What’s in a name

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“You know what your problem is?” Kevin asked me one day, early in our courtship.

What do you answer when someone asks you whether you know what your problem is? The possibilities are endless. I went with, “No.”

We were grocery shopping, in the produce aisle at Fairway, and Kevin turned and picked up a basketball-size watermelon. “This,” he said, holding it out, “is your brain.” The kumquats were, inexplicably, next to the watermelons, and he picked up one of those. “And this,” he holding it out in turn, “is your imagination.”

It would be more accurate to say that this is one of my problems. I am relentlessly analytical, reality-based, concrete-bound, with an imagination the size of, yes, a kumquat.

But I wasn’t going to give up without a fight.

“Not true!” I said, counterfactually. And added, as evidence, “I thought up the melon skit.”

Since, conveniently, we were in the melon section, I went on to put on the melon skit, a six-second conversation between a honeydew and a cantaloupe. It amused several passers-by, but Kevin was unmoved.


“That’s not imagination, that’s just wordplay.”

“And wordplay doesn’t count as imagination?” But I was just posturing. Wordplay is the product of an analytical mind with a sense of humor. Fiction is the product of imagination. Choreography is the product of imagination. Guernica, Rashomon, and Beavis and Butthead are the products of imagination. The melon skit … well, you get the point.

This means that Kevin has to carry the burden of being our household’s sole-source imagination. And it’s not like he’s got a lot to spare. Although he’s not as lopsided as I am, Kevin also leans toward the analytical, and he can’t quite make up for my deficit.

That’s why, between us, we have such trouble naming things.

A few posts back, commentariat member Kingsley confessed that all his chickens are named Spot, and a discussion of Dr. Seuss’s “Too Many Daves” ensued. Mrs. McCave, you see, had twenty-three sons and named them all Dave. At our house, a McCavian lack of imagination has led us to name our cat Cat.

Our chickens are left to name themselves. That’s why our favorite, who’s a lighter color than the others, is named Blondie. There are only two other chickens – the other two Buff Orpingtons – we can reliably distinguish from the flock. One is oversized and feathery, and is therefore Queenie. The other has no stand-out characteristics, and we call her No Name. Hey, it’s her own fault.

Among the Rhode Island Reds, there’s Big Red and Chicken Little, but we’re never quite sure who’s who.

Phyllis and Rocky

We sometimes get an assist from other people. When I posted about our boisterous new chick that Kevin believes is a rooster, astute commenter Susan said she was a dead ringer for Phyllis Diller. (Check the picture. It’s her to the life.) Phyllis it is. And we were going to borrow a line from Caddyshack and name our boat the Ahoy Polloi until our friend Linda pointed out that you should picture yourself calling the Coast Guard in an emergency before you decide on a boat name. We find that this stymies us, and all our boats remain nameless.

Of our eleven new chicks, only one besides Phyllis has a name. A few days after we got them, we noticed that one of our flock was smaller than the others, and seemed to be a bit lethargic. Then, yesterday, Kevin realized she has a problem with her beak. There’s a chunk missing from the top of it, either an injury or a malformation.

Rocky's broken beak

The good people at Murray McMurray have assured me that there’s a good chance the beak will fill in and the chick will be fine. We’re rooting for her, and are encouraged that she seems to be eating, drinking, and exhibiting normal chick behavior. Because she’s a Barred Rock and an underdog, of course we call her Rocky.

The rest of them all just eat, sleep, and run around. We can tell most of them apart, since they’re so many different breeds, but none has brought herself to our particular attention. So, for now, they’re all Dave. Or maybe Spot. But I’m thinking Oliver Boliver Butt would be an excellent name for a chicken.


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Comments

  1. Naming things has several parts. Like true gifting, we need to know what and who we bestow a name on. Names that don’t reflect our vision of the named one, that don’t reflect what we see in them, is a pedantic exercise, and not a true naming.

    When we know the animal or person we intend to name, our respect for them, for the roles they play and our understanding of their character and nature will make that mental investment in identification, a name, meaningful.

    Else you might as well band each chick from 1 to 11 (or 23 to 32), and use the first word in your Funk & Wagnalls as the name. Or call them 1 and 3 (or 23 and 25). Or do like most of us, and use partial identifications (profiling) by behavior, color, blemishes, etc.

    A name is a personal investment in the identification and recognition of another (sacred!) entity. There should be no shame in waiting to discover a meaningful name, for those under our care.

    Imagination, to me, is expressing something that another hadn’t noticed, that wasn’t a part of the mundane definition of the world. The melon skit, with voices, is art. It conveys both the word plays on the names, and anthropomorphizes the melons. Thank you for the joyful performance!

  2. This post made me laugh out loud.

    I can still recite, by heart, the Too Many Daves story. It made a big impression on me as a child.

    And if I remember, Dr Seuss was keen to hide his own imagination light under a bushel so came up with the pseudonym, to separate it from his “more important” scholarly writings as Theodore Geisel.

    I shouldn’t worry about unimaginary names for your animals because you have science on your side. Taxonomy is based on naming species to reflect what they resemble: stellata (starlike), nigra (black), caprea (goat-like). In your case Blondie and Phyllis. You’re just naming your animals based on the good science of binomial nomenclature.

    Save your inspiration for inventing more impromptu fruit showtunes. Or was that a haiku? It’s nice to put a voice to a person too.

  3. Kim Graves says:

    Seems to me that it took enormous amounts of imagination – not to mention courage – on both your parts to move out of NYC and up to a new life on the cape. AND you do in fact name your chickens. All of mine are named “Food.”

  4. Growing up, when we had pets, we didn’t name them. So the guinea pig was Guinea Pig, and the hamster, Hamster. We only ever had one at a time of those, so it worked fine. The rabbits we just called rabbits, except the mother rabbit, who was called, yes, you guessed it…

    Of course I thought this was normal, the way we all think what our family does is normal when we’re young.

    Then I went to university and found out that most people had given all kinds of weird and creative names to their pets, and worse, they thought *we* were weird for not naming ours. Goes to show, I thought to myself, it takes all sorts…

  5. Playing off of Kim’s comment, perhaps you could name them after your favorite dishes, spices or condiments….”Teri” (yaki), “Sam” (Balsamic), Honey-chive (Honey-chile)…etc….
    And for what it’s worth, I think Ahoy Polloi is a fine name for a boat. I am sure the Coast Guard has heard far far worse.

  6. Kingsley says:

    LOL @ can’t elope (although it’s a “rock melon” in our family)

    It’s hard being a smarty-pants. Always analysing for further reason or meaning. Sometimes, just for a second I wish I was like our dog – take everything at face value, and if food or a walk is involved, even the better. Life would be so simple. Maybe I’m just lazy.

    But then I think of this quote from Bertrand Russell:

    “The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”.

    I guess that doesn’t quote match the levity of the melon skit though.

  7. I gotta say, I feel less lame now. It seems I’m not the only one who hasn’t gone the Oliver Boliver Butt route.

    Brad, color me pedantic, I’m afraid. What few names we’ve bestowed are most definitely of the superficial kind. I don’t think it detracts from my respect of my animals as living beings — at least I hope it doesn’t — and I go out of my way to treat them well, if not to name them well. As for the melon skit being art, well, I don’t think I can go there with you. Too silly. But I appreciate the encouragement and support.

    Jen — Damn, why didn’t I think of that! It’s not naming, it’s taxonomy! With any luck, I’ll go down in history as the barnyard Linnaeus. And all great minds love “Too Many Daves.”

    Kim — Food is an excellent name. That’s why we named our turkey Drumstick. And our ducks all answer to Smoked Tea Duck. But I can’t take the credit for having either imagination or courage for coming here and doing this. It was essentially an accident.

    Maria — We should introduce Cat to Hamster. Or maybe not.

    I had the reverse experience going to college. Where I grew up, we were definitely weirdos. When I went away to school, I discovered that I wasn’t all that weird — I just came from a place that was weirdo-defiicient, which made we look way weirder than I was.

    Dina — Love Teri (yaki). I do know someone who named a chicken Barbie (que).

    Kingsley — Bless your pointed head for appreciating my cantaloupe joke, from halfway around the world. And I can assure you that I am foolish enough to be certain of myself at least part of the time. But my flaws are so blindingly obvious (as are my assets — everything about me is blindingly obvious) that even I am not foolish enough to miss them.

  8. We’re not much better at the name game.. notice the boring names we give our beers????

    So far we have:

    Cinnamon and Ginger are the RI reds
    The little barred Rock who jumped out of the box is called Road Runner
    And the two Americaunas are Mrs T ( after Mr t’s mohawk) and Cheeks ( cuz well she has puffy white cheeks.

    The buff orpingtons are nameless…as is the last barred Rock.

    I can’t actually hear your melon skit.. as my machine at home has not osund system…but I gotta tell you.. watching you muted with talking melons is really quite funny.

    Chicks are all doing well…buster is going batty over them tho!

    Cheers
    B

  9. Imagination, n. Anthropomorphism run amok.

  10. More videos, please! I love your writing, but watching you — just puts me in the place I want to be (in front of that chicken coop). Please?