Naming


Fancy schmancy!

Rosa persiana, Equus caballus, Homo sapiens

By now you know I’m a little obsessive when it comes to the scientific names (among other things).  I’m sure you’ve noticed it in my other chapters.  It’s true, boys and girls (and girly boys, and boyish girls), I like the fancy names.  Who else would refer to his beloved Grandma Rose’s yellow rose as Rosa persiana?  So, so gay – I can hear your snicker from here.  But guess what, Mr. Smarty Pants?  This fancy format of naming also has practical aspects:  it helps us classify and arrange things.  It’s like naming your baby – it identifies him as him and only him.

So there.

This little individual baby goes by Jackson Lassiter.  In binomial nomenclature (what we properly call the “fancy”, or scientific names), I would be identified as Lassiter jackson.

An aside:  Lassiter, it seems, is English in origin, a habitational name from the city of Leicester.  This means it has nothing to do with the sixth grade essay I conjured up for Mrs. O’Neill’s homeroom Social Studies assignment on the origins of our own last names, in which I claimed that my family, throughout history, habitually arrived late for dinner.  We were (at least in my sixth grade essay), aptly named the Last Eaters, which eventually was shortened to Lassiter.

That’s not it?  Really?  Go figure.  Mrs. O’Neill gave me an A for creativity, regardless.

Wherever it came from, my last name, Lassiter, identifies me as a member of my family.  For better or worse.  And my “given” name (more on that in a minute) of Jackson identifies me, individually, within that family.  Binomial nomenclature does the same thing for plants (and animals, and bacteria, and fungi, and every other living organism).

Binomial nomenclature (also called binominal nomenclature or binary nomenclature) is a formal – as in wearing a tuxedo and shiny shoes – method of classifying all biological things by giving them a proper name.  This would be a name with two parts.

Duh.  I may not be the brightest pansy in the garden but I could easily figure out that binomial/binominal/binary translates to two (my bisexual friends will most certainly concur).  And nomenclature can’t mean anything but names.

Binomial nomenclature assigns Latin grammatical form although the actual words are often derived from other sources.  How weird is it that this Latinized naming format is credited to Swedish natural scientist Carl Linnaeus (Linnaeus carl?)?  It effectively began with the publication of his work Species Plantarum in 1753.

Oh my God, I’ll bet that one is a page-turner.  Yawn.

The first word in the two-part name identifies the genus (concerning us humans, Homo, which you know is near and dear to my heart).  The genus name must be unique within each kingdom but it can be repeated between kingdoms.

I know I am a princess, but what is all this talk of kingdoms?

In the United States, the “kingdoms” are Animalia, Plantae, Fungi, Protista, Archaea, and Bacteria.  So although there is a plant genus called Rosa, there theoretically can also be an animal, bacteria, fungus, archaea, or protozoa genus of the same name (or all of them!).

But that’s not it.  Please, allow me to confuse this matter even more:  other countries recognize more or fewer kingdoms.  Double oy vey!

Moving on now to the second part of the two-part name, which identifies the species within the genus (for us humans, sapiens, loosely translated as “wise one” – a description that is certainly debatable).  This second name is also treated grammatically as a Latin word although it, too, can be derived from any language.  Its main purpose is to further classify or clarify the species, to identify its uniqueness.  It can be an adjective, a noun, or even a Latinized version of a surname indicating who discovered said species.

Lassiter jackobi?

Let’s return to my grandmother’s cherished yellow roses.  Their binomial name is Rosa persiana – they are of the kingdom plantae, the genus rosa, and then individually identified as persiana.  Plants, roses, Persian.  Their common name is Persian Yellow Roses.

Ahhh . . . yes:  roses.  Juliet, she of Shakespeare fame, says, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”   Juliet implies that a rose is a rose is a rose.

I get your point, Juliet.  But in some ways, I disagree.

Let’s look at the name game.  Sing along with me, if you will.  Jackson-Jackson-Bo-Backson, Banana-Ana-Fo-Fackson, Me-My-Mo-Mackson, Jackson!

Really?  That’s it?  Not one single syllabus of interest.  Not one.

Let’s try Yuri (the current Mr. Perfect).

Yuri-Yuri-Bo-Burry, Banana-Ana-Fo-Furry . . . OK, already better.  And more appropriate.  He is a furry little thing, for sure.

Now, let’s move on to Chuck.

Ok, enough adolescent frivolity; back to Shakespeare, and his adolescent seriousness.  In “Romeo and Juliet”, Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet fall in love.  This is a lyrical tale of “star-cross’d” lovers who are doomed from the very beginning as they are members of two warring family camps.  With her famous rose statement, Juliet means to say that a name is nothing more than an artificial and meaningless convention, and that she loves the person who is called “Romeo Montague”, not the Montague name and not the Montague family.

Blah, blah, blah.  Whatever, girlfriend.

Romeo, out of his passion for Juliet, rejects his family name and vows, as Juliet positively demands, to “deny (his) father” and instead be “new baptized” as Juliet’s lover.  This one short “sweet-smelling” line encapsulates the central struggle and tragedy of the play.

Gag me now with a rose thorn.  Or a Montague.

Juliet believes a rose is a rose, by any other name.  Or is it Shakespeare who believes?  Whatever, whomever:  the two of them tell us there is nothing in a name.

I, for one, am not convinced.

I know people with nicknames, and those monikers are often more appropriate and revealing than their given names.  Alphonso became Butch, Janice is known as Dollie.  Rudy is really someone else in his true life (sorry, reader, I know better than to divulge who that would be).  Others purposefully change their given name to a chosen name.

Confession:  that’s exactly what I did, and unless you are a member of my immediate family and/or someone who has known me for many years, you won’t ever know my given-at-birth name.  I can, however, say without hesitation that I feel much more of a relationship to my chosen name than my given name.

Names, it seems, carry a powerful punch.  Ask anyone who has been called a “fag” or “dyke” or “cock sucker”.  Names can empower; names can destroy.

Here’s a funny story for you:  when I finally decided at forty years of age (!) to change my given name to one that I connected with, my most pressing hesitation was the fear of telling my dear mother.  What would she think?  Would this move come across as a rejection of what she had intended for me?

Imagine my pleasant surprise at her response, once I worked up the nerve to tell her about my plans.  “Oh, son, I never wanted to name you that.  But your Dad was set and he just wouldn’t let it go.  I personally like your new name better.  It’s very you,” she said.

Probably didn’t hurt matters that my new first name, Jackson, was a family maiden name from my father’s side of the family (his grandmother was Barbee Jackson) and that my new middle name, Rexford, was derived from my mother’s long-lost father, Rex Mowell.  My mother, I believe, appreciated the history and depth of my chosen name.

As important of an identifier as an individual name is, though, it certainly is an easy thing to change.  One simply fills out a form, pays a fee, and shows up for one’s assigned court appointment.  A judge whom one has never met asks one to confirm that the change is not intended to defraud or hurt anyone else, and then – presto! – with a judicial declaration and the pounding of a gilded hammer, one’s name is officially changed.

Of course then one must undertake the laborious process of changing one’s name with all of the agencies and companies and entities one deals with in life.  Driver’s License, Social Security, Retirement Fund, Library access.  This ensuing process, my friend, is not quite such a simple task.  Ask any woman who has been married, or divorced.

And let’s hope one loves his new name because all names matter (even the binomial names), if only for the reason than a name identifies a particular someone or something as unique.  Take the wild horses roaming the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Preserve in Wyoming, if you will.  I am intimate with these horses; their range is adjacent to the homestead of my origin.  Take them, for example.

It is funny, and not so funny all at the same time, that many of the area ranchers would agree a la Rodney Dangerfield  – yes, please, take them!  As in, away.

Horsies be gone.

There is a variety of names people call these free-roaming feral horses.  Most locals simply refer to them as “the wild horses out along the highway”.   Meanwhile the Wyoming State Office of Tourism, in glossy brochures and well-designed websites intended to lure East Coast and West Coast tourists and their dollars to the state, proactively advertise the Pryor Mountain Herd as “a poignant and free-roaming symbol of the Wild West”.  Simultaneously, the powerful ranching lobby and their puppet arm, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the very organization charged with their care under the Wild Horse and Burros Act of 1971, essentially identify the Pryor Mountain horses as “pests”.  Still others properly refer to them as Mustangs (in the fancy, scientific nomenclature, Equus caballus).

In truth, this herd is, in fact, the only wild herd in the United States proven by DNA testing to be distinct descendants of the very first horses, the Mustangs, brought to the Americas by the Spanish Conquistadors.  While there are certainly other beautiful wild horses roaming our great nation, those other herds, even the other herds roaming other areas in “Big, Wonderful Wyoming”, have been diluted with Thoroughbred or Draft or Arabian blood, mostly via intermingling with escaped or abandoned domestic stock.  But the Pryor Mountain Herd is comprised of true Mustangs.  In their case, a horse is not a horse by any other name.  A horse is a horse is a horse, of course, unless that horse is a Mustang.  Then, he is a Mustang.

Names matter.  Ask my friend Carl, who is more-than-serious when he says that one must be comfortable in their name.  He also told me the story of when he was completing his Dale Carnegie training (and eventually even did a stint as an assistant).  He was taught first-hand about Dale Carnegie Principle #6, which states:  you must remember that a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.

One might be well advised to consider that other side of this . . . namely (ha ha), a person’s moniker is probably the sweetest sound he hears, but that it doesn’t have to be his given name.  It can be one’s chosen name, “pet name”, or nickname (if it was given by someone special).

This all comes from Carl, who makes up a name for everyone.  No joke, sister.  He refers to me as “Jack-o-line”.  And I love that nick-name.  I will answer to it immediately.

Back to Wyoming’s unique Mustangs, of whom I have many memories.  I warmly recall one spring afternoon when I was on a solitary drive between the villages of Greybull and Lovell, Wyoming.  I had stopped roadside to drape myself over the spacious hood of my military green Chrysler Newport in the new, welcome sun, to smoke a joint and watch the fresh foals cavort in the distance.

This memory makes me homesick and giddy and almost high again, all at the same time.

An earlier but just as compelling memory is of an autumn drive to Cody, Wyoming, in 1968 with my mother, her and me chatting and giggling in her red and white International Harvester Scout truck (such a cute little outfit).  We were driving to Cody because it was the nearest “city” (even as recent as 2010, still less than 10,000 residents), and we needed a shopping, lunching, girl-talking outing.  On the way, we spotted a small herd of the Mustangs foraging at highway’s edge (behind a fence, of course).  We pulled over to watch them and, although the mares and colts largely ignored us, the ghostly gray herd stallion watched us right back, warily, almost menacingly.  For certain I would have been ill-advised to wander out in the sagebrush where he guarded his harem.

There is little wonder he was so cautious, as it turns out:  our day trip for shopping was a full three years before The Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed in 1971 (Public Law 92-195).  Back then, in 1968, these wild symbols of the true west were still being rounded up on an annual basis – to save the limited natural resources of the dry highland plains for the ranchers’ cows and sheep.  Those days the captured Mustangs were outright sold for slaughter.

I have since learned that the ghostly grey stallion was actually a “grullo”, one of the common color schemes of the linebacked dun family of horse colors which is a trademark of the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustangs.  Linebacked duns are horses of a base color that are affected by a genetic trait (a trait found primarily in descendants of old world and ancient horses) called the dun allele. The dun allele lightens the coat, whatever base color it is, and adds primitive stripe and bar markings to it, such as a dark stripe running down the back (a dorsal stripe), zebra-like stripes on the legs, wither bars, fish-boning off the dorsal stripe, and spider webbing on the face.  While these markings aren’t all always present on each Pryor Mountain Wild Horse, every member of the herd does have a dorsal stripe and nearly all have distinct zebra stripes on their legs.   Grullo, the color of my beautiful ghost stallion, is a Spanish word which harkens to the slate-like color of a crane (as in bird).   Grullos are black horses affected by the dun allele.

My father used to hold court recounting his stories about “round-ups” of days gone, when the Mustangs were chased via whatever method worked, truck or horseback, eventually moving on to helicopter chases, until they were corralled in the name of saving the range for livestock grazing.  Occasionally, younger detainees were adopted out to farmers or ranchers who had need of horse power, but most often these marvelous creatures were sold “as is” to pet food companies for processing into Fido’s or Tabby’s food.

Despite the Wild Horse and Burros Act, the war continues, and it is a lopsided battle.  The Bureau of Land Management, the agency charged with enforcing the Wild Horse and Burros Act, practices as a means of “management”, largely due to the ferocious ranching lobby in the State of Wyoming, these very same annual round-ups.  These days, the individual horses captured are either adopted out, or placed in perpetual confinement under BLM care until they have lived out their lives in a sort of Guantanamo Bay prison for Mustangs.

Those deemed worthy of domestication, typically the younger horses, can only be adopted out to individual owners, but even by the BLM’s own admission, they do not intensively screen adoption requests, nor do they track what happens to the mustangs after adoption.  There are, in truth, no statistics about how many of the horses pass through their adoption to end up in slaughter.

Easy money for unscrupulous characters.

In a slightly more humane approach, but still questionable, the BLM actively practices reproduction inhibition:  capture, castration, and re-release of the stallions; capture, hormonal birth control implantation, and re-release of the mares.

None of this makes sense to me.  I grew up in Wyoming.  I know how much wide-open public land there is.  Wyoming has 18.4 million acres of BLM-managed land; the Pryor Mountain Wild Mustang Preserve is only 39,650 acres.  Surely, that is not too much to devote solely to the continuation of this unique sub-species?

As Andrew Cohen wrote in his series of articles in The Atlantic, regarding the proposed reduction of two other wild horse herds in Wyoming via the same removal and/or reproduction-inhibition methods (not the Pryor Mountain Mustang herd in this case but non-Mustang herds located in Sweetwater County), “According to statistics compiled by Jonathan Ratner, of the Western Watersheds Project, one of the plaintiffs who initially filed suit to block the Wyoming removal/castration plan, Wyoming and the BLM currently allocate nine times more forage for livestock than for wild horses in the two herd management areas from which the horses soon will be taken. There are approximately 850,000 acres of public land in those two areas — and the ranchers won’t tolerate more than approximately 300 wild horses there. You do the math. There is plenty of room for all of Wyoming’s four-legged creatures.”

These Pryor Mountain horses are correctly named Mustangs.  They are descendents of the original horses on this continent.  They have born witness to the taming of this country; they have toiled alongside both the pioneers and the Native Americans (in this case, the Crow Indians).  And now they are in danger.

I think it’s time we call a skunk a skunk (because by any other name, it stinks) and ask the BLM to come up with a rational manageable plan that doesn’t cave to the ranching lobby, but instead protects the wild Mustangs of Wyoming.   For they are not only truly a living symbol of the west, they are a scientifically identified and thusly-named individual species which is in decline.  And that, by any other name, is a shame.

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3 thoughts on “Naming

  1. A WONDERFUL distraction to keep me company during “QUEEN SANDY’S ” “rain” over me tonight!
    Did I mention that a varsity football player in HS helped change me from a standard “MIKE” to “MYKE with a Y”……..and so the whole advanced painting class voted…..and it has stuck ever since!!!!…and then it was made legal :+)

  2. Wonderful piece – I especially like the reference to the dun allele – a month ago I went through a two day obsession with horse color names and made a list of all the horse colors I could think of, which I will share here because I know you will appreciate: roan, dappled, gray, pinto, chestnut, white, black, brown, sorrel, buckskin, ban, and now I will add dun!

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