Apparently, there’s an old superstition that it’s bad luck to change a horse’s name. I don’t know where it comes from, but it caused a 14-year-old me to revert my saintly first dressage horse, an off-the-track Thoroughbred campaigned in eventing as Sky’s The Limit before coming to me, to his Jockey Club name of—wait for it—Stressful Prince. Beau, as we called him, was not stressful, though he certainly was princely, and he lived a long and mostly-healthy life at least until he passed out of my hands, so I don’t know how our luck would have been had he stayed Sky, but I rather think that had nothing to do with it.
I stuck a toe in the water of boldness with the next horse of mine with a strange name—Billy’s real name is Bellinger Go. I dropped the Go, even though it’s the suffix of his breeder, the Gorlo family, because Billy had plenty of “go” on his own, and I didn’t think he needed his name giving him any ideas. (My apologies to his breeders, though they fed me and Georg Theodorescu a delicious dinner in 2004, so I don’t think they minded.) Billy, clearly, has worked out just fine, name change aside.
The next horse in my life was Ella, and Ella’s real name was such a catastrophe I had no choice but to go whole-hog and start anew. Prepare yourself: It’s a doozy. Ella’s real name is Elly McBeal. Yeah. Not gonna happen. I kept the E, as Westfalen breeding rules require foals’ names start with the same letter as their sires (Ella is by Ehrentanz I), and changed it to Ellegria, a play on Allegria, the Spanish word for happiness. She, too, has (so far, at least – knock wood!) not been hindered by the name change.
Cleo was next, and I love the name she came to me with, Clairvoya, though I learned that her real name as a filly in Germany was Cleopatra (hence Cleo), but when her German papers were transferred to the American Hanoverian Society, which does not allow for more than one horse in the registry of the same name, there was already a Cleopatra on the books, and so Cleo became Clairvoya. I love it, so much that her offspring’s names are similar – Fairvoya, Goya and, had I been able to name her Rousseau filly instead of giving name rights to the folks who bought her in-utero, Rarevoya. (Instead, she was named Radinka, which is the most cataclysmic name I’ve ever heard; she has since moved onto a new home, and I’ve been reassured that the name will change. Thank GOODNESS.)
Victorious struck me as a dangerous name, especially for a wingnut Dutch Harness Horse colt who seemed unsuitable for anything except destroying things as a not-yet-3-year-old, but when he became mine, I really couldn’t think of anything better that started with V (though admittedly I didn’t try very hard, as it had pretty much stuck). But Midge is short for The Little Midget Dutch Horse, because Victor was too grown up, and Vic became Vic-ky (bad), and because I really didn’t like the little weasel so much at that point in his life. And, really, Midge is sort of perfect for him.
Fender came into my life next, but not as Fender. He was named Stavanger by his breeder, which I didn’t hate, but was afraid that a) no one could pronounce it (it’s stah-VANG-grr, even though it looks like it should rhyme with scavenger), b) no one would know what it is (a city in Norway), but more than those two things, c) I couldn’t get past his stable name. With all the love and respect in the world for Donna, his excellent breeder, every time she referred to him as Stav, all I could think of was: staph… infection. I’m sorry, Donna, I just couldn’t do it!
Donna was an exceptionally good sport about the change to Stratocaster, which, if you don’t know what that is, is a world-renowned brand of electric guitar, manufactured by the Fender guitar company. Get it? I needed an S name to comply with Oldenburg Verband rules, like the Westfalens and Hanoverians and many other warmblood breeds, who all require that foals share a first letter with their sires. (The Dutch name by year; the Trakehners share a first letter with the dams. Lest you were curious.) I thought it also had a little teensy homage to his mother, named Alabama. Sweet Home, Alabama? I don’t know if anyone in Lynyrd Skynyrd played a Strat, but close enough. And to celebrate his rock-and-roll lifestyle, Fender’s mane started coming in a perfect mohawk—I swear it.
And last but not least, Johnny, whose equally rock-and-roll sounding name suits his badass self just fine: Johnny Road. Doesn’t it make you want to ride a Harley and wear a leather jacket? The two of them could go on tour together, I think.
We’ll see what the next horses in my life call themselves, but since the horses whose names I’ve changed have fared equally well, if not better, than the ones I haven’t, I’m calling the Old Wives’ bluff.