Author: Campbell, Bruce

What’s the Name of That Thing?

I have never understood the notion of giving inanimate objects a “name”. Animals, sure, even plants, but what about things that really are just things? Your pets seem to understand the names you give them, at least the mammalian ones. I’ve never seen a snake raise its head when addressed, but if you have three dogs and call the name of one of them, that dog will react in a way that tells you the name was matched to the right dog. (Of course with dogs, they’d all look to make sure one wasn’t getting something the others weren’t, but you’d know which dog recognized the name.)

If you visit the Washington DC/Virginia area and visit historical homes, it would seem that, at least in the 18th century, people gave their homes or estates names. Washington lived at Mt. Vernon, Jefferson lived in Monticello, and so on. Why? Couldn’t they just say “Washington’s House” or “the Jefferson’s place”? Was it Monticello before Jefferson bought it from the local realtor? Did he see a notice in the mail that Monticello was up for sale? I doubt it…

Car enthusiasts will often name their favorites, and maybe I’m getting closer to understanding this. If you spend $10,000 and 10,000 fixing up a hot rod, you would gain some affection for it, even if it doesn’t really return the sentiment. Of course a car would have a girl’s name. I’m not sure why, though. If you’re a guy, is it creepier to build a mechanical woman and ride around in her, or ride around in a thing with a guy’s name? Both seem a little “off” to me.

Then we come to musical instruments. Blues guitarists often give their axes women’snames. I guess if you’re going to stroke something’s neck every night, you might as well be properly introduced. BB King has the legendary Lucille, of course. I know Eric Clapton, sporting somewhat less imagination, called various guitars “Blackie” and “Brownie”. Willie Nelson calls his famously worn Martin N-model “Trigger”.

When I began playing bass I was vigorously encouraged to name it. Or her, as some assumed. I find nothing inherently feminine about a double bass – maybe I’m missing something. A friend of mine named his bass “Tallulah”, and after a while, that how I thought of it, uh, her. So, bowing to incessant peer pressure, I named my bass “Bob”. It was an acronym for “Big Ol’ Bass”. Surprisingly, I found myself using the moniker (“Well, I’m gonna load Bob up and take off.”). When I sold Bob (to a good home – I made certain of that!), I faced a similar naming pressure with the new bass. Refusing to get sentimental about naming a big wooden box, I decided to name the new bass “Bob, too” , or “too” for short.

But that name didn’t seem to work, and I remembered the Spanish word for “too” is “tambien”. That, I liked, for two reasons. One, it’s inherently mellifluous – I generally find Spanish to be a pretty language with pleasing sounds. Also, phonetically, it’s “Tom Bien” which would mean “Good Tom” in Spanish! I had stumbled across Punning as a Second Language! That really appealed to me. So, for the past 4 or 5 years, I have an inanimate object with a name, and have grown accustomed to referring to my bass as either “Tambien”, or, when I feel like using a nickname, just “Tom”. That doesn’t make me weird, does it?

Posted:  10/5/2011

Copyright © 2002 California Bluegrass Association. All rights reserved.
Comments? Questions? Please email