What's in a name?

by Dr June McNicholas

Strange, the sorts of things you end up talking about at conferences. Forget the hi-tech surgical procedures and latest drugs; a group of vets and researchers at the annual veterinary conference became absorbed in the topic of pets' names. You can tell a lot about an unseen animal in the waiting room just by the name on its card. Tyson and Rambo are likely to be macho breeds of dog, and, if you think back to the times these names were in vogue, probably fairly near toothless or arthriticky!

So what about the way we name ferrets? What do we give away about ourselves?! Whatever your method, there are bound to be drawbacks!

A pretty common way of choosing names is based on plants of the countryside. There are plenty of Teasels, Brackens, Barleys, Ferns, and so forth to support this method. However, not all flower names are suitable. A hob called Valerian (Val for short) may feel a bit miffed, although I'm sure that many of us have met prime candidates for Stinking Hellebore, Biting Stonecrop and Poison Ivy in our time.

Then there's the method that's based on where a ferret comes from. 'Kendal', 'Brecon' and Stonebridge’ are place names where ferrets were found. A variation on the theme is seen in 'Shakespeare' from Stratford and what else can you call a ferret found in Accrington but 'Stanley'? But, again, there are drawbacks. These are quite respectable names, ferrets found wandering in Little Piddle may not see themselves as so fortunate. And it clearly wouldn't work for Welsh ferrets found wandering in Llanfair-iddly-tiddly-whatchma-call-it-gogogoch. Addressing Scottish ferrets found in Gaelic place names would just sound like a bad sore throat, and it just doesn't bear thinking about ferrets found in the Devon villages of Crapstone and Leg-'O'-Mutton.

On to the 'letter theme'. Sadie James' famous mob are all called names beginning with 'F'. All well and good so far, but the method isn't infallible. There are a few of us wondering what will happen when the dictionary runs out and there is only a choice of 'Fungus' and 'Flatulence' (or worse!) for a new arrival.

Sometimes, naming ferrets smacks of wishful thinking. I like working my hobs and I well remember naming two likely chaps 'Harrier' and 'Merlin', no doubt anticipating swift, skillful predators like the birds of prey after which they were named. The fact that by the end of the season they had been re-christened 'Arry' and 'Mervyn' says much for unfulfilled dreams.

Then there's the 'classy approach'. Fran George's group all sport rather sophisticated names. Sebastian, Ferdinand, Leonora, Calvin (although she wishes it pointed out this has nothing to do with a fixation on CK underpants). Interestingly, a jill I had named 'Portia' (from Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice because she wanted a pound of flesh) became 'Porsche'. Same name, different connotations, and speaks volumes for an owner's psychology!

Characters from books, films and TV get a fair representation. 'Evil Edna', 'Rupert', 'Gizmo', Idgy and Knick-Knack' are all there in the ferret world. I'm not sure of the origin of 'Pixie-Bluebell' but if you're a big chap like Wolfgang you can give what names you like!

And what about the playful pun? 'Sweetie-pie' for the pschotic? 'Lucretia' for a right little Borgia? Or even 'Blackie' for an albino? And 'Cornflake' for the ferret who repeatedly killed in the nets - he was a serial killer! Yes, they're there, too.

One word of warning though, don't be indulgent enough to let the kids of the family name the ferrets. Remember, you'll be the one sheepishly registering 'Tinky-Winky' or 'Po' at the vet's long after the Teletubbies have been forgotten and the kids have grown up.

It's all a matter of personal taste, humour and logic. However, at the end of the day, you can't get away from the fact that whatever you call your ferret he's just a rogue by any other name.

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