What's In a Name?

By Frank Vespe, That's Amore Stable, LLC

When True Quality (Elusive Quality-Louve Mysteriuse, by Seeking the Gold) snuck off to win yesterday's Grade II General George at Laurel, he not only earned his first graded stakes victory but also struck a blow for that hoary old chestnut of name type: the aspirational name.

There are several common name types, and the aspirational one -- a name possessing qualities we hope our horse will, as well -- is perhaps the most common.  Yesterday's General George featured no fewer than three such names (four, if you consider Lord Snowdon's life one to which you might aspire): Fabulous Strike (Smart Strike-Fabulous Find, by Lose Code), Eternal Star (Five Star Day-Retsina's Princess, by Eternal Prince), and of course, True Quality.   These are the sorts of memorable names that look so good on the win photo after a stakes win.

The problem with aspirational names, of course, reveals itself when the horse doesn't live up to them.  True Quality is a fine name for a stakes winner; it might not look so good on, say, a lifetime maiden.  In fact, names like this are almost an advertisement for the horsemanship and prescience of the namer; a good horse with an aspirational name is a way of showing the world you had it pegged from the start.  A bad horse with an aspirational name?  Not so much.

Names are on my mind these days as we name our juvenile filly (Peace Rules-Zaylah, by Pulpit).  With that sort of pedigree, there are many directions you can go.  Decisions, decisions.

Some aspirational names are also emblematic of another common type: the clever combination of elements of the sire's name and the dam's name, or the damsire's name.  Funny Cide (Distorted Humor-Belle's Good Cide, by Slewacide) was one example of that approach.

Some combinations work better than others, though.  In our case, I'd suggested Concordat; it's fair to say that our partners responded with a resounding shrug.  Not so clever after all.  Similarly, Gift From the Sea (Stormy Atlantic- So Generous, by Fly So Free), a nice enough young filly that ran yesterday at Laurel is saddled with a name that calls to mind a sort of equine version of Botticelli's "Birth of Venus," also known as Venus on the Half-Shell.

Then there's the martial approach.  Racing history is dotted with successful military horses: Man O' War, War Admiral, War Emblem.  These names seem to generate a "love 'em or hate 'em" response, depending, I suppose, on the tenor of the times and the predilections of the individual.

Many names are all but indecipherable to the outside world but have great meaning to those doing the naming.  We own, for example, a filly named The Big Four Oh (Parker's Storm Cat-Nora Dancer, by Runaway Groom).  Why The Big Four Oh?  A fortieth birthday present, of course.

Ultimately, a nice thing about animals is that they're unaware of the baggage we attach to names.  My old, female dog is unaware that she has a male's name and is named for a muppet; sorry about that, Grover.

Likewise, a good horse can outrun a bad name.  It's not the horse's fault he's named The Pamplemousse; fortunately, he's faster than a grapefruit.  And Capt. Candyman Can should be fine, as long as they don't ask him to take a sunrise and cover it in chocolate.  Or have Sammy Davis, Jr. ride him.

We'll have a name chosen soon enough.  And then we'll see whether she's good enough to live up to it.  Or run from it.  Whatever it takes.

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