Names

In my sequel to “Annie California,” young Crow Boy gifts Annie with a replacement hamster. “Oh, you’re lovely,” Annie tells the hamster; “what’s your name?” Crow Boy jumps in: “Her name’s Mascara.” Surprised, Annie asks how he knows that. Crow Boy shrugs, “She told me.” He explains that Mascara was one of Job’s daughters in the Old Testament. Hm. To be named is to be known; my friend Nants told me that once. I agree... but today I’m reconsidering: it’s not always good to be named. It’s not always true, as proposed by the theme song for the TV show “Cheers,” that “you wanna go where everybody knows your name.” Same goes for the wild species I’m learning the names of these days. Maybe they didn’t get a chance to call themselves by their names before somebody jumped in to tag them with strange monikers. If I didn’t know the huge orange monopod I’ve found in Trinidad tidepools is a gumboot chiton, I’d be happy to call it something else, preferably not naming an ancient animal after a contemporary workboot. Same goes for the razorback clam and the clownfish. Which came first? Then why was the manmade successor the namer of the wild firstborn? We name in order to classify, to cubbyhole, to keep animals in boxes of one kind or another: killer whales, for example. Classifying animals is necessary for naturalists, but —as someone who loves to hear names that fit charmingly—I think I’ll try asking each wild animal, when I photograph them, what they want to be called. Maybe I’ll be surprised if they answer: Sofia, Alabaster, Quicksilver, Zachariah. Mascara. Or even: Nothing.
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