What’s in a Name?

By

What’s in a Name?

The names we choose for our children, pets or any animate object, affects our reality of them. Naming a thing makes you responsible for it, and on a recent trip to Georgia this was made abundantly clear. I’d been invited to speak at a writers’ conference in Athens, and I’d asked my friend, Marsha, to go with me. We were meeting a friend in Watkinsville, a small arts community close to the university, for a tour of the shops and galleries.

While we waited in the parking lot of the inn, I looked out to see if I recognized our friend, Mary’s, car. The last time I’d seen her was in Savannah, when she was driving a BMW big enough to hold four Georgia Bulldogs and their equipment in the back seat. That’s the car I was looking for when Mary pulled up in a beat-up van that looked like it belonged to a Deadhead who’d driven it to too many Grateful Dead concerts, and sounded like a Harley cruising the strip in Myrtle Beach.

“Why’s that thing so noisy?” I yelled.

“ ’Cause it’s got a hole in the muffler,” she yelled back.

“Well, why don’t you fix it?”

“ ’Cause if I do, the dogs’ll chase me down my road.”

We followed her to town, and after a short gallery tour, Mary had to leave to go to the hardware store for stuff she needed to finish her patio. I guess that’s why she had the van. Before she left, she showed us the road to Happy Valley, and no, it had nothing to do with alcohol or any mind-numbing substances. It was a place out in the country where crafts and pottery were made and sold.

The rolling countryside was burgeoning in late spring. Sheep and lambs dotted the pastures and new corn was green and lush. We passed a farmhouse with a couch and television set on the porch. A yellow dog was sleeping on the couch.

“Stop!” said Marsha. I did.

“Now that’s what you call a real yard dog,” she said. “My daddy would’ve loved it.”

Her daddy used to write to me from time to time about something I’d written, southern stuff mostly. Win, who was raised on his grandfather’s farm in North Carolina, loved country things; yard dogs, mules, one-horse cultivators. He’d told me how farmers save everything. How, when a cultivator wore out, it was put by the side of the road and the mailbox bolted to it. A few minutes later, after spotting the real yard dog, we passed a farm where out front, on the side of the road, was a cultivator with a mailbox bolted to it.

“Look at that,” said Marsha, happy for two wins for Win in Happy Valley.

We returned to Watkinsville for lunch, to a restaurant Mary had recommended. It had a French name, but it was mostly Southern with pictures of dogs on the walls, real dogs like Labs, hounds and bird dogs. We were a little late for lunch and there were few customers, so we got the royal treatment.

Marsha and I were savoring the rich goodness of glazed salmon and sweet potatoes when there was a series of odd noises emanating from the kitchen. A moment later, our young waitress came over to the table, and in her South Georgia accent said,

“They’s trouble in the kitchen.”

“Is there anything we need to do about it?” Marsha asked.

“No ma’am,” she replied. “It’s jest sort of a problem. You see, we’ve been orderin’ live Maine lobsters. And the problem is, Zinnia, our assistant chef, insists on namin’ ’em. You know what that means.”

I did. My grandmother raised Dominicker chickens at her house in Alabama. She named the hens for her in-laws; Sudi, Kenny, Rea and Swan, and for other ladies not kin. Those hens lived to ripe old age because nobody had the heart to kill anything with a name. An exception was made in the rooster’s case after he spurred Grandmother’s ankles. The fact that he was named “Champ” didn’t save him. The cook gave him short shrift and sent him to rooster heaven.

We were the last customers as we ordered melon sorbet to cleanse our palates for banana pudding made with real custard and vanilla wafers. As we finished dessert and ordered coffee, the assistant chef came out to speak to us. Zinnia was young with dark hair, a gentle face and a flower name. Held against her chest like a large, maritime cross, was a live Maine lobster.

“His name’s Cherokee,” she said, patting him gently. “I expect Linda Sue told you about our trouble. I can’t hardly stand to…well, you know. I feel like I ought to at least let him have a last smoke or something. But if he has to go, what I was wondering was if we could cook him gradually, letting the water get hot, instead of throwing him in boilin’ water.”

“That would be like burning him at the stake,” I said. “Fast is better.”

“Cut his throat first, or whatever lobsters have,” said Marsha. “It’s more merciful.”

I’d never considered euthanasia for lobsters, but it seemed the right thing to do. We finished our coffee, and as we were leaving, Zinnia came back to the dining room. She was still holding Cherokee.

“Y’all coming back for supper?”

“Wish we could,” I said, “but we’ve got a meeting in Athens.”

“You wouldn’t have to order lobster, you know,” Zinnia said. “We’ve got chicken, too.” Then she opened the door for us, patting Cherokee.

You can’t get attached to chickens that come in plastic wrap. But I can see how you could get fond of something that seems so patient, like the lobster. I believe he’ll be around for a long time.

About this writer

  • The names we choose for our children, pets or any animate object, affects our reality of them. Naming a thing makes you responsible for it, and on a recent trip to Georgia this was made abundantly clear. I’d been invited to speak at a writers’ conference in Athens, and I’d asked my friend, Marsha, to go with me. We were meeting a friend in Watkinsville, a small arts community close to the university, for a tour of the shops and galleries.

    While we waited in the parking lot of the inn, I looked out to see if I recognized our friend, Mary’s, car. The last time I’d seen her was in Savannah, when she was driving a BMW big enough to hold four Georgia Bulldogs and their equipment in the back seat. That’s the car I was looking for when Mary pulled up in a beat-up van that looked like it belonged to a Deadhead who’d driven it to too many Grateful Dead concerts, and sounded like a Harley cruising the strip in Myrtle Beach.

    “Why’s that thing so noisy?” I yelled.

    “ ’Cause it’s got a hole in the muffler,” she yelled back.

    “Well, why don’t you fix it?”

    “ ’Cause if I do, the dogs’ll chase me down my road.”

    We followed her to town, and after a short gallery tour, Mary had to leave to go to the hardware store for stuff she needed to finish her patio. I guess that’s why she had the van. Before she left, she showed us the road to Happy Valley, and no, it had nothing to do with alcohol or any mind-numbing substances. It was a place out in the country where crafts and pottery were made and sold.

    The rolling countryside was burgeoning in late spring. Sheep and lambs dotted the pastures and new corn was green and lush. We passed a farmhouse with a couch and television set on the porch. A yellow dog was sleeping on the couch.

    “Stop!” said Marsha. I did.

    “Now that’s what you call a real yard dog,” she said. “My daddy would’ve loved it.”

    Her daddy used to write to me from time to time about something I’d written, southern stuff mostly. Win, who was raised on his grandfather’s farm in North Carolina, loved country things; yard dogs, mules, one-horse cultivators. He’d told me how farmers save everything. How, when a cultivator wore out, it was put by the side of the road and the mailbox bolted to it. A few minutes later, after spotting the real yard dog, we passed a farm where out front, on the side of the road, was a cultivator with a mailbox bolted to it.

    “Look at that,” said Marsha, happy for two wins for Win in Happy Valley.

    We returned to Watkinsville for lunch, to a restaurant Mary had recommended. It had a French name, but it was mostly Southern with pictures of dogs on the walls, real dogs like Labs, hounds and bird dogs. We were a little late for lunch and there were few customers, so we got the royal treatment.

    Marsha and I were savoring the rich goodness of glazed salmon and sweet potatoes when there was a series of odd noises emanating from the kitchen. A moment later, our young waitress came over to the table, and in her South Georgia accent said,

    “They’s trouble in the kitchen.”

    “Is there anything we need to do about it?” Marsha asked.

    “No ma’am,” she replied. “It’s jest sort of a problem. You see, we’ve been orderin’ live Maine lobsters. And the problem is, Zinnia, our assistant chef, insists on namin’ ’em. You know what that means.”

    I did. My grandmother raised Dominicker chickens at her house in Alabama. She named the hens for her in-laws; Sudi, Kenny, Rea and Swan, and for other ladies not kin. Those hens lived to ripe old age because nobody had the heart to kill anything with a name. An exception was made in the rooster’s case after he spurred Grandmother’s ankles. The fact that he was named “Champ” didn’t save him. The cook gave him short shrift and sent him to rooster heaven.

    We were the last customers as we ordered melon sorbet to cleanse our palates for banana pudding made with real custard and vanilla wafers. As we finished dessert and ordered coffee, the assistant chef came out to speak to us. Zinnia was young with dark hair, a gentle face and a flower name. Held against her chest like a large, maritime cross, was a live Maine lobster.

    “His name’s Cherokee,” she said, patting him gently. “I expect Linda Sue told you about our trouble. I can’t hardly stand to…well, you know. I feel like I ought to at least let him have a last smoke or something. But if he has to go, what I was wondering was if we could cook him gradually, letting the water get hot, instead of throwing him in boilin’ water.”

    “That would be like burning him at the stake,” I said. “Fast is better.”

    “Cut his throat first, or whatever lobsters have,” said Marsha. “It’s more merciful.”

    I’d never considered euthanasia for lobsters, but it seemed the right thing to do. We finished our coffee, and as we were leaving, Zinnia came back to the dining room. She was still holding Cherokee.

    “Y’all coming back for supper?”

    “Wish we could,” I said, “but we’ve got a meeting in Athens.”

    “You wouldn’t have to order lobster, you know,” Zinnia said. “We’ve got chicken, too.” Then she opened the door for us, patting Cherokee.

    You can’t get attached to chickens that come in plastic wrap. But I can see how you could get fond of something that seems so patient, like the lobster. I believe he’ll be around for a long time.

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3 Responses to “What’s in a Name?”

  1. Perry Roussel says:

    Marvelous southern story and one that only Sara could tell so well!

    Would love to hear from my long past friend!

    Perry

  2. Mary Perry says:

    Wonderful to find you in print again!!
    Billy & I would love to have contact with you.

  3. Hello Ms. Banks,
    I just finished reading “Abraham’s Battle,” which I thought was wonderfully written. I’m also attempting to write a children’s (middle school age) novel about Gettysburg from the perspective of the townspeople. It is the first novel I’ve ever tried to write, through a course with the Institute of Children’s Lit in Connecticut. My question is about perspective – I think in this book you used a narrator’s perspective rather than a main character’s perspective. I have some questions about that, if you’d care to correspond with me through email a few times. Thank you, hope to hear from you – my email is cvaitones@comcast.net.

    I grew up with one foot above and one foot below the Mason Dixon Line, so writing this story feels passionate for me, plus the fact that when my husband and I lived in DC we visited and walked over every inch of Gettysburg numerous times. Each time we visited (and we still do), I go through fresh mourning for the wastefulness of the battle there. Then, after reading “A Strange and Blighted Land” by G. Coco, I feel I MUST try to write my perspective on it. Thanks, Carlene Vaitones

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