Monday, September 28, 2009

Number Two? What's in a Name?

I have a Chinese friend who was born in a very small, very poor village in China and grew up in Hong Kong. Her English name is Elaine. Her family name is Number Two.

What does this have to do with dogs? Bear with me...

Elaine is among the oldest of a huge litter of children - eight living, I think (I've met them all, but only 4 of them often enough for me to remember their names). The first son died - a strange story that I will tell another day. After that, Irene was born (oldest girl, or Number One), then Elaine, then all the rest (boys and girls) in quick succession. I don't think birth control was a priority in that part of the world then; Elaine's parents were uneducated laborers; and all children were a gift from God (the family is Christian). After they moved to Hong Kong, they all lived in a tiny apartment that would fill our (small) living-room and still have space leftover. The kids slept four in a bunk bed that would sleep 2 here in America, two beds in one room.

Anyway, when Elaine was born, her parents were not optimistic about her future and named her "Two" (second of two daughters). But when little Irene started to attend school and was given her English name (I don't remember her Chinese name), she insisted that Elaine must be given her own, special name, so the Ngais named her Yin Ling, and when she went to school, she was given the English name of Elaine.

Elaine excelled in school, cared for her family, and now she owns her own trading company. She has travelled the world, speaks Cantonese and Mandarin Chinese, English, and a little Italian, is totally unflappable, and is superlative friend. But to her family, she is Number Two.

Now we get to dogs. Earlier today when I was admiring Blackie's puppies, I remembered my eagerness to name Patch's puppies. The night they were born, Mr. P. told me, "Wait and see what their personalities are; then we can name them," but I couldn't wait. I wanted them each to have a special name from Day One. Since I didn't know their personalities, I based their names on their physical traits and my own gut instinct, and that has worked out very well. But how do you name 11 puppies who you know you will give away to anyone who'll take them? Do you name them Black 1, Black 2, Black 3, etc.? I don't want to invest a lot of emotion in a dog that won't be mine forever, but I don't want to sentence it to anonymity with a name like Number Two.

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