I've read several books so far this year. Spanning science fiction, biology, speculative historical fiction, physics, modern fiction, economics/investments… One book stood out as the best. (The worst – relative to the others, not in an absolute sense – was Breakout Nations by Ruchir Sharma.) That book is Soonish by Kelly and Zach Weinersmith. Kelly is a parasitologist at Rice University and Zach is a cartoonist probably best known for SMBC.
Soonish is an exploration, or perhaps an imagination, of technologies that humanity may come up with in the relatively near future. Not so near as predicting the next smartphone, not so far as to be completely speculative (AKA useless). Let's say, in our lifetimes.
I'm not going to give away anything in their book or tell you what my favourite chapters were. It's full of great science and really funny jokes. I actually laughed out loud several times. Some real groaners too. All of which make it a wonderful read.
Suffice it to say that the book easily lives up to its aim. The Weinersmiths don't try to do too much and stick to ten emerging technologies explained in a good amount of detail, instead of putting out a book-length listicle of two hundred items. They interview a number of scientists and others for their material. They give you the perfect amount of historical context and information about commercial considerations that will guide these technology developments.
You can follow along and enjoy the book even if you have no prior scientific knowledge. The evidence for that comes from the chapter on gene-editing. This is literally the first time ever that I've actually understood what a gene is (well, kinda, good enough understanding). Other sources I've read tend to quickly get bogged down into the terminological detail and I lose the woods for the trees. Or they stay high-level (which is ok), only naming the concepts without explaining them – but labelling things is not the same as explaining them.
So if you read this for no other reason, just read it to understand what genes are.
I also loved the book because… of the authors' surname. I absolutely love it. Not only is it a compound name made up of both of their pre-marriage names – yay, no prioritising the man's name over the woman's – they're also names that originate from two different cultures. In fact, I don't know which is which. Was Zach originally Smith and Kelly originally Weiner? Or was Kelly originally Smith and Zach Weiner? Don't know, don't care, and that's the way it should be. To be clear, they don't make this a political statement in the book. If I recall correctly, they don't even mention it.
I've always been kinda puzzled by the idea of surnames.
Yes, I know it helps to have a second name in addition to your first to help distinguish Yuri Suzuki from Yuri Uchikata, but surely the information content of that is not REALLY that helpful in the modern age? If you lived in a village of a few hundred people, sure, it would help. But in today's globally interconnected village, there surely are several folks called Yuri Uchikata? (I haven't checked. I somehow like the sense of not knowing. Besides, I'd need to do a web search in Japanese.)
I know it also helps with genealogy traces. This seems to me to have greater utility than the unique identifier point above. Though here too I imagine things fall apart fairly quickly as you move up through prior generations and women's surnames drop away or as you move laterally to cousins.
It also seems to me to be unnecessarily disruptive for one person (the woman) to suddenly drop one of their names in adulthood in order to adopt a new one. Just thinking about the admin and the record-keeping and the now-confused digital repositories – why go through all that hassle!
What puzzles me more is when people make – what seem to me to be quite silly – statements like, "He's a real Donovan." Um? That person has elements of so many different ancestors, who presumably weren't all in-bred, that this statement doesn't make any sense to me. Even more, it might even be that, although the surname is inherited from a male line, that at least one person along the line was not actually conceived by a Donovan. Given the chances of this, and I guess the chances vary based on time and place, if you really want to retain some connection to one's origins via a surname, it makes more sense for women's surnames to be passed down, not men's.
In any case, I find the usage of surnames strange full-stop, irrespective of whether they are passed down through the male or female line. This is partly for the information content reason I mentioned above but also because I grew up in India, which has many different naming conventions.
Many or possibly most Indians don't traditionally have the concept of a family name. Contrast this with Europe or China which have had family names, surnames or patronymics for between a couple of hundred years (e.g., the Netherlands) to well over 2000 years (China).
Surname usage and conventions now differ dramatically across India, with some people still continuing to go without surnames today, some people having adopted certain names as their surname conventions fairly recently, and others now having had surnames for several generations.
The ones who have established surnames tend to follow the same sorts of surnaming-forming conventions that have been followed in other parts of the world, such as being named after an occupation or ancestral place of origin.
Many official forms now require surnames, so over the last several decades, people have adopted various name conventions.
- For instance, in the south of India, one fairly common name convention used to be Initial1-Initial2-GivenName. Initial1 would refer to one's place of origin, which isn't necessarily where one actually grew up, but some ancestral town or village one might never have been to. Initial2 would be one's father's given name or husband's given name for a married woman. This made sense in a bygone era, where it provided the most context to identify someone as "Greg, son of David, of such-and-such village". Some people still follow this system.
- Sometimes Initial1 would be dropped as in Srinivasa Ramanujan's name.
- Others, to avoid confusing people unfamiliar with the convention (including Indians from other parts of the country), have switched things around and adopted the patronymic as one's surname. This can still be confusing – I have sometimes been asked by Indians whether my given name is Murli or Ravi.
- Still other South Indians have resorted to adopting one's clan name, which used to historically be more or less invisible in day-to-day life, as their surname. The virtue of this last approach is that one's descendants can continue to use that same surname, which they can't under the patronymic system, and one's cousins similarly would be easily identifiable as belonging to the same extended family. That last bit may not be obvious at first sight so let me mention that I even have a couple of cousins who are brother and sister, yet have two different surnames. For whatever reason, one's surname is patronymic, and the other's is based on her caste identification!
And all that is just about (some) South Indian names. Other parts of the world, such as Russia, Iceland and Spain, have other conventions. If it's so confusing and arbitrary in just one segment of the population belonging to one region of one country – well.