What's in a Name?

We said on Facebook that about one in five people name their cars and asked what you named your motorcycle. We had a great response (it’s not too late to join in) and we wondered what was behind the whole notion of naming vehicles.

Auto Nation surveyed 2500 people and found that the most popular car name was Betsy (except in the Southwest, where it came in second to Bertha). Other most popular names were Betty, Bessie, and Baby. Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that these were all old-fashioned names for horses. Maybe the notion of naming the important thing that enables a person to get to work, school, shopping, entertainment, and church deserves a name, whether it’s a horse or an automobile (or a motorcycle).

Judging from the Facebook comments, motorcycle enthusiasts in our Eagle Leather community like names of women and attributes that indicate freedom and speed—not so different from the way we name boats. I have to wonder about naming a bike after a girlfriend or boyfriend—because the bike might outlast the relationship. And that could lead to embarrassment. Imagine having the new love-of-your-life, Nancy, riding pillion, and there’s a huge pothole ahead, and you swerve and shout, “Way to go, Alice!” And then you have to explain.

Giving any inanimate object a human name is an aspect of “anthropomorphism,” and all people tend to ascribe human qualities to things that aren’t human at all. Science 2.0 explains that thinking of another entity as human makes it worthy of our care and consideration. For example, a wildlife biologist who tracks individual zebras would have a harder time with predation if they gave each of their tagged zebras a name. Maybe this also means that, if we give our motorcycle a name, we’ll be more faithful in checking the oil, or buy more decals for it—or maybe not.

Men giving motorcycles a woman’s name is part of a long historical trend of applying women’s names to large or important machines. Think of spinning jenny, for example. Davy Crockett called his gun “Old Betsy,” and the Germans had a huge cannon they named “Big Bertha.” In fact, even the world gun probably comes from the name Gunilda, shortened to Gunne, which was a popular woman’s name in the fourteenth century. You can find more examples here.

Giving a machine a name might allow a person to trust it more, and it might let a person think they control it. But those motivations are pretty deep, psychologically. But we think most people name their motorcycles because it’s fun to do that and the name seems clever and appropriate.

In any case, giving a name implies a bond (even a love/hate bond), so, when we name our motorcycles we are acknowledging the bond we have with them.

We’d love to see your comments on the Eagle Leather Facebook page.

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