If you have ever had trouble naming a child, you should have seen the pained and puzzled faces at a recent family conference at our house. We had to find names for three race horses, two boys and a girl.
With human triplets, if all else fails, you can name the boys John and Joseph and the girl Mary. With baby horses there are no old standbys at all to fall back on. Regulations of The Jockey Club say that you cannot choose a name which has been borne by any other Thoroughbred within the last 15 years, which rules out no less than 200,000 names right at the start, including all the obvious ones like Old Dobbin, Black Beauty and Smoky Joe.
Moreover, as all racing fans know by now, the owners of a Thoroughbred are expected to exercise the utmost ingenuity in naming the baby horse after the parents. Devotees of breeding still cite the classic of all time, involving a colt by Questionnaire out of Delicacy. The Greentree Stable bred this colt and triumphantly named it Hash. The current champion is a filly by the little-known sire Pandemonium out of the mare Madam Chairman. Its owner had the inspiration to name it Order Order.
All great horses, the racing people say, have great names. Give a horse a stouthearted name like Man o' War and it will prove a champion. Call the same horse something frivolous like Swing and Sing and it will finish up the track. (It so happens that there is a horse named Swing and Sing, and it does usually finish up the track. I know because I own it. But that's another story.)
You need a great name, an ingenious name and a name which 200,000 people have failed to find before you. And as if this were not problem enough, the rules also require that the name be not more than 16 characters long, including all apostrophes, hyphens or spaces.
When I was a young man aching to own a race horse, the privilege of naming it was one of the great attractions. In fact I have been naming horses in daydreams all my life. There was one period when, in the unlikely event that anybody willed me a horse, I would have named it My Barbara, regardless of its sex. You can guess why. There was another period when I dreamed of owning a Night Editor. This was because I had just decided to become a newspaperman.
But mostly during this romantic period of mine I liked to pick out names that had a poetic ring. I thought at one time that Sweet Vermouth was just about the most beautiful name available in the English language. My father, who had been a frustrated horse owner all his life, was partial to Cellar Door. Two decades later, these names no longer strike me as very pretty or at all appropriate. Even if I still liked them, they would not have helped us the other night. Among the 200,000 Thoroughbreds of the past 15 years there is a Sweet Vermouth and there is a Cellar Door, not to mention a My Barbara and a Night Editor.
Now that I actually faced the problem, finding names was not nearly such a glamorous privilege as it had appeared in prospect. For one thing, the people who named the parents had been very little help. One sire was Bernborough, a fine, resounding name, but meaningless. Another sire was Nahar, one more word which you will not find in the dictionary, biographical dictionary or gazetteer. One of the dams was Jinxy, a cute name but contrived. Another dam was Saremp Singer, which means nothing except that her owner had had the devil's own time finding a name for an offspring of Saracen and Emphatic. We had four strikes on us from the start.
We piled the dictionary, a thesaurus and Bartlett's Familiar Quotations on the kitchen table and got to work. As chairman of the meeting, I first called for suggestions on the filly, which is by Nahar out of Beautician, by Black Servant.
My son said, "Call her The Rouser."