I’m certainly not the first to consider the enchanting world of names. Cultures around the globe have put a lot of effort into the naming of children and pets and towns and multi-corporation football stadiums. They all carry some significance.
I’ve always hated the fact that my name means “small”. I can’t argue with the truth represented in my name. I am certainly not large. I was never football material, which came to me in a moment of painful enlightenment when Bruce Berry ran over me in 7th grade like a Mac truck over a coke can. Paul Warfield was only 5’11” when he played wide receiver for the undefeated Miami Dolphins in 1972. NBA star Paul George is 6’ 8” which betrays the meaning of the name completely.
I remember when Beth and I were expecting our first child. We bought every baby name book we could find. We started making lists. On road trips we would spend hours going over names. Famous names. Creative names. Names off billboards as we traveled down the interstate. We didn’t want to make a mistake. No one wants a boy named Sue.
You pick a name and then you start trying to imagine that you’re a mean kid in 5th grade who likes to make fun of names. Patty-watty. Piggy-Peggy. Pauly-wally-doodle-all-day. It’s embarrassing. You try your best to make a name tease proof. But eventually you choose and just cross your fingers and hope that your kids survive the storm.
I’ve often wondered about the cultural practice of waiting until well after birth to give a child a name. Take him or her for a test drive first. Think about it for a while. See what fits. I figure you can call a kid by any name for the first year or so and get by with it.
I experimented with names when our kids were small. Just big enough to sit up all by themselves on the floor. Playing with a shiny object, sticking shoes in their mouths, head bobbing all over the place like a Hank Aaron bobble-head doll.
I would call out to my daughter. “Hey, Bob!” And she would turn around, big eyes and smile sweet enough to put a grown man in a diabetic coma. She didn’t know her name, but she knew my voice and that was all that mattered.
And names aren’t just for people. When I was a kid, we had a truck named Nellie Bell. A 1949 Chevy, hand painted with a brush. Green body and white cab roof down to the top of the bed. The milk cow was also called Nellie Bell. The bird dog was Sam, and the 12 Gauge pump was ‘Old Faithful’.
After much scientific study, I have concluded that the naming of personal objects like a truck or a recliner is a guy thing. I don’t think women are so prone to give names to their favorite sewing machine or crock pot. And when men give names, the name is almost always female.
None of us are brave enough to have a mistress. Most of us are smart enough not to want one in the first place. But we’ll say things about our trucks and cars that in some circles could be construed as unstable.
“I really loved ‘Bell’. She was the best I’ve ever had. We sure had us one heck of a good time. When she was runin’ right, she was fun to handle. I’ll never have another one like her.”
Marriages have gotten in hot water over guys who talked about their trucks like it was an old girlfriend.
“You love that truck more than me. You never talk to me that way!”
Names carry with them relationship. They grow out of experiences. Name something and it grows on you and sticks with you like an old friend. That’s part of the reason we shed tears when we lose a pet. We give him a name. We give him part of ourselves. And he gives back more than we could ever give.
Musicians are known to give their instruments names.
For the better part of his career Eddie Van Halen played a guitar which he named ‘Frankenstrat’. Okay, it’s not a female name. But it’s a great story. He built it out of parts and pieces that he gathered. For $50 he bought a secondhand Fender body shaped out of an old piece of heavy Ash. He paid $80 for a Maple neck. He routed out a bigger slot and used a Gibson pick-up. He painted it black and put white stripes on it. Later he painted it Schwinn Bicycle red and redid the white stripes. He played it with a pick he cut out of a vinyl record. It was the perfect name. It was like he laid that thing on a table in his garage and waited for lightning to strike.
After a frightful night in Arkansas, BB King called all of his guitars ‘Lucille’. He was playing in a local bar when the place caught on fire. Everybody cleared out, but when BB realized that he had left his guitar inside during the panic, he ran back into the fire to get it.
The fire started because two guys got into a fight over a woman named Lucille. BB said the name stuck. Every time he played her, she reminded him never to get in a fight over a woman and never do something so stupid as running into a burning building. That’s the stuff the blues are made of.
Then, there is Willie and Trigger. There’s probably not a more famous Martin guitar on earth. Willie loved Roy Rogers and his faithful horse. Scarred and dinged and written on by his friends, that guitar remains his favorite. It has holes in the top where no holes should exist. But he’ll never put it down. The two of them have written some of the best songs in country music.
Ever since God gave Adam the task of naming all of God’s creatures, we have been giving names to the people and things that matter to us. The old saying is, “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name is still a rose.” Maybe. Maybe not.
A name recalls some of the best laughter and some of the hardest tears we have ever known. You think of a name and you are transported to another time and place. A grandpa sitting in church. A first kiss. A Chevelle running down the road with the 8-track blowing Steppenwolf out the 6×9 Jenson speakers. A dog that thinks he can catch crows and who never leaves your side.
Names are powerful. And it’s not the book meaning that matters. Lucille means ‘light’. That meant nothing to BB King. The reason we hang on to names is that they evoke the feeling of living and speak to the soul of what makes us human. Names remind us of all the people who have touched our lives, all the emotions that have ever shaped our experiences, and all the memories that fill our minds.
To me, the perfect dog name is Max. I’m like BB King with names. All my dogs will be named Max. I’ve had two so far. If I live long enough there will be a third, and maybe a fourth. It was late in life before I ever allowed myself to have a dog all my own. I don’t see any point in coming up with a different name. I’m not cold. I’m just attached.
I’m also glad that my folks didn’t name me Sue.