What’s in a Name?


Hercules in protective mode.

Naming ranch and farm animals tends to create ambivalence in many of us. Some take the position that it’s harder to butcher an animal personalized by a name. Others, especially those who have large herds or flocks, number their animals but don’t name them. We tend to name the larger animals, such as cows, sheep and horses. Chickens that are 4H projects for the youngest generation usually get named, but the rest remain nameless (for one thing, it can be hard to tell chickens apart). Choosing names can get interesting around here, especially when there’s only one calf, colt or lamb and three kids who all want to choose the appropriate moniker. In case of disputes, we usually resort to drawing names.

Some animals come with names already attached. Maybelle the milk cow was named when we bought her. Since there was considerable discussion about giving her a different name, we did a draw. My husband chose “Maybelle”, and that was the winning draw, so Maybelle she remained. Maybelle’s first calf became Hershey because she was the color of a chocolate bar, although as she grew older, she turned black rather than brown. At the moment, she’s more likely to be called Tubby, as she’s nearly as round as she is tall. Hershey is what you would call an easy keeper…

Hershey doing what she does best -- eating.

Our gander was another critter that already had a name. For some reason he was given the moniker Hercules. Admittedly, he is a big, muscular boy, but he’s more likely to go tilting at windmills and four-wheelers than cleaning out the stables or rescuing Cerberus. However, his name did start a trend, so the two female geese became Persephone and Ariadne. I suppose if we get another gander, we’ll have to go with Theseus. Luckily, there are plenty of Greek gods and goddesses for inspiration.

Sometimes names are given based on physical characteristics. Thus one of this year’s lambs became Paddy, for the black marking at his knee that looks like a knee pad. Strawberry the beef cow got her name because she is a red Angus. Pinky the sow is white with a pink skin underneath. Others may be named for their functions, like Bacon Maker the boar. Birth date can affect a name – we have Phil, the ewe born on Groundhog Day, and her son Abe, born on Lincoln’s birthday. Although Phil could just as easily have become Gabby or Noisy; if someone in the flock is talking, it’s a safe bet that it’s Phil.

I love you, mama.

When you have registered animals, their official names may be such a mouthful that they are shortened or replaced by a nickname. Many times, registered animals are named to indicate famous ancestors or to carry on a traditional name from the sire or dam. So the broodmare Dialed In Sweetness carries the “stable name” Holly and the stallion Smoking Joe Sox is simply Sox.

Of course, when one of them steps on your foot, pecks your ankle, refuses to go where you want them to go or gets through the fence, you call them a bunch of other names as well…


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