"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?