What’s In A Name?

It’s been more than 400 years since Shakespeare wrote “Romeo and Juliet,” and Juliet Capulet spoke the immortal lines, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose; By any other name would smell as sweet.” The point Juliet was making to her dear Romeo was that a name is a meaningless; She was in love with the person called Romeo Montague, not the name itself or the family behind it.

Juliet and Shakespeare may believe names are meaningless, but the horseman who agrees with them is rare, indeed. Horse names, it seems, are vitally important, with breeders and owners spending hours upon hours dwelling on potential monikers for their newborn foals.

The old standard in the horse industry is to name a foal by giving a nod to its bloodlines. Take a part of the sire’s name and a part of the dam’s name, combine them, and voilà…you’ve named the foal. Examples of this naming convention abound: Royal Fletch (by Jae Bar Fletch out of Royal Blue Dually); Neat Little Cat (by High Brow Cat out of Neat Little May); Custom Cash Advance (by Custom Crome out of Cash In Roan); and Electric Code (by Jacs Electric Spark out of Hot Coded Candy). The list goes on and on.

But sometimes, people are looking for something a little different. Some horses get named as a tribute to a special individual. My old mare, Elsies Tribute, was named after her breeder’s father-in-law, who went by his initials, L.C. He had passed away shortly before the filly was born, and she was named in his honor. In the 2011 $1 million All American Futurity, Lotta Love For Robyn was the sentimental bet based on the fact that her name was changed after co-owner Brad Williams’ wife died of cancer as the filly turned 2.

Sometimes, the honoree is still alive, as is the case with Thomas E Hughes (High Brow Cat x Smart Letha x Smart Little Lena) and Lester Armour (Playin Stylish x Dual Kual x Dual Pep). Kenny McLean named both horses after friends of his. And Zack T. Wood was still alive when Dick Gaines wrote for permission to name a horse in his honor. Wood called Gaines, asking, “What’s this deal you naming a horse after me? What’s it out of, a mule?” Gaines reportedly quipped back, “Well, Zack, I can’t look at this colt without thinking of you. He’s kind of an ugly-headed, short, dumpy sucker with a big belly and he just runs around squealing and acting like a stud.” Of course, Gaines’ respect for Wood was shown in the fact that he named such a promising colt after the longtime National Cutting Horse Association official.

The big screen is a great source of inspiration for horse names, and has resulted in horses such as Shrimp Shack Shooter (from “That Thing You Do”), Cat Ballou (from “Cat Ballou”), Something Bout Mary (from “Something About Mary”), James Boond (from the legendary 007 series) and Al Poocino (after actor Al Pacino). Songs are fair game as well, resulting in such horses as Redneck Yachtclub, whose name was changed from FMR Too Smart before he began competing. And who can forget the 1960s television series Star Trek? It resulted in a Be Aech Enterprise mare named USS Enterprise.

It seems everyone has a favorite horse name that comes to mind. Tom Holt has spent the better part of three decades announcing cutting competitions. His favorite name? Humuhumunukanukapua. (Say that three times fast!) It means “little fish” in Hawaiian. Longtime Quarter Horse News employee Teri Lee liked how appropriate it was that Todaysmyluckyday won the National Reining Horse Association Futurity Open. It really was his lucky day!

Some names have special meanings known only to the person who picked the name in the first place. Was Hooha bred by a member of the United States Marine Corp? Did VF Phi Beta Cata get part of his name from a college sorority or fraternity? And was All Is Bright born on a night where all was calm and, well, silent?

One of the naming conventions I am not a fan of is initials. I understand the reasoning, as most associations have rules against reusing names and using similar names even if spelled slightly different. Adding initials to the name opens up a host of previously taken names that can be reused. It also immediately identifies that horse as being from a particular breeding program, and that’s pretty important and a powerful marketing tool. I, personally, just don’t think SSP Three Bars or HT Poco Bueno have the same ring as the non-initialed originals.

Another thing I am not a fan of is suggestive or obscene horse names. Inappropriate names have cropped up frequently enough as to result in a proposed rule change that went before the Stud Book and Registration Committee at last year’s American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Convention. There are many examples of sexually suggestive names I could share with you, but in keeping with the family friendly atmosphere of the horse industry that I believe we need to promote, I won’t put them in print. I’ll just say if you can’t explain to a class of schoolchildren what your horse’s name means, you shouldn’t be naming it that in the first place.

With February upon us and new foals hitting the ground daily, I am sure many of you are searching for that special name, because it is important. Whether you’re a fan of naming by pedigree, in honor of a special person or after your favorite song, movie or actor, a horse’s name can tell you who he is or share a little bit about who you are. And while a horse by any other name, like Bob or Jim or Joe, would still be the same horse, it wouldn’t be near as much fun as christening the next Highreylena…or Pocodualbars…or Gunninforawin…or Insertfoalnamehere.