At Artis, the Amsterdam zoo, the animals aren’t allowed to have names because it humanizes them.
It’s a new rule, or new-ish. Caesar the lion was 23 (very old for a lion, said the zookeeper) when he died last year, so now the zoo has one less animal with a name.
Ever since I learned about Caesar I’ve started thinking more about the things I love with names I don’t know. Like the smallest but brightest star in Minnesota, the yellow flowers that bloom in the mountains in Oregon, and literally every street in Amsterdam besides the one we live on. (I know the canals.) Not knowing their names doesn’t mean I love them any less. It feels right when I say it about stars and important — more humane even — when I say it about lions. But it’s a bad excuse for not remembering someone’s name after you meet them at a party.
In the western United States a lot of mountains and lakes have women’s names. In Yosemite, Elizabeth Lake, Mary Lake, Dorothy Lake, Avonelle Lake, and Polly Dome are all named after the wives and daughters of the explorers and park rangers who climbed them first. How can you really know you are first to climb a mountain? If someone’s already climbed it, it might be just another name you don’t know.
And if you name a daughter and give her the name Dorothy, and then climb a mountain and name it Dorothy, are you naming the mountain after your daughter or do you just like the name Dorothy so much you used it twice?
Maybe the best way to love things that aren’t supposed to have names – wild things like mountains, and daughters, and 23-year-old-lions, and Dutch streets, and nice people at parties – is to give them a new name every time.
The information about mountains in Yosemite is from this essay by Lucy Bryan Green.