Saturday, May 7, 2011

Naming the World

Earlier this spring, I was supposed to spend the weekend singing Bach's St. John Passion and hanging out with awesome writer friends. Instead, I decided to fall down the front steps of my house and spend the next two weeks in bed with a large, purple foot. In order to make this state of affairs seem more quaint and whimsical and less horrible, I named my condition Ballooneyfoot.

You don't want to see Ballooneyfoot.
Here's a picture of one time when I painted my toenails blue.
Suddenly, instead of an incapacitating injury, I had a quirky friend whose hijinks interrupted all my plans! I felt just like Bertie Wooster.

I think names are a good thing. One time there was a spider living under our couch. It was gray and hairy and had big, black eyes that it used for staring into your soul.

My parents' house, and now my apartment, are No Kill Zones, so there was never a question of squishing. The usual procedure is to Put It Out, but for some reason, this wasn't an option with this particular spider. Maybe we couldn't catch it. Maybe it was using mind-control. Maybe it was just too hard to slide the paper under the overturned glass while screaming uncontrollably. So you know what we did?

We named it.

We named it Wolfgang.

Problem solved. Who's afraid of Wolfgang? He's our fuzzy little friend! All of a sudden, it was no longer the Death of the World living under the couch. It was Wolfgang!

My family has a history of naming the world. Cars, farm implements, wild animals, tumors, humans with names already. A snowmobile from the 1970s that has a tendency to leave bits of itself on the trail at regular intervals might earn the name "Old Shed." Grandpa's large abscess might be called "Squish." I myself have been given several secondary names, including "The Load" (due to my financial contributions to the household) and "Adi Baba" (due to the fact that I steal food from my parents' refrigerator in the dead of night).

I think there's something insightful to be said about writing fiction here, but I used all my brainpower searching the internet for a picture of a spider that looks like Wolfgang while having no idea what kind of spider Wolfgang was. (Dear Google Images: He was NOT Spiderman, Evil Spiderman, Fanart Spiderman, a sports car, a cartoon, the Spiderman musical, a middle aged woman in a tiny spider outfit, a festering wound, Barack Obama, a bee, a goat, or this:

But thanks for the encouragement. I'll name you Google Friend.)

* * * Update * * *

So I remembered this anecdote, and I think it brings this post one step closer to saying something insightful about fiction:

One time my parents were at a dinner party, and one of the guests was late because he had hit a deer on the way over. He was okay. A child at the party asked him if the deer was okay. The deer was not okay. It was dead. The child asked what the deer's name had been, to which the man replied, "Um . . . Joe," while smirking. The child then went over to the family dog and said, very solemnly, "Joe is dead." Nobody was smirking after that.

Names matter.


  1. Isn't there an old legend (wives' tale, what ever) that if you name a thing, you own it?

  2. I enjoy this. I've had a sore throat and no voice for the last few days, so I'm sitting at my desk making high-pitched wheezing noises of mirth.

  3. "Google Friend" now makes me wonder if Google is Quaker...
    And the "You win" graphic looks like a Captcha to me...