The act of naming was described by Elias Canetti as ‘the great and solemn consolation of mankind’. Replace the anachronistic last noun with humankind or humanity and it fits an entry in Eve Ensler’s book The Vagina Monologues:
I have always been obsessed with naming things. If I could name them, I could know them. If I could name them, I could tame them. They could be my friends.
It’s not clear who the narrator is. Ensler says some of the monologues that constitute her book are ‘close to verbatim interviews’, some are composite, and with some she ‘just began with the seed of an interview and had a good time’.
The unnamed naming obsessive mentions a collection of inanimate frogs she had as a child, each of which she named in a ‘splendid naming ceremony’ involving song, dance, frog noises, and excitement – though not before she had spent time with the frog, getting to know its nature. One was called ‘Froggie Doodle Mashie Pie’, so perhaps we should drop the ‘solemn’ part of Canetti’s line.
Soon, the narrator says, she ‘needed to name everything’ – rugs, doors, stairs, furniture, the flashlight (‘Ben’). Then she looked closer to home, so to speak:
I eventually named all the parts of my body. My hands – Gladys. They seemed functional and basic, like Gladys. I named my shoulders Shorty – strong and a little belligerent. My breasts were Betty. They weren’t Veronica, but they weren’t ugly either. Naming my ‘down there’ was not so easy. It wasn’t the same as naming my hands. No, it was complicated. Down there was alive, not so easy to pinpoint. It remained unnamed and, as unnamed, it was untamed, unknown.
Do you name things, with or without a splendid ceremony? Did you ever name a bicycle or car, a body part, a pair of shoes, a favourite pen, an unruly houseplant? Do tell.