Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What's in a name?

What's in a name? Everything. Names are power.

Choosing a name for something or someone is a scary thing. The name defines that person or thing. We have named two children and 4 boats - there is a surprising amount of similarity in the acts.

So how do you choose a name?

One universal criterion is that you don't want your boat to have the same name as others you know. So uniqueness is important.

Sometimes you work from the other end - you know several names that you don't want. You don't want "dorky" names, or you may not want names that utilize cutesy spelling. For a boat, it could be an important thing to get the name across to someone at the other end of a crappy radio connection in an emergency (well, I suspect Eolian fails at that one...).

But in the end, you want a name that fits. I think that means the name should somehow resonate with you and your life; and be a fitting one for the boat. In a response to a comment, I said, "You should spend time with her, and listen to her, and she will tell you what her name is."

Nevertheless, this leaves LOTS of room for interpretation.

Boats are female. But I don't take this literally. For example, in Spanish, virtually everything is assigned a gender. So, for example, a library is female, as is light, but heaven is male and so is water. Some of these assignments seem to me to be arbitrary; so I don't make too much of the gender thing. I think of the female gender of boats in the same way as I think of the female gender of a library. I don't feel that a boat name has to be female any more than I feel that a library has to have a female name. Nevertheless, some female names are very suitable for boats. Since I brought it up above, I think Luz (Spanish for "light" - pronounced "loose", and often used as a woman's name) would be a wonderful boat name.

Because of their frozen action potential, I think gerund phrases can make really neat boat names. An example that used to be on G dock: Phoenix Rising. But Waiting for a New Lover's Kiss, while it has a great rhythm and leaves a wonderful feel in your mouth after saying it, it is a little too complicated - and it wouldn't fit on a transom anyway. Darn.

Still thinking about sailboats, I think that those names fit best which evoke one or more of these concepts:
  • Safety
  • Grace
  • Elegance
  • Comfort
  • Peace
  • Strength
Can we talk about elegance for just a second? For an absurd comparison, which name do you think is more elegant, Macho Burrito or Circe? (Both of these are real boat names we have seen.) Yeah, exactly.

So how do I characterize elegance? Elegance is understated. It is ivory instead of neon orange. It evokes rather than describes. It leaves room for the imagination to roam a bit. For example, Sequoia instead of Safe Harbor.

Elegance is economical, spare. That is, where one word will do, two are not used; where a word of 4 letters gets the concept across, the 7 letter word is discarded (Dawn vs. Red Sunrise).

But generalizations are still just that: generalizations. I think Eventide is a more elegant name than Sunset. Tho it is longer, it is far more evocative.

So, how did Eolian get her name?

When we signed the purchase papers, one set was for US Documentation (that is, the title for the boat is issued by the US government instead of a state government). The documentation papers required the boat name, and all we knew at the time was that it would be different. The pressure was on - the sale could not be completed without the name.

So, in a process which probably goes back to antiquity, we worked up a list of candidate names and arranged them and rearranged them, and rearranged them again. Eolian, which means "windborne", wasn't on the list at first, but Aeolis was. Eventually we had the list down to 3:
  • Eolian (now re-spelled to make sight pronunciation easier)
  • Aerie
  • Eden's Breath
We chose Eolian. I won't speak for Jane, but for me anyway, the name evokes that magical feeling that you get when...

OK, wait, I have to build an image for you here:

You power out of the busyness and confusion of the harbor past the jetty into open water. You hoist the sails while driving into the wind - a noisy operation because in addition to the rattle and drone of the engine, now you have the sails flapping and flogging. Finally when all is ready, you bear off a little and you shut down the engine. The sails fill and suddenly, all is quiet. She puts her shoulder down, and silently, borne only by the power of the wind passing over her sails, she glides purposefully ahead.

There, that feeling.

1 comment:

Ken said...

One might say you're turning into a poet through these blogs. Nice post.

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