The need to name everything

March 30, 2016

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’.

eve ensler - the vagina monologues book coverThe 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:

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Frogspawn in an Irish pond

March 15, 2010

As a child I spent endless hours exploring the shallows and periphery of a nearby lake, peering into one mysterious microhabitat after another. Between the house and the lake lies a pond whose gentler motions foster a different kind of local ecology. For example, every spring the pond plays host to masses of frogspawn that grow gradually and perilously into tadpoles, tailed froglets, and finally (if they’re very lucky) adult frogs.

The Common frog (Rana temporaria) is one of Ireland’s three amphibious animals, along with the Natterjack toad and Common newt; all are protected species. Ireland’s frogs appear to have a unique lineage, and despite their vulnerability they may even have survived the last Ice Age. If so, they were probably helped by their ability to breathe through their skin: this allows them to hibernate at the bottom of a pond or in a deep layer of mud.

On a visit to the countryside last weekend, I was delighted to see the local frogs tending to a prodigious clump of spawn that floated serenely at the side of the pond in the early morning sun:

View downward at part of a still pond, with clumps of low reeds and grasses in the foreground and masses of frogspawn amidst and just beyond them. At the top can be seen the reflections of trees on the pond surface.

Click here for clammy close-ups