RATING: K (Appropriate for all ages)
According to T. S. Eliot,
The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
It isn’t just one of your holiday games;
You might think at first I’m mad as a hatter,
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES.
Although Eliot, aka Old Possum, wrote about cats, his eloquent words serve as a template for naming our dolls. He spoke of three names: a common name, a particular, dignified name, and a name only known to the cat. Similarly, our dolls have everyday names, the ones bequeathed by their creator. Some have second names that we give to them. And finally some dolls seem to come up with their own names, whether they are new in our collections or dolls that have been with us for a while.
First of all, there’s the name that the family uses daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo, or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey—
But all of them sensible everyday names.
The first name given to a doll is the one bestowed to it by its creator such as Prudence Moody and Rufus Rutter. Interestingly, Ellowyne was intended to be Gwendolyn Wilde but that name was already copyrighted by the author of a children’s book. The advantage of using the first name of a doll is that it’s an easy way to identify a doll. In this vein, I use the common names in my stories so readers aren’t scratching their heads, wondering who Kirsten and Will are.
Wil and Kirsten. He is named for Wil Wheaton, to whom he bears no resemblance
and she is named for an old friend from nursing school.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that’s particular,
A name that’s peculiar and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or stretch out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
I’m rather new to naming dolls. As a child, I had Barbie, Francie, Skipper and Skooter and I didn’t see a reason to call them anything else. On the other hand, I named my trolls because they had no original names. I also had a Revlon Doll knock-off that was the most beautiful doll my four-year-old eyes had ever seen. I named her Valerie. Years later, as an adult collector, I rarely deviated from referring my dolls something other than their creator-given names. Gene was always Gene, Cissy was always Cissy, and Tyler, of course, was always Tyler. But almost as soon as I got into collecting Ellowyne, I found the board Ellowyne’s Ennui. There I met a number of collectors, many of whom renamed their dolls. It sounded like a lot of fun to rename dolls and a great way to be creative.
Sometimes it’s easy to rename a doll. Inspiration can come from reading and watching TV shows and movies. I have a doll named Gabriela, for one of my favorite characters on Chicago Fire. The inspiration for another doll name comes from Chicago Med. One of my Penns resembles actor Nick Gehlfuss, who plays a character named Will Halstead on Chicago Med. But the name Will is already taken so I decided to call my new doll Nick. I noted a resemblance between Nick and my Brrooties Ellowyne and figured they could be twins. I like The Thin Man movies so I named Nick’s sister Nora.
Nick and Nora
Some of my dolls have been named for real people. I’ve named several for friends. My first Prudence is named Becky while another Prudence is PJ, with the J standing for Jeanne. Some of my dolls are named after people who have made an impact on my life. An example is Emma, who was named for a man named Emmanuel, who helped me get through one of the most difficult times in my life.
PJ and Becky
Some of my dolls are named for someone I don’t know but admire nonetheless. I named a doll Maya for Maya Angelo and Maya Rudolph, who was the daughter of the late Minnie Riperton. Near the end of her song, Lovin’ You, Ms. Riperton sang the name Maya over and over, which makes me dissolve in tears.
If I get a doll that has been previously loved, I try to use the name given by the original owner. I got a doll named Madeline by its previous owner but that was the name of my favorite cat, who crossed the Rainbow Bride several year ago. I tweaked her name and now she is Madison.
I have at least two dolls that I named for dolls I’ve loved as a child. Hadley is named for vintage Midge, whose surname in the 1960s Random House Barbie books was Hadley. Another doll is named Valerie after the doll I loved so long ago.
Now, if I feel stuck and not sure what to name a doll, I venture onto websites that share ideas for baby names. There are sites for different ethnicities, names celebrities name their children, and the top hipster baby names. The name Rufus is on several hipster sites. Who knew that Rufus was hip and trendy? I was on one site that listed the name Elowyne, spelled with one “l”, and noted that Ellowyne was a doll’s name. But be prepared—if you check out too many baby name websites, you will get spam from sites selling maternity clothes, diaper bags, and all sorts of accessories for new moms and their babies!
However, there are a few names that I just can’t use. I can’t name any dolls after someone I’ve dated, even if that was over 30 years ago. My ex-husband’s name is out, as is my husband’s ex-wife’s, which is a shame because she has a lovely name. I prefer not to name a doll after a beloved pet; sometimes the memories of a companion animal just don’t fade and giving such a name to a doll brings back the feelings of deep loss and painful memories. I know that many collectors have no such reaction so for them, naming a doll after a pet is meant as a tribute. Some also name dolls after family members. Personally, it not my preference to do so but maybe someday I will change my mind. I can’t give my dolls names of people who have been mean to my husband, my sons, or me. Bad bosses or grad school bullies, take note! Seriously, I want to keep my collection drama-free so, for now at least, I avoid those names altogether.
But above and beyond there’s still one name left over,
And that is the name that you will never guess;
The name that no human research can discover—
But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess.
The third name for a doll often seems to emanate from the doll itself. Sometimes a mere picture of the doll is enough to cement its true name. For example, a friend picked up a Penn for me at a recent Wilde event. I immediately said that he looked like a Brad. My friend agreed to the point that when she sent him out, the postal worker asked what was in the box and she said, “Brad”. And look at this dapper fellow. How could he be named anything else?
Sometimes, the elusive third name is settled upon after a doll has been customized or when a new doll for which the name is more appropriate comes into the collection. For example, the raven-haired Ellowyne in the picture below was originally named Zoe. It seemed to fit her but then I got a different Ello who seemed a better fit for the name. So these girls are Zoe and Chloe (I’m not sure I know which is which!) while the original “Zoe” is looking for a new name. Her friend Amber needs a name, too. At least the Lizette in their circle is named Misty, after the ballerina Misty Copeland. If you have any suggestions, please feel free to post them in the comments section.
Zoe and Chloe or Chloe and Zoe?
The former Zoe, an Amber with no name, and Misty
And there’s the occasional Doll Without a Name. Sometimes you have a doll in your collection that is difficult to name. For example, I’m still on the fence over what name to give this fellow. He is my Travel Rufus and he and his Ellowyne (named Kat after her favorite necklace) go with me when I take a trip. As I was driving through Chicago with my travel couple perched on the passenger seat, the radio played my favorite Harry Chapin song, Taxi. For a while, I thought it was the perfect name for Travel Rufus. I was happy with his name until I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I’m confidant that I was the only person in the theater who thought, OMG, he looks like Rufus, when Kylo Ren removed his mask. I wasn’t going to name my doll Kylo, but then I thought about naming him for the actor, Adam Driver. And then I Googled Adrien Brody and thought he resembled Rufus a bit better. What do you think? Is this fellow a Harry or an Adam or an Adrien? Or maybe he’s really Brody. Please tell me what you think in the comments!
The Doll Without a Name
Ultimately, the naming of a doll is up to the collector. It doesn’t matter if you keep a doll’s original name or decide to change it once or several times—it is all up to you. Have fun with your dolls and make sure to stop in when you can!
Eliot, T. S. (1939; renewed in 1967) Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats