The Name Game

May 19, 2009 at 9:30 am (real life) (, )

I have a problem. A uniquely nerdy problem.

I can’t seem to stop naming pets and inanimate objects after my favorite characters.

When I was a kid, my naming conventions for pets were normal enough. I had two parakeets named Banana and Icicle — Banana was yellow and green, and Icicle blue and white. When they died, we got another parakeet, which I named Zelda, after my invisible friend (invisible twin sister, to be precise) from childhood. To this day I don’t know where that name came from, and I’m not sure the bird appreciated it — soon enough, as the flesh over “her” beak turned from purple to a clear blue, we realized that Zelda was not as feminine as we’d been led to believe. But the fact remained that the names were nice, normal pet names.

The last normally-named pet I had was a betta fish I got in 9th grade; its name was Aquarius. When he died, sometime during my sophomore year of high school, it was like a switch got thrown: suddenly, all of my future pets would have names related to my geeky obsession of the moment. Jumping right into the deep end of nerdiness, I named my next betta fish Mark Roger Caplan-Pascal, after my two favorite characters from the musical RENT and my two favorite actors (Matt Caplan and Adam Pascal) who’d played those roles. And believe me, I never abbreviated the name. Every day I’d come home, sprinkle some food into the bowl, and cheerfully greet him with, “Hello, Mark Roger Caplan-Pascal!”

My next betta fish was Captain Jack Kelly, a combination of the names of my two favorite “Jack” characters: Pirates of the Caribbean‘s Captain Jack Sparrow, and Jack Kelly from Newsies. After that, I had Javid, an amalgamation of Newsies‘ Jack and David. By the time he died, I was in college and making my way into comic book fandom, so my next fish were, predictably, a blue male and a red female that I named Scott and Jean — and later a runty yellow male named Logan. (Nowadays, I’m up to my seventh geeky betta fish: the hardy red-white-and-blue Captain Amerifish.)

It was around the time of the Scott and Jean fish that I began to notice my pets unconsciously taking on the characteristics of their namesakes. Be it cosmic coincidence or willful interpretation, I couldn’t help attributing their behavior to their fictional counterparts. Captain Jack Kelly, for instance, hadn’t so much died as simply up and vanished from his tank, just like his escape-artist namesakes. (I still suspect my parents actually found him dead and flushed him, but they refuse to admit that to this day.) Then there was Jean, who, appropriately enough, died before Scott in spectacular fashion (I’m still waiting for her return from the cocoon I assume she must be forming), and Logan, who outlived them both. On particularly boring college afternoons, I liked to gaze at my Scott and Logan fish and imagine the inevitable fight to the death that would result if they were to mix in the same tank (male bettas attack each other automatically, but I liked to think their namesakes’ rivalry would have made the battle even worse).

This habit of geeky naming and personality attribution was only heightened when I began to follow nerd conventions and name my personal tech. After a non-geeky first computer named Magellan had burned out its hard drive within two months of purchase (a word to the wise: don’t name computers after explorers who were victims of mutiny), I christened my new computer Captain America, and he continued to function beautifully for several years despite the advancement of his chronological age. My red external hard drive I decided to name Iron Man (and he occasionally refused to work properly with Cap, though they usually got along splendidly), and I named my maroon phone Dark Phoenix and my second iPod Marvel Girl (neither has attacked me yet, but I sometimes worry about letting Dark Phoenix reach its signal into space). None of this compared to the fate of my first iPod, though. Since it was silver, I’d decided to call it Bucky, reasoning that if it ever died, I’d know it wasn’t really gone — it was just brainwashed and turned into an assassin for a foreign government! Unbelievably, Bucky wound up experiencing an unfortunate washing machine incident, but though I believed he’d been drowned, he actually recovered a few days later — after I’d already bought his replacement. The only way the story could be more perfect is if he’d reprogrammed himself in Russian.

All this brings me to the past week, when I bought three new important things: a computer, and two gerbils. The computer I named Pixie, after a minor X-Men character with butterfly wings and a crush on Cyclops (my personal Mary Sue if ever there was one). The computer is pink and black, like the character’s hair, and as long as it doesn’t get transported into Limbo and get part of its soul removed, it should be ok.

More worrying are my gerbils, who I named Jean and Wanda. Jean is a lovely tan color; Wanda is a nice black and white. And while I named them that largely because of the friendship Jeff Parker (and Colleen Coover!) gave them in X-Men: First Class, I haven’t gotten a solid feel for their personalities yet. I can’t help but wonder what will happen if they decide to take their cues from the Dark Phoenix Saga, or the House of M.

So if my gerbils decide to eat the sun or tamper with genetics on a worldwide scale… well, I apologize in advance.

(So, what are your geeky pet or tech names? I know I’m not alone. Feel free to share in the comments!)

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