February 14, 2012

The need for a name

I SPOKE the other day to a man who had a boat for sale.  "What's her name?" I asked. "No name," he said.

"No Name?" I said, "You mean she's called No Name?  "No," he said, "I mean she hasn't got a name."

Poor boat. Poor unloved, neglected boat. How can you have a boat without a name? Things have to have names.  Names are just words. There must be words, otherwise you can't talk, you can't communicate. You couldn't really even think if things didn't have names. You'd just have these blurred, vague little black-and-white pictures in your mind, such as I presume cats have. In fact I've often wondered how human speech began. It probably sprang up simultaneously with the ability to think.  I can't believe it could work any other way.

But in any case, boats have to have names.  If you buy a boat and don't like its name you can change it.  It's not unlucky, as long as you de-name the boat first.  I once wrote a special de-naming ceremony, hoping to make some money from it. It's in one of my books. And it's also all over the Internet for free, of course, so that wasn't a particularly good idea for making money, although it's typical of most of my efforts.

It can be quite hard to name, or rename, a boat, so that's probably why the man selling the boat hadn't got around to it yet.  He'd only had the boat for 10 years.  The problem is that there are so many names to choose from.  If you ask Mr Google for boat names he comes up with thousands of them; however the best ones are the personal ones that mean something to you but are also reasonably short, easy to pronounce and spell on the radio, and non-offensive.

Funny names, and rude names that try to be funny, seem to go best with small sailboats and sport-fishing boats, although I'm never quite sure that it's funny to give a poor boat a rude name like UP YAWS.  Bigger boats call for more dignified names, such as PERSEPHONE or POLYANTHUS, that tend to suggest that the owner attended university and studied very clever things pertaining to literature or botany or something. 
One of my favorite boating hacks, Dylan Winter, who is slowly circumnavigating Britain in a 19-foot Mirror Offshore, and recording his journey in his video series, Keep Turning Left,[1] insisted on calling his boat the slug, presumably because it's slow and ugly.  I don't agree with him, but at least he did the right thing by giving it a name.

I once saw a racing dinghy called SUPERCALIFRAGILISTICEXPIALIDOCIOUS.  The hand-painted name ran non-stop from the starboard transom forward to the bows and back down the other side.  A shudder ran down my spine at the thought of the poor crew on the race committee boat who had to write down that name as it flashed over the finish line among half-a-dozen others.  And I often wondered how much the sign-writer's bill was. Mr Disney and Mary Poppins have a lot to answer for.

[1] http://www.keepturningleft.co.uk/     

Today's Thought
Let us speak plain: there is more force in names
Than most men dream of; and a lie may keep
Its throne a whole age longer if it skulk
Behind the shield of some fair-seeming name.
— J. R. Lowell, A Glance behind the Curtain

"Why did they throw you out of college?"
"Because you caught it?"
"No. Because I couldn't spell it."

(Drop by every Monday, Wednesday, Friday for a new Mainly about Boats column.)

1 comment:

dylan winter said...

I agree - all boats should have aname. The slug is like a race horse - it has an official name, which is Moments and a stable name which is the slug.

We have been rubbing along pretty well together for five years. The slug calls me the gaffer