On the Personality of Our Possessions

THERE can be no gainsaying the fact that the neighbors, in Congress assembled, have voted our family slightly queer. It is not that we ‘put on airs’; that we dress in an eccentric manner; that we speak in accents strange; or that our lives are any less well-ordered than theirs. Oh no, it is none of these offenses against the well-established social standards of a New England town. The whole affair may be summed up in a simple statement:

We have named our lawn mower Gideon!

A seemingly unimportant matter, this, but what a difference in viewpoint it represents! To us, Gideon is a cheerfully and helpfully pugilistic person who, shouting his battle-slogan, sallies forth once a week to quell the upstart ranks of grass who are mobilizing for a rebellion. To our neighbors, Gideon is — a lawn mower; and he is nothing more.

Perhaps even Gideon might be forgiven us, if he were all; but the fact is, as I can hear them protest, —

‘They have names for everything, even the electric toaster! ‘

It is true. We have. And in the eyes of our neighbors, therefore, we are ‘queer.’ In this particular respect they consider us morons; we have never quite outgrown the infinitely childish practice of naming our possessions. This fact modifies their respect for our opinions. It makes no difference how learned and enlightened we may appear in our discussion of religion, politics, gardening, or modern poetry — they mentally shake their heads and remain unconvinced. We have a lawn mower named Gideon.

Of course they admit that it is perfectly proper to name the family cats, provided always that one remain true to orthodox titles like Thomas, Tabitha, Fluffy, or Nigger. If one desires to deviate a bit, perhaps even Buddy or Skipper are permissible; but when one departs to such nomenclature as Boswell, Eli, Boadicea, Huckleberry Finn, or Señor Don Alonzo Estaban San Salvador, — this last as applied to a small blue-eyed scrap of a Maltese kitten, — really, is n’t it going a bit too far? And as for the outlandish practice of identifying the feathered denizens of the poultry-house by such names as Oliver, Harry, Walter, Ben Hur, Prunella, Elizabeth, and Martha — it is quite unspeakable!

But, worst of all, they point out, is this naming of things — inanimate objects! One day my sister, in displaying some snapshots, turned to one entitled ‘Alice and Annabel.’ Yes, there was Alice, right enough, but —

‘Where is Annabel?’ politely inquired our guest.

‘Oh, don’t you see?’ my sister replied ingenuously; ‘Annabel is the tree beside which Alice is standing.’

A look of blankness swept over our friend’s face.

‘Oh, I see,’ she faltered.

But plainly her mental vision was obscured, even when we pointed out to her our slender, lissome Annabel. To us, it would be little short of sacrilege to speak of Annabel as ‘that maple tree in the front yard.’ To our friend any other designation was impossible.

It is the same way with Othello, our plump, jolly little air-tight wood stove; with Araminta, the comforting, motherly, hot-water bottle; with Adelaide and Galahad, the sturdy, dependable oil-heaters; with David, the dignified elm tree; with Honza, my friendly violin; with Barnum and Bailey, our two shimmering goldfishes; with ponderous, verbose Doctor Johnson, the typewriter; and with a host of other possessions.

Oh yes — we may be queer, even silly. But how else can you treat your friends? They are so indispensable and they all radiate such diverse, but sympathetic and jovial personalities. I would no sooner think of leaving them unnamed than the family next door would consider allowing the new baby to grow up without appellation. Oh yes, our lawn mower’s name is Gideon and, according to the lights of our matter-of-fact neighbors, we may be queer. And yet — I wonder!