“We had also once had an ebullient pig named Helen, who would come when you called her name and smiled like a dolphin when you spoke to her. And then we didn’t see her for a few days, and one morning over bacon and eggs, my brother said, “Is this Helen?” I dropped my fork and cried, “This is Helen? Is this Helen?!” and my mother, too, stopped eating and looked hard at my father: “Bo, is this Helen?” The next pig we got we never met and its name was #WK3746.” – Lorrie Moore, ‘A Gate At The Stairs’
This quote illustrates how hard it is to bond with something that has no name. Farmers understand this, apparently, but not so classical musicians. Why did the great composers of yore not give more of their works meaningful names? Oh sure, there’s Beethoven’s Symphony Number 5 in C Minor, Opus 67 or Mahler’s Symphonie No. 9. But I’m so much more attracted to something with a descriptive title – Debussy’s ‘Clair de Lune’ for instance, or Sibelius’ ‘Karelia Suite’, or even Holst’s ‘The Planets’. Composers like Erik Satie knew to name an odd little piano piece with an off-beat, charming name like ‘Truly Flabby Preludes For A Dog’. Now that I want to play – and hear!
It is rare to meet another person as enamored of names as I am. Most people don’t sit around pondering a words’ origin, popularity, or appeal. I do, quite obsessively sometimes. I might even be what’s called an onomamaniac – one who has a passion or compulsion for certain words or names and their supposed significance. And really, as a writer, this is not so strange after all, since names are simply words that have crystallized over time into titles. It’s rather like a biologist obsessing over proteins, or a chemist pouring over compounds.
As such I name everything. My car is Miss Messy. My home is The Mouse House. My children have long-winded, ‘pompous’ (according to my mother) names on their birth certificates. Now my sister is pregnant with her fourth child, and I routinely shout out a name now and again, just to see what kind of reaction all eight of our offspring give it.
The other day I asked, “How about Marco?” Each and every kid replied enthusiastically, “Polo!”
“What about Ivan?” I called out next. One girl wrinkled her nose and said, “Huh?” while a teen-age boy shot me an eye-dart. “Really, Mom? Like the ho?”
Nowadays children are named truly random things – Zuma, Moxie, Ptolemy, Dervish. But none of these unique names will be appreciated until the bearer is past high school, I guarantee. At heart, most kids really yearn to fit in, and if you ask any one of the eight kids I see on a daily basis, they will tell you to name the baby one of the top twenty most popular names of the day and be done with it.
This does not sit well with me. “How about Constantine?” I asked my sister’s son Noah yesterday. “That’s a strong name, and we can call him Keen as a nickname!” Noah scowled. “Auntie, how about a normal name?” he pleaded. “Like Tom….or Jerry.”
As of today this new baby remains nameless. Every time I throw out a name my sister gags and rolls her eyes. “Quiet, please. I’m going to be sick!” Obviously she has not bonded properly. I say we open up bidding to local companies willing to pay for naming rights, such as “Glennie’s Office Products”. If stadiums can do it, why not? As my mom always says, “Be a trend-setter”.
Until a winner is announced, or my sister stops retching, I guess he’ll be #92BN10102011.