How to name things

How to name things

“It is most important to be a good namer, since it falls to all of us at some time or other to name anything from a canary to a castle, and since names generally have to last a long time. Here are some possible names for possible things, to give you ideas.”

Alastair Reid, “Ounce Dice Trice”


Make a list of names. Names for chairs or night-tables, lamps or plates.

Make a list of names for the trees you walk by or drive pass every day.

Make a list of names for possible animal friends: for the cats yet to be rescued and the dogs up for adoption. 

Make a list of names for imaginary friends. The invisible dragon or the tiny disappearing fairy, or the worry people under your pillow every night.

Making up names. Naming: creating a word that identifies things, transforms strangeness into familiar objects and feelings. We seize to be scared of something to become aware of its existence in our world. We start connecting with and belonging to one another. 

When I was little, we used to go to a very little town in the mountains of Argentina called Mina Clavero. My mother would take us swimming every morning and we would play in the crystal clear water, where other tiny creatures we called “mojarritas” swam around our dancing feet. One of the places where we would go to climb the big rocks was called “Los elefantes” (“The elephants”), because those rocks looked like enormous elephants waiting to be touched, resting by the river. My mom also knew of another place called “El nido de águila” (“The eagle’s nest”) where she would take my brother for an afternoon swim while my sister and I napped at the house with my grandmother. I remember the certainty I felt of that place being special, and dangerous at the same time, because I knew it was the place where my mom only took my big brother. The name honored the depth of that part of the river. My sister and I swam at “Las ollas” (“The pots”), literally holes naturally formed in the rocks submerged in the water. We could spend hours and it was the magical place where we used to find “mica” (sheets of silver rock) that we would treasure forever. That’s how we called that time, “forever”, and it was easy to say. 

We had names for places, names for toys, names for feelings, names for re-naming acquaintances and friends. 

Once, when I was around eight or nine years old, my German Shepard, Kyra, had eight puppies and because of the pedigree linage there names had to begin with the letter “A”. Their early personality traits were starting to modify their “greek god” names. We had “Ajax”, who we actually knew as “Alerta”, with his ears straight up, he was always the first one to go explore. There was “Apollo”, the biggest of the litter, calm and loving. “Artemis” and “Athena”, two little female pups who were strong and determined. 

When I was twelve years old, I fell in-love with a free spirited pinto horse we leased for the summer holiday. We re-named him “Indio” because we thought it was more appropriate than “Titi”. I identified a young, strong-willed almost untamed soul, with this horse who would only let me or my mom ride him. 

That same summer we rescued a sweet beige dog with big bright thankful eyes (she had ticks the size of chestnuts) and named her “Cindy”. And that was simply because we felt the name fitted her.

Why do we feel a name is suitable for certain creatures or things? Why do we choose a grandparent’s name for our child? Does that determine future characters or is it the other way around, and we change older images with new ones? Sometimes there is a meaning to the name. Other times, the creature or thing inspires the word for no special reason. And it becomes the name that is just right.

It can be comforting to find a name. The instance of encountering the name for the thing, the creature or the feeling we are looking to identify, has a probable mysterious quality that relieves our worrying nature. We are present at the time of recognizing the other’s presence. That’s a lot to say: the act of signifying with a name means we identify that thing, being or feeling, in the world. We are in the world, together. And we learn to see anew. The name confers uniqueness and creates intimacy. Within this relationship we should practice empathy, baring in mind anything and everything has a glittery existence deserving to be vast in the visual sphere of our eyes and our hearts.


“A Cheyenne elder of my acquaintance once told me that the best way to find something is not to go looking for it. This is a hard concept for a scientist. But he said to watch out of the corner of your eye, open to possibility, and what you seek will be revealed. The revelation of suddenly seeing what I was blind to only moments before is a sublime experience for me. I can revisit those moments and still feel the surge of expansion. The boundaries between my world and the world of another being get pushed back with sudden clarity an experience both humbling and joyful.” Robin Wall Kimmerer