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IMHO: Stockholm syndrome

By Ron Scopelliti

I blame it on Facebook. Of course that statement could be true of many things that are wrong with my life, but this time it refers to a particular thing. I’ve developed an obsessive need to find a name for my car.

It all goes back to the fact that I use Facebook as my news hub on the net. In addition to keeping me updated on which of my virtual friends is eating at a restaurant I can’t afford, and showing me endless recipes being prepared in fast-motion by disembodied hands, Facebook gives me a convenient way to follow the New York Times, the Washington Post, Road and Track magazine and a variety of other news sources.

One unexpected favorite has been the Guardian from England, which ran a series of articles about the naming of a new Arctic research ship that’s nearing completion.

Britain’s National Environmental Research Council (NERC) decided to take suggestions for the ship’s name on their web site, and naturally some joke names popped up. But when BBC TV personality James Hand made his own tongue-in-cheek suggestion, it really took off. So at last count, leading with 10 times the votes of the second-place suggestion, is Hand’s proposed name: Boaty McBoatface.

The second-place name is the Henry Worsley, which would honor an adventurer who died trying to make a solo crossing of Antarctica to raise funds for wounded soldiers. The David Attenborough has also been suggested as a name. Since online polling is only for “suggested” names, it seems likely that the ship will get one of the more serious-sounding names, but I suspect it will always unofficially be referred to as Boaty McBoatface.

Anyway, the incident made me think about why we feel the need to give certain objects their own names. Everyday objects don’t seem to get names. For instance, I’ve never heard of anyone naming their spatulas or screwdrivers or recycling bins. However, back when I worked as a technician, there was a guy who named all our shop vacuums. But that’s a story for another column.

Swords often seem to get names, at least in legend, which is ‘kinda’ weird because when you think about it a sword isn’t that different from a spatula. Longer, sharper, and generally more deadly, but still a glorified spatula at heart.

Spaceships, both real and fictional, have names. The Enterprise, Serenity, the Millennium Falcon. I’ve often wondered, though, which millennium that name referred to. It also always struck me as a poorly-designed cargo ship because it’s so flat. What kind of cargo was it made to deliver – plywood? Or maybe it’s the galaxy’s most overdesigned, not to mention over-armed, pizza delivery vehicle. But I digress.

Spaceships, boats, planes – vehicles in general seem likely to have names. Why shouldn’t our cars?

Some of my friends have named so many of their cars that they’ve established biblical-sounding litanies. There was Agatha I, who preceded Agatha II, who preceded Bertha. And Schmitty who preceded Eb, who preceded Nugget. Other names have been one-offs like Harrison or Leona. And of course there’s that car named Brad that we’re constantly reminded of by the girl in the Liberty Mutual commercial.

The car that Parnelli Jones used to win the Indy 500 the year I was born actually had two names. It was officially called Agajanian’s Willard Battery Special, but Jones called it Ol’ Calhoun.

My last car had no name. It was probably my favorite car, but like the unfortunate horse in the America song, well you know the story…

My second-favorite car was my only vehicle that had a name – it was called Reynard, largely based on the song “Reynard the Fox” by Julian Cope. The song just kept getting stuck in my head while I was driving, and I started seeing connections to the car.

Oddly, I’ve been having the same experience with this car, which I’ve had for just over a year. The song that’s been getting stuck in my head is “Stockholm” – the most popular song by the New Fast Automatic Daffodils.

At first listen it seems to have nothing to do with my car. Then again the lyrics are all over the place, so I’m not sure what the song has to do with anything. But somehow it speaks to me, and has managed to stick with me long after peaking at #30 on the U.S. Billboard Modern Rock chart in 1993.

There is actually some logic behind applying the name to my car. It’s a song where all the individual lines seem to have meaning, but I’m not sure how they fit together into a cohesive overall meaning. The same could be said of all the different parts of my life that my car carries me.

The thing I particularly like about the name is that it’s genderless. In an era when people are so respectful of fluid gender identities, I don’t think I should force my car to be male or female. It doesn’t need to decide whether it’s Bruce or Caitlyn. It can just be Stockholm.

Still, I’m undecided. What if it’s the wrong name? What if I come up with a better name after I’ve already announced this one? Is it bad luck to change a car’s name?

Ol’ Calhoun managed to win the Indy 500 despite its name change (and a controversial oil leak) so maybe I should just go ahead with Stockholm. I just hope it doesn’t develop an oil leak if I go off on a Lou Reed kick and re-name it “Berlin.”