What’s in a name?

Here is how my family came to bear the last name Rhone. This is from a letter written by my Great Uncle to my Great Grandfather:

Your grandfather was named Abernathy. He was an Irishman who came for Ireland to North Carolina and was a farmer and whiskey distiller… Our grandmother lived in the same place and was owned by a family named Rhone. Her name was Hetty. Since he did not own Hetty neither did he own her son, but made many unsuccessful efforts to buy the child from the Rhones… Meanwhile the Rhones got in a bad way and your grandmother’s family was sold to a family named Stowe. As was not always the case the family was not separated… Shortly after Freedom immigration agents came to the settlements and told great stories about the great State of Texas, most of it was fantastic and untrue, but they were greatly moved and decided to move to Texas, taking a steamboat to Galveston and finally settling near Brenham… Although they had come to Texas as Stowes, they decided at registration time to change back to the name for their master Rhone was good to them. while Stowe was very mean. So that is why we bear the name Rhone instead of Stowe or Abernathy.

My family chose the name Rhone. A choice driven in part not only by the past they wished to remember but also the future they wished to have going forward. Within that name were lessons about right and wrong, human suffering and dignity, and how we should treat those under our care. It defined them. It told the story they wished to tell to others about them.

For centuries, the names we have chosen have said much about who we are, what we do, what we believe, and how we wish to be remembered.

Johnson (John’s son). Schumacher (from “schuhmacher” German for Shoe Repair/Maker). Smith (Someone who crafts, forges, or makes).

All of these were chosen. All of these had something to say about the past, present, and future. All of these helped to shape the legacy of the families that chose them.

In the same way, today we also choose names for ourselves that, while not family names, still say as much about us as they have for centuries before us.

Mother. Democrat. Student. Thinker. Writer.

And, in choosing these names, they define us. They define our legacy. How we wished to be thought of in the present and remembered in the future. They tell others our story.

Here is how I came to bear the name Rhone:

I was born Patrick Davis. When my Mother became pregnant with me she got married to a man, who was not my father, with the last name Davis. He was a mean man who abused my mother. She divorced him before I was born. For many complicated reasons, the name remained. I was born a Davis.

My real father’s last name is Mason. I have known him as my father since I was three. We had occasional interaction as I was growing up. I was always drawn to him. I looked up to him. Despite many circumstances that kept us apart while I was growing up he was always my dad. We remain quite close today.

When I became a young man, I decided to choose a name. I did not wish to be named Davis as I had no connection or knowledge of the man (nor he of me). I considered Mason for a time. In discussions with both he and my mother over the years I came to feel, if time were reversed and given the opportunity, they would have never married. Therefore, I chose the story I wanted to tell about me.

I chose Rhone.

Climb On!

In rock climbing, there is a technique called belaying. It is a system often used between two people, the climber and the belayer, and is used to keep the one climbing from falling very far should they loose their grip. As one would imagine, any system involving such a level of trust also needs to be supported by clear communication. When I was a young man, I did a fair amount of climbing, always using this system.

One day, I was on belay at the top of the rock face. Top belay is a bit atypical but not unheard of. It’s a bit more risky because the one belaying can’t really see the one who is climbing. Therefore, the one belaying must work off of the tension of the rope and the standard call-and-response communication system is even more important. And thus it started.

“On Belay!” I heard from far below. It was the climber, letting me know that he had the rope secured and was awaiting my response.

Now, a side bit about this particular climber. He had worked very hard to get here. He had battled a life long fear of heights. If asked, just a couple of weeks prior, if he could ever see himself climbing a boulder, let alone a six story rock face, he would have shuddered in fear at the thought alone. That said, he started with a boulder and overcame his fear with each new challenge, each one a little bit higher than before. I was incredibly proud of him. Now he stood here, having placed his trust in me, and in the system, ready to tackle his biggest challenge yet.

“Belay On!” I called out to him. In technical terms it means that I have checked all of the equipment on my end and my setup and am personally prepared and ready to protect the climber in case of a slip or fall. To lock off the rope. In simpler terms, I’ve got his back. I’m ready.

Now, at this point, the one who is belaying expects to hear “Climbing!”. And only then expects to give the reply, “Climb On!”. Thus giving permission for the climb to begin. This is the system. These are the rules. It is the only way.

I never heard it. I never heard “Climbing!”

Therefore, I know damn well I never said “Climb On!”

Yet, at some point, the climber decided to start the climb.

Perhaps he said “Climbing!” and, due to the distance, or the echo of the canyon, or the voices of fear and uncertainty already in his head, he thought he heard me give the O.K. Whatever the reason, here I was at the top of the rock. Waiting. Not feeling tension in the rope. Not pulling the slack. Not really expecting to.

After what was likely a few minutes but seemed like forever, I heard a scream and suddenly the rope went tight. I could almost feel what had happened before I actually knew for sure. And, as I went off belay and peered over the ledge to the bottom, there was the climber, lying on his back at the bottom of the cliff, still attached to the rope surrounded and being attended to by the others we were there climbing with.

What happened? Why was he climbing? Why did those below allow him to climb? There was a system! A trust! I never said climb on!

These were all things running through my mind as I set up a repel, threw it over the side, and made my way down the face. As I reached bottom, he was beginning to sit up. He had not fallen that far. Ten feet. Fifteen at most. So I was told. He was shaken and sore but nothing seemed broken, on the outside at least.

The inside was another matter. The courage he had built until that point was shaken and his confidence was broken. He never climbed again. Not even a boulder. And, it was a long time before I could feel comfortable belaying. And even when I did I was extra loud and clear and specifically requested others to be the same no matter their climbing experience. In a strange way we both fell off that rock that day. If I was ever going to get back up there again, I was going to make damn sure I was not alone in my understanding of what was expected.

When working the edges of life and the obstacles we all must climb, one needs at least one partner (Ideally, you need several) and a system built on clear communication and trust. It must be understood clearly by everyone involved. Regular status checks are mandatory. Because, ultimately, you need those who are going to have your back and ensure they will keep you from falling. You also need those who will help you with the communication needed to keep you safe. Done differently and you risk pulling those tasked down with you when you fall. Done well and you all tackle the edge together.

Thoughts on the iPad 2

OK, so I have finally had a chance to sit down and catch up on all of the big iPad 2 news of today and I do have to say that I am typically impressed. I use that phrasing because this is exactly the kind of second revision update one would expect from Apple in this area. They have never been a company that rests on their laurels or suffered even the hint of competition1 in a market they pretty much defined.

They improved everything. It’s thinner (Thinner than an iPhone 4!), faster (Dual Core!), has front and rear cameras (Facetime!). Even the new cover, not to be mistaken for a case, is engineered and imagineered to the nth degree. What’s not to love? If you were a hold out on the original iPad because you knew that Apple was likely already making something even better, well, wait no longer this is the machine you want.

That said, what about those of us who have the first generation iPad? You know, the one I’m writing this on right now? Is this so significant an upgrade that it has somehow magically rendered ours near useless in comparison?

I think not. I think if you were using and loving your iPad before today’s news, you can and should do so after it. It is still very much the magical and revolutionary 2 device it was when you woke up this morning. You know, when you launched the iPod app, fired up the latest episode of Enough, streamed it to your Airplay speakers, swiped through the New York Times, while you sipped free-trade coffee, and pondered what a blessed and wonderful life you had. A life filled with things you could only dream about as a kid and still foreign to 95% of the world’s population. A life free from the guilt your mother tried to instill when she told you to eat all of your vegetables because there were starving children in Asia and you should be grateful to have any food at all. Instead, you get to enjoy this still magical device and just tuck away in hidden places the possibility that those vegetable starved kids likely grew up to work in the factory that made said magic for you.

So yes, the iPad 2 is great if you need one. If you have an iPad today, the one you have is best.

Also, eat your vegetables.


  1. This word should be read as if in air quotes because that is how it was meant. And, no, Android is still not there and likely never could be in my opinion. ↩

  2. Air quotes again. ↩

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