the name could also derive from the Greek name Basilius which comes from “basíleios,” which means “royal, kingly.” So we may just go with “royal/kingly” instead of “lisper.” Making up name meanings is kind of our thing.

The best meanings for Blaise are actually on… I wish my named meant “a fly person who beats down the haters,” “a nice guy who plays soccer and has amazing hair,” or “someone with copious amounts of swagger.” Obviously the soccer and hair one is good, but I'm not sure what to make of most of those, so let's just move on. (Be aware there is crude and inappropriate language elsewhere on those linked pages.)

More than the meaning, a big part of the reason we like the name Blaise is for the historical figures1 that share that designation, most notably the aforementioned large-nosed Frenchman.

(The following is a probably-too-long section about Blaise Pascal… feel free to skip ahead to the middle name section if you’d prefer. He’s just such a cool guy - I just couldn’t help myself.)

Blaise Pascal was a French mathematician2/physicist/inventor/ writer/philosopher who lived in the 17th century. The son of a tax collector (ahem, I’m an CPA…) Blaise was a prodigy since birth, inventing a calculator and writing extensively about projective geometry by age 16. He is the namesake for Pascal’s triangle, Pascal’s law, Pascal’s theorem, the Pascal (unit of measurement), as well as the father of expected value theory, the inventor of modern public transportation, and a sundry other significant contributions that were years ahead of his time.

While I can appreciate his genius, I’m no scientist or mathematician, so the main reason that Blaise Pascal resonates with me are his philosophical writings.

After a time of drifting spiritually, at age 31 Pascal had a “religious vision” in the night that changed his life. It is said that he took notes immediately after the vision that stated "FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and the scholars… heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ… May I never be separated from him.” It is said that he kept the note sewn into his garments wherever he went, something that was discovered by a servant after his death.

A philosopher deep in thought... or just gassy
Soon after that episode, Pascal published the Provincial Letters under a pseudonym, to attack a popular Catholic ethical philosophy. In addition to being convincing and of sound logic, the Letters are famous for their use of humor, satire, mockery, and wit – a style I can appreciate and relate to as someone who has been called “snarky” on more than one occasion. The Letters are seen as one of the greatest works in French Literature.

His main theological work, Pensées (“Thoughts”), was published posthumously as it was not finished before his death at age 39. Though I don’t pretend to have understood all of it, I’ve read Pensées  and found it to be refreshing in its straight-forward rational and self-awareness. It doesn’t paint the world in complete black and white, yet the preponderance of evidence Pascal puts forward essentially develops Pascal’s Wager, a philosophy with which I naturally sympathize. For someone who was so brilliant in the world that he could observe, touch, measure, etc., Pascal had an incredible understanding that there was more to life than just the physical and that life is a balance between the heart and reason.

In Pensées, he wrote:

“It is the heart which perceives God and not the reason… We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart...”

“If we submit everything to reason, our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason, our religion will be absurd and ridiculous . . . There are two equally dangerous extremes: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.”

I’m not going to include a full biography of Blaise Pascal here (though I would encourage anyone to research his life story and works), and we’re not naming our son after him because we want to pressure Blaise Wittig to be a brilliant scientist/philosopher or because we believe Blaise Pascal was anywhere near perfect.

We do hope that our Blaise can be a man who influences the world for good in his work primarily through his relationship with Jesus Christ. Like his namesake, we hope that Blaise understands how to connect with people in a tangible way to show them that believing in God is reasonable and also freeing.

We also pray that Blaise grows up to be someone not afraid to fight tyranny and stand up for the oppressed - even if the oppression comes in the name of religious conviction – and that he would experience God in the same way that Pascal did when God reached out and drew Blaise to Himself  - with FIRE in lieu of just reason.

I have about 1,000 favorite Blaise Pascal quotes (sample: “Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give him too much, the same.”) that I wanted to include in this post, but will instead append to the end for brevity’s sake. He really was an amazing guy.

1. Another famous Blaise is Saint Blaise, the patron saint of wild animals (appropriate for our critter-filled household), woolcombers(?), and sore throats(??), who was martyred for his faith in the fourth century in Armenia. He is famous for healing people and animals alike. Legend has it that the saint miraculously saved a child from choking to death on a fish bone.

2. Additionally, Colleen's math professor father, John, has long requested that his grandchildren be named "Opus 38" (then subsequently opus 39, 40, 41, etc.). Opus is a musical term, not a mathematical one, but we think he really just wants the children to be numbered sequentially... We didn't quite go the full Opus, but naming our kids after a famous mathematician has got to score some points with Grandpa/Professor John, right?


BabyCacia already loves her little bro
We love our families, and are so excited for Baby Blaise to be a part of all of our families - Ramsay, Ambrose, Wittig, and Blackburn. Ramsay is Colleen's maiden name, and living close  to her side of the family (the Ambroses and Ramsays) was the primary reason we moved to Central Kentucky. We are so excited for Blaise to join our quickly-expanding crew, as well as the larger family structure. In addition to his sister, who is just 8 months older than him, Blaise will have girl first cousins born just a few months either side of him. By December, his Grandpa and Grandma Ramsay will have gone from 3 to 7 grandchildren in just 10 months! This kid won't ever lack for playmates!

The Ramsay name carries a weighty legacy, with many amazing people up and down the family tree. Most notably to us, are Bill and Rose Ramsay, Colleen’s grandparents who live in Berea and about whom we seem to constantly be learning amazing tidbits into their lives. We sincerely pray that young Blaise is inspired by and can live up to the incredible Ramsay heritage.

Also, Ramsay is a Scottish surname that means "from Ram's Island" or "wild garlic." So that's fun. The legend goes that the “-AY” RamsAYs changed from RamsEY when the “-EY” Ramseys got the reputation for being horse thieves… though apparently, if you ask an “-EY” Ramsey, their story is exactly the same in the reverse. Horse-thieves or not, we’re proud that Blaise has Ramsay as his middle name.


Since I’ve written the “Wittig” portion of these name posts before, I’m just going to plagiarize myself and copy it here again:

With Aunti Corinn
Blaise is a Wittig.  Like all Wittigs, little Blaise will be cursed with having his name mispronounced and misspelled for the rest of his life.  Whitting?  Wittrig?  Whitig?  Widdic?  Sometimes I'm not sure I know how to pronounce it.  Blaise better get used to spelling it out every time, just like the rest of us. 

In 4 years of having "Cason Wittig" announced over the loudspeaker when I played high school basketball, it was never pronounced correctly at a road game.  Not once.  I think the only person to ever actually pronounce Wittig correctly was my crazy German soccer coach who would scream "Vittig!" at 12-year-old me from the sidelines in between muttered German curse words.

Incidentally, Wittig comes from the German word for "wood" or possibly the word for "clever"... although I was told as a kid that it meant "little wooden head."  I couldn't find any evidence of the "little wooden head" meaning on the internet, but I'm going to pass that quirky interpretation on to all of my kids because it is way more fun. Also, Wittigs love ice cream, so we've got that going for us. 


Everybody wants milk 1st thing in the morning...
We’re so excited that Blaise is a part of our family and lives… I hope your main take away from this post is that we love him so much that we named him “The Lispy Stutterer from Ram’s Island Little Wooden Head”... or was it “Kingly Wild Garlic Little Wooden Head”?… or perhaps “Cleric the Horse Thief who is also Clever?” Pick your favorite.  

We’ll write more later about Blaise’s birth story and how life is going with three kids under 26 months old (spoiler alert: chaotically). Thanks for all of the love and support, and for reading this ridiculously long post. In the words of Monsieur Pascal, "I would have written a shorter blog, but I did not have the time.” (Rough translation)


Cason for Colleen and the whole crew

PS - As if our lives needed to get any crazier, 3 days after Colleen gave birth to Blaise, our dog Indy had puppies that will be ready to go to homes by Christmas 2014. Check out DoodlesByRosie blog for cute pictures and more info if you're interested.

As promised, here are some of my favorite Blaise Pascal quotes: 

Love at first sight
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” 

“Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.” 

“To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.” 

“Curiosity is only vanity. We usually only want to know something so that we can talk about it.” 

Cheeks for days
“It is not certain that everything is uncertain.”

“We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.” 

“Little things comfort us because little things distress us.” 

“Belief is a wise wager. Granted that faith cannot be proved, what harm will come to you if you gamble on its truth and it proves false? If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.” 

“Reason's last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.” 

"Truth is so obscure in these times, and falsehood so established, that, unless we love the truth, we cannot know it."

"Can anything be stupider than that a man has the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of a river and his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have not quarreled with him?"

"Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world."

"There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus."

“If we submit everything to reason our religion will be left with nothing mysterious or supernatural. If we offend the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous . . . There are two equally dangerous extremes: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.” 

“Knowing God without knowing our wretchedness leads to pride. Knowing our wretchedness without
Motherly efficiency
knowing God leads to despair. Knowing Jesus Christ is the middle course, because in him we find both God and our wretchedness.” 

“Lust is the source of all our actions, and humanity.” 

“Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.” 
Happy Daddy

“There are only two kinds of men: the righteous who think they are sinners and the sinners who think they are righteous.” 

“Man's sensitivity to little things and insensitivity to the greatest things are marks of a strange disorder.” 

“Jesus is a God whom we can approach without pride and before whom we can humble ourselves without despair.” 

“Vanity is so firmly anchored
She loves him
man's heart that a soldier, a camp follower, a cook or a porter will boast and expect admirers, and even philosophers want them; those who write against them want to enjoy the prestige of having written well, those who read them want the prestige of having read them, and perhaps I who write this want the same thing.” 

“We run heedlessly into the abyss after putting something in front of us to stop us seeing it.” 

“Our imagination so magnifies the present, because we are continually thinking about it, and so reduces eternity, because we do not think about it, that we turn eternity into nothing and nothing into eternity, and all this is so strongly rooted within us that all our reason cannot save us from it.” 

“There is no denying it; one must admit that there is something astonishing about Christianity. 'It is because you were born in it,' they will say. Far from it; I stiffen myself against it for that very reason, for fear of being corrupted by prejudice. But, though I was born in it, I cannot help finding it astonishing.” 

“One has followed the other in an endless circle, for it is certain that as man's insight increases so he finds both wretchedness and greatness within himself. In a word man knows he is wretched. Thus he is wretched because he is so, but he is truly great because he knows it.” 

“To deny, to believe, and to doubt well, are to a man what the race is to a horse.” 

"God either exists or He doesn't. Either I believe in God or I don't. Of the four possibilities, only one is to my disadvantage. To avoid that possibility, I believe in God."

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