Sunday, May 16, 2010

What's In A Name?

"The gestures of another being, the rhythm of its voice, and the stiffness or bounce in its spine all gradually draw my senses into a unique relation with one another, into a coherent, if shifting, organization. And the more I linger with this other entity, the more coherent the relation becomes, and hence the more completely I find myself face-to-face with another intelligence, another center of experience." --David Abrams, The Spell of the Sensuous

Being a woman of words who also embraces the fullness of animism, names and their meanings are important matters for me. For myself, names have a greater significance if they evoke an essence of that which the name refers to and in this way I feel a reciprocal exchange occurs between those who speak the name and those who answer to it.

In ancient times, there was much more significance placed upon the choice of a name and in many aboriginal societies, names changed as a child grew and acquired experiences that further shaped her character.

Names have a certain power or magic, which is largely ignored by modern man, yet nevertheless the implications of names influence in subtle ways.

I should like names to reflect positive potential and the greater good, therefore if a name appears to generate a negative sensation, I have no difficulty finding a new name to use, and in the case of my animal friends, it is important that whatever name is used is one that he or she has influence over and acceptance of.

Dr. Deb Bennett, founder of The Equestrian Studies Institute, equine conformation specialist and author, has much to say regarding the significance of the names we give horses. For the most part, she abhors "pretentious" or "cute" names and believes that the names people give their horses stifle the animals' true natures and places emotional and sentimental expectations on equines that are overall deleterious.

Dr. Deb has a forum she manages and dispenses advice and caustic criticism within, and it is here that she has expressed her views regarding horses and names. The Equestrian Studies Institute home page specifically requests that a link be provided to relevant information rather than "dubbing" out information published there and pasting it elsewhere on the web, so I will have to give my own accounting of the specific things I want to highlight which serve as counter point to my contention that the selection of a name has great significance and can positively influence a horse's destiny.

Desiring her students to have a better understanding of "what kind of animal a horse is", Dr. Deb stresses that "Horses are livestock" and that to get to know them better we should "depersonalize" them and not call them by names we humans choose from projections of our subconscious minds which serve only to illuminate our "hidden obsessions". Rather, we should call horses by their colour and so begin a dedication to release ourselves from "sticky-smarmy attachment" enabling us to see how "utterly different are animals from ourselves".

One can perceive that probably there are many situations where horses are treated inappropriately because of the name and image people have of them based on their names, and so her advice to depersonalize the horse and take him for "who he is", is not necessarily inappropriate, if it also prompts people to see the horse's potential as well.

Spending time with our horses and seeing how they respond to us, to their environment and to their pasture mates provides us with a rich encyclopedia of information whereby we can better perceive the unique beings horses are, each possessing a depth of individualized personality. It does the horse little good to pick a name simply reflecting his colour, "Blackie" or behavior, "Witchy", or a combination of depersonalized names like Dr. Deb suggests, "Old Grey"--this itself can be as stifling to the horse as is a cute name like "Muffin" or a grandiose name like "Gladiator".

However, to suggest that we depersonalize our horses also puts distinct limitations on their potential for self-actualization and provides humans the justification for all manner of disrespect and abuse. If one perceives "horses as livestock", one creates the capacity to "use" horses for human pursuits until their usability diminishes or ceases to please us, after which they can then be disposed of in whatever manner the human finds acceptable. No need for a positive, influential name for a creature so doomed.

As I contemplate things further, I realize that what Dr. Deb has done, by determining (and naming) horses as "livestock" exposes the projection of her "obsessions", by placing a label on them that defines what they are in human terms only.

The philosophy of Dr. Deb isn't right, or wrong, it is simply a learned choice of perception which has been perpetuated since the first domestication of animals by humans, and it has coloured the way we humans see horses by placing limits on what type of being horses are through defining and naming them as "livestock".

But we are not beholden any longer to such traditional thinking, and we realize that horses have their own "center of experience" like that described in the opening quote by David Abrams.

If we accept horses as equal beings with whom we desire a friendship with, it behooves us to delve deeply into their personality (definitely personalizing them) and horse and human together come to a determination of what name is best suited to bring them to their optimum selves.

It took me two weeks to receive the right name for Belina's filly. She was enigmatic from the very beginning. As Eva noted, this filly seemed much more meditative than her full sister, Encantara, and certainly not as lively as her slightly older half sister, Pinoteia. To be honest, my first impression of this new filly was that she was awkward to the point of causing me to wonder if she was structurally challenged. But she'd keep trying to move fluidly, just the same. She was also very aloof and shy (as all of Belina's fillies have been at first), and yet she would exhibit courageous curiosity and a definite determination to over come her fears. I soon noticed a pattern in her behavior...she would reach out to touch things that interested her and make a determination thereafter if she should further explore or return to her dam's side.

At first, I tried out "Atingir", which means "to reach for", but when I would speak this name in her presence, she either ignored me, or would hide behind her mother. Later, after further observing her touching things with her muzzle, I presented her with a variation of "tocar" which means "to touch" in Portuguese. This filly, brightened when I called her "Tocara", and she kept her attention focused on me for many minutes, and shyly walked forward to reach out and touch me as she has so many other things. Though she isn't quite ready to let me touch her, I'm sure that we will connect further in this way in due time.

Tocara is pronounced, TOO-car-ah.

To end now this journal entry about the significance of names, I want to say that I did not give our stallion his name. Altamiro was given his name by the people at the zoological park in Germany where he was born. During that time and before we even contemplated importing a purebred Sorraia colt, Kevin had given me a book on the Upper Paleolithic paintings in the Altamira cave in Spain. Altamira means "high view". Ravenseyrie refers to "eyrie" a high remote dwelling place (where ravens also live) and aptly describes our property here up on top of the East Bluff of Gore Bay on Manitoulin Island, over looking Lake Huron's North Channel. Can you appreciate the synchronicity of it all?

From the very beginning I knew that the name given to Altamiro was perfect for him and he would grow into its significance. I do wonder (had I known of Dr. Deb's advice) if maybe I would have changed the yearling stud colt's name to "Muddy" or "Dull-boy", since these reflected his colour and his behavior at that time...and if I had named this young stallion, "Muddy" or "Dull-boy" if he would have turned out to be a spectacular herd sire with an aristocratic "high view" of himself and amazing chaser of birds--or would he have shuffled his way through life because of the connotations such a depersonalized name like "Dull-boy" or "Muddy" would have forced upon him?

Altamiro, purebred Sorraia stallion, chasing birds on the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve


June said...

So interesting. Tocara is a super name. I really like the look of her. I think she is very wise.

When I adopted our two-year old filly, her name was Pandora - in some ways an apt name, as she is super-curious, and definitely into opening boxes - however, I didn't like the negative connotations of the name. I was praying for guidance as to whether to adopt her during a service where St. Bridget was mentioned several times (along with several other saints), and it just came to me that her name was Bridget. And it was the conviction about her name that lead to a conviction that I should adopt her.

June said...

Jewish scholarhip has so much to say that is interesting about naming. God utters the name of the creature and speaks it forth into existence.

Here's a quote from
"[T]he name is associated with the soul. Thus, when we call someone by his name, we arouse his vital force. This applies not only to one’s proper name, but also to a descriptive name - when we call someone “wise,” we arouse his intellectual faculties; when we call him “merciful,” we arouse his pity. "

"Adam was able to perceive the spiritual components of the creative spirit that brought every animal into being, and named each animal in conjunction with its spiritual configuration."

June said...

And I think that if we'd left her as Pandora, we'd've been emphasizing the curious, in-your-face, get-into-trouble side of her personality; whereas, she also has a very grounded, sensible aspect to her nature, which I think "Bridget" allows to be expressed.

June said...

And then there was the horse we could never find a name for - he came to us with his racing name, which was oddly impersonal, and we could never find a nickname - and he died prematurely of bone cancer.
Can you tell this subject interests me just a little bit?

Kris McCormack said...

What lovely photos of young Tocara, Lynne!

Regarding the importance of names -- I do think the power of words to summon thoughts and feelings is a very important thing to take into consideration when we decide on what word to call someone.

But then I think about how my memory for names is sometimes very "iffy" these days -- though my ability to recall the essence of whoever-it-is is more sound than ever -- and I realize that my inability to remember a name, or to call someone by an incorrect name doesn't change in the least who they are. Then I find myself agreeing with Shakespeare - "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet."

Or, with Gertrude Stein, "A rose is a rose is a rose.....

Hilary Lohrman said...

Thank you for posting again; I miss your perspective when you are away for a bit.
Appreciate very much your meditation upon names, and the name of the new filly seems very apropos.
Blessings on her!

Hilary Lohrman said...

Thank you for posting again; I miss your perspective when you are away for a bit.
Appreciate very much your meditation upon names, and the name of the new filly seems very apropos.
Blessings on her!

eva said...

These little ones are so..."together" in their bodies, still wrapped in baby fuzz with the black faces just peeking out. Tocara strikes me as very athletic, at least from the still pictures, she has such muscle tone.

Now, am i mistaken thinking that this latest generation of foals is lighter? The first year brought two almost black ones, Interessado and Fada, and this year's foals are wrapped in golden wool? I assume they will shed this fuzzy coat and look like Mom and Dad, but the variety is noticeable.

Kris, I am the same with people's names, and not just because of age. I think the real issue is that most people's names are not true names, in other words, hey don't really capture much or anything about their essence. Way too cute, always ending with "y". And often it's parents imposing a name due to current fashion that then the person never likes or embraces. I know a few people who needed to shed their names as part of shedding a whole bunch of other "baggage." I ended up liking my name because you cannot mess with it or stick a "y" onto it.

Lynne, Tocara is a great name, i love it. She who touches. The touching one.

June said...

I agree with Eva. Most people don't have their right name - they have a name they are known by, but it is not necessarily the name that speaks their essence. Revelation 19:12: "....he had a name inscribed that no one knows except himself." The footnote to this verse says, "In Semitic thought, the name conveyed the reality of the person."

Revelation 2:17 says, "To the victor I shall give some of the hidden manna; I shall also give a white amulet upon which is inscribed a new name, which no one knows except the one who receives it." I wonder if this means "new" in the sense of "not the name your parents gave you" or in the sense that as we (hopefully) progress through life, our essence and our name are transformed.

June said...

Also I second what Hilary says - we miss you when you're away!

Annemiek said...

A wonderful name for a wonderful foal. Tocara! She is a beauty. I think if I had the chance to do it again, I would name my child the way you name your horses. I remember that we were trying to find a name for our unborn baby eleven years back, and we did not know if it would be a boy or a girl. So we picked a boy’s name and a girl’s name, but just because we liked those names, not because we thought they would “fit” the child. I would rather wait until the child is born and find a name that really “fits” the way you chose a name Lynne. Do you know that this isn’t actually possible here in the Netherlands, you have to report your child the day it is born ( or within the next 24 hours) with name and all.

Máire said...

Lynne, I am with you on your thoughts about names. At some stage I may have to post about how Ben got his name. Before our second daughter was born, or conceived even, I had a dream in which I was giving birth to a baby girl named Rebecca, so Rebecca forms part of her name now.

I love that quote from David Abrams at the start of your post: "the more I linger with this other entity, the more coherent the relation becomes": that is so true.

Maybe what Deb Bennett is giving out about, is that tendency among women to refer to themselves as their horse's Mum which sentimentalises the relationship. (I never hear men referring to themselves as their horse's Dad.) I could call my blog "Livestock at Home" and refer to the ponies as Whitesocks and Darkie? I don't think so!


Terence said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
June said...

Yes please, Maire - tell us about how Ben got his name.

Lynne Gerard said...

What great comments and perspectives you all have provided! Definitely this name-game is a human construct and the meanings, whether positive or negative which are associated with names come from our own interpretations based on experience or learned responses.

Maybe in the true wild horses and plants and other animals communicate using names, who is to say one way or the other? And maybe they pick great names or maybe they don't. One thing is for sure when there is a human interacting with a horse (or other entities, plants, animals, insects, etc.) our choice of name and manner of perceiving them affects their lives and the way they respond to their names effects ours.

This I find utterly fascinating!

Eva wrote:
"Now, am i mistaken thinking that this latest generation of foals is lighter? The first year brought two almost black ones, Interessado and Fada, and this year's foals are wrapped in golden wool? I assume they will shed this fuzzy coat and look like Mom and Dad, but the variety is noticeable."

Interessado and Fada are very dark, almost black grulla colours, and you are right, their foal coats were darker at birth. All the others, (Animado, Encantara, Silvestre, Segura, Pinoteia and Tocara) has the lighter, tawny baby coat, which shed out to variations of a lighter grulla colour.

Within the purebred Sorraia offspring there are variations of the grulla (and dun) colouring, ranging from almost black to the very light shade we see in Zorita. The bi-colouring in manes and tails is much more prominent in the lighter shade of grulla.

Typically the Sorraia type mustangs out in the states are darker grullas, though there are some duns and lighter grullas as well. One notices the hue variations among the Polish Konik ponies as well, though (correct me if I'm wrong, Annemiek) the dun colour is not the norm among them...and there are those that have come to the same conclusion regarding the Sorraia, that the dun variant is aberrant.

My apologies for not being able to provide more frequent articles for the Journal of Ravenseyrie--I'm under a deadline for completing some paintings for an upcoming exhibition of my work, this in addition to trying to keep my own gallery properly stocked.

Be sure to go to Maire's blog and read about how she came to name her horse, "Ben".

Once again, thanks for all the comments!