Friday, August 9, 2013

The Name Game

I have to admit - I have always been lousy at this game. I'm not sure why I make such a big deal of it, but I'm not sorry I never had the responsibility of naming another human being. The pressure to come up with the perfect name and not disappoint ANYONE would have been my undoing.

The first thing I remember naming was my hamster, "Harvey Wallbanger". I am pretty darn sure that at whatever tender young age I was, I had no clue what that actually was, but it came to me somehow, watching him roll around the house in his little plastic ball, running into furniture and feet and walls.

[Dear readers, I get a little long-winded in this story. It just took on a life of its own. Feel free to skip ahead to where I inserted the comment "Dog Stuff Starts Here..." That's really all I intended to write. Not sure why I felt the need to tell my whole life story along the way.]

Ol' Harvey didn't live a long life, and I went pet-less for many years. Settled into a good job shortly after college, I finally got the cat I had wanted for some 15 years. I actually brought home two tiny kittens, cage-mates at the animal shelter. On my way home from the shelter, I drove through a thunder storm. I had been studying German that year and had learned the words donder and blitzen, for thunder and lightning. I thought it would have been fun to name them "Donner" and "Blitzen". I'm not sure why I didn't.

Instead, I took the recommendation of a fellow computer programmer and named the gray tiger-striped male "Ascii" while my roommate named the Maine Coone girl "Pebbles", after a childhood dog she had had. Shame I don't have a photo scanner handy to illustrate these kitty paragraphs. I do have an album.

Ascii only lasted a couple years - hit and run with an automobile claimed all 9 of his lives in one afternoon. He was quickly replaced with another gray and white tiger-striped male. I had a different set of roommates by then, and I let one of the gear-heads name him Turbo. Seemed fitting for the speed at which he raced around the house.

Two years later, Turbo and Pebbles and I moved to Germany with some guy. We lived in a "double half house" - a duplex. It really was only half a house, as the other half was under construction most of the time we lived there. Us humans were gone one weekend, and when we came back we learned that the cats had each used up one of their lives.

Built in the typical Bavarian style, the house was many stories tall and not so wide: laundry, storage and bonus finished room downstairs; kitchen, dining and living rooms on the ground floor (floor 0); 2 bedrooms on the first floor; guest room and unfinished attic room on the 2nd floor (really the 3rd floor in American-speak, and the 4th floor in total). Except for the basement, there was a bathroom on each floor. The bathroom on the top floor had windows that cranked open onto the steep red tile roof. (Yes, this is important for the story.)

Back to the cats - when we arrived home, there were 8 sets of claw marks in parallel wavy lines running down from those top windows to the gutter. Phew! They didn't just fly to the ground from there. I don't know how we found this out. The landlord/builder was working every day on the other half of the house so maybe he told us. He always seemed so amazed at these poorly behaved American cats, who had done a little minor damage to the inside of the brand new house - Sorry, Herr Vat-ever-your-name-vaz.

At this point in the construction of the other half of the house, the thick concrete walls were in place up to one floor below the top one, so the story goes that the cats were able to jump down from the gutters on the top floor, to the top of the walls next door, and so on down to the ground. I dunno - hard to believe it now, but how else to explain 8 sets of claw marks going down a red tile roof and no bodies lying on the ground?

Sadly, Turbo didn't make it past 2 years either. The cats loved to play cat and mouse, or cowboys and Indians, or whatever games cats play, in the corn field next door. (The German cats didn't understand English so my two had to keep each other company.) Then came the end of summer and the corn was harvested. Now the cats had to wander a bit further from home to pretend they were tigers in the jungle, and one day my precious Ascii didn't come home. End of story.

[Dog Stuff Starts Here...]

After almost 2 years in Germany, Pebbles and I moved back to California along with my future former spouse. A couple years later, a 6 week old yellow Lab puppy joined our family. I'll call him #1 (my first yellow Lab). The internet had just been invented, and we were both kinda working in the computer world, so the other human in the house suggested the name "Internet". Or at least that's what I thought he said. It turns out he actually said, "Network", the name of a dog belonging to Sun Microsystems' CEO and made famous in commercials for the giant computer company. I decided I'd save my veto power in case we ever had kids, and that's the line I used for the next 13 years whenever I had to explain about his name.

#2 was easy - Lily came from the shelter with a nice name, so I didn't stress out about that one. However, as I wrote about her in her memorial post, she went by other names - Silly Lily and Houdini are two that come to mind without going back and re-reading that post, because it still makes me cry 9 years later. Not that I miss her still, but that story just does it to me every time. The author moves me. What can I say. I must be her #1 fan - I often wish she'd write more so I'd have more reading material.

#3 was called Sonny when he came to me from the rescue. The name didn't really fit him, but Sunny did! He still is a ray of sunshine.

#4 also came from the rescue. She was a stray and the shelter she came from had named her "Scarlet". When I transported her from the vet to the foster, I told the foster her name was "Scarlet" and he said, "Hi Star". I repeated "Scarlet". "Hi Star, come here Star." I gave up. She didn't want to go to him anyway. She had already picked me. My mission that day was to deliver her, so I did insist that she stay, but a big piece of her went home with me. The decision to adopt her was relatively easy - trying to decide if she would be Star or Scarlet proved challenging. I finally went with Star, as it fit in with the celestial body theme I had going with Sun(ny).

[Mind you, this was supposed to be a short story about what I will call #5. Why must I ramble so???]

#5 was named Xander by his surrendering owner so he arrived at the rescue with that name, and our director loves the name as it is the name of her beloved dog. X making a Z sound has always rubbed me the wrong way, so I tossed and turned, hemmed and hawed, as I contemplated this very important decision. I thought about changing it to Sanders. (In the rescue world when he change a name to protect the innocent we often choose a name that sounds the same so the dog doesn't notice.) I tried to imagine what it would sound like when I called it running around the agility course. I wasn't any closer to an answer and I was starting to feel that old panic about coming up with the perfect name.

One evening, I turned to the internet (thank you Network for inventing it) to do a little name research. I was hoping to find that Xander was the name of a star or a constellation, to keep with our household theme. Well, get your tissues out, dammit. What I found brought me to tears, and here I go again. All the top Google hits on that name pointed to a recent story out of Texas where a little 4 year old boy named Xander had gone into a swimming pool to save a little 3 year old girl who was drowning. (How does a 4 year old have the presence of mind to do this??) He held her over his head, even though he wasn't tall enough to keep his own head above water. He saved that little girl, but he didn't make it. A Facebook page in his honor is filled with pictures of super-heros. Back at Google again, I learned that Xander, a derivative of Alexander, means Defender of the People.

So in honor of that little boy, my Xander will keep his name, and I expect, knowing how things work, that he has a purpose in life that will live up to that name. In fact, he's already been my little hero in a couple ways. Material for future stories.

Six more days until I meet him. Here's the latest picture sent from the foster. She titled it "A Rare Down Moment".