In Search of Ponies: The name game

I don’t know about anyone else, but after years of having pets it can get a little challenging to come up with original names for them.

In fact, I think the names must have started running out when I was a kid. Aside from the brown dog named Brownie, we had a succession of shepherd-type dogs that I guess because they shared similar black and tan markings, got variations of the same name — Star, Golden Star and so on and so forth.

Even now, every time there’s a new addition to the family, it’s a struggle and they sometimes go nameless until the heavens open up and the perfect name falls from the clouds.

So it begs the question, what do you when you have hundreds of animals?

From working on a dairy many moons ago I know nobody got named, for obvious reasons, although an occasional bull would pick up a nickname if he was particularly mean or even playful, but otherwise it was a black and white blur.

And I’ve noticed that most working horses have simple names, most often tied to their color.

During a conversation with zookeepers this week, the subject drifted to the topic of names for the animals on exhibit and I have to admit I found it interesting.

Each keeper is assigned to a type of animal, for instance primates, reptiles or hoofed.

And one of the first things most keepers do is start adopting names for their charges — I’m told most of the more than 350 occupants of the zoo do have names.

It seems as if for the zookeepers, naming the animals is a way of establishing investment and a sense of ownership and part of the bonding process.

Often when keepers leave or rotate to another type of animal, the animals often get new names from their new keepers but some have stuck with the animals over the years.

Take for instance “Popcorn,” the yellow Burmese python. How the name came to be is history, but the name is still around.

But then there’s “Gumby D” an African pygmy goat who has also been known as “Stinky” and “Blackie” and the wolves have been named so many times zoo keepers have lost count. At the present, they’re known as “Skinny” “Minny” “Fatty” “Patty” and “Tacoma.”

The names selected are often a reflection of the keeper’s personalities or sometimes are chosen by themes.

One keeper told me she likes people names for instance, naming the donkeys Lucy and Ethel, while another goes for biblical names, Jael the giraffe’s name being an example of one of his selections.

“Stinker” the camel was named by one keeper’s son because, their family had to bottle feed the camel and, well, it stunk.

The bobcats are named after the Osbourne family — Ozzy, Kelly and Sharon —with the exception of “Bobby” who arrived at the zoo pre-named.

Occasionally a keeper will get upset when their animals are renamed as a result of rotation, but for most it’s just understood, the zoo curator told me.

Do the animals ever get confused?

Zookeepers say no, they don’t seem to care who calls them what as long as the food keeps coming.

Now some of the animals have been named by community members or school groups and those names stick for the most part, except in the case of “Freedom” the eagle.

While Freedom is her official name, given by a group of elementary students, her keeper said he respects the childrens’ sentiments but has never been able to adopt the name in private because in her case it’s just too close to an oxymoron.

“I call her Gabby because she’s always talking,” he said. “How can you call a bird with one wing, that’s stuck in a cage ‘Freedom’?”

I also asked about the worst-ever name a keeper has come up with and it turns out a keeper was told to change these… A trio of rheas was named “Pizza,” “Dia” and “Gono.”

I’m not going to touch those other than to say I’d probably go for another theme on them, too.

Sharna Johnson is a staff writer for Freedom New Mexico. She can be reached at