Sunday, October 5, 2014

Names That Confuse Me

In my very first blog, I talked about naming animals.  That's like one of the most fun/stressful things ever.

Missy, aka Meep Meeps, aka Meepers. But as Shakespeare once wrote, a penguin by any other name will still projectile poop.

How do animals in zoos and aquariums get named?  Sometimes, it's through a naming contest.  That's a great way to get guests involved with your facility, especially with Facebook and Twitter and all the other social media outlets I'm too old to understand.  As animal trainers/caretakers, these contests are one of the most stressful methods of animal christening.  Why? Because invariably, there is at least one Bad Name That Makes No Sense But All Guests Love For No Explicable Reason.

 I wish I knew.

For example, let's say hooray! A seal pup is born! And he is cute and squishy and has huge expressive eyes, and you're all like ready to go to name the little dude.  The entire training department will start throwing out names like:

Pacific, you know, because that's his lineage, a Pacific harbor seal.
Or Franklin, because that's a really cute name plus it's the name of the owner of the park.
Or Stanley, because Stanley the seal is a nice alliteration.
Or maybe you go with an Inuit word for a name, the ones that sound coolest (Tomkin, Massak)
Or Vancouver.  Nanaimo.  Johnston (after the Strait).

At some point, the list is whittled down to four names from which to select.  And you're really excited because you know you've picked some good ones.  The list is revealed after many weeks of consideration:

1) Franklin
2) Tomkin (Inuit word for where spirits gather)
3) Vancouver


4) Pumpkin Pie


"Whaaaaat!!!!" you exclaim upon reading the final name choice.  "That is RIDICULOUS! Who thought of that!?"

Your calmer, more rational mind takes a hold and tries to calm your emotional side down.

"There, there," it says.  "No rational group of people would ever think Pumpkin Pie is appropriate for a seal."

The great Facebook naming contest begins.  Or Twitter.  Or whatever.  And slowly but surely, the names gather votes.  Pumpkin Pie is not only in the lead by a long shot, but it comes with a lot of great comments from its fans.

"cant wait 2 c pumkin pi!"


"What a cutie! #pumpkinpieisbestsealnameever  #ppie4life"

You helplessly watch as the general public chooses the final name for that adorable seal pup, knowing full well that for the rest of his life he will come to the name of the most delicious dessert around.   I mean, it's fine, right?  Because his name doesn't in any way affect the care or love he receives. 

Aside from naming contests, you know what else blows my mind on like a daily basis?  

Animals who have very plain, human names of people I work with or see on a regular basis. 

His name is Kevin.

I love it when animals have human names, like Alvin, Phebe, Nicholas, Webster, Sebastian, Kyle.  I don't know why I love that so much, but I do.  

However, sometimes my blond brain gets completely upended when I work with both animals and humans with the exact same names.  It's provided some most excellent (and very confusing) humorous situations when I try to figure out WTF is going on.

The first time I encountered this was at my first paid job.  I worked with both a trainer and a dolphin named Denise.  There weren't too many confusing experiences with the two of them, with the exception of occasionally someone would say, "Who's doing the show?" and the answer was "Denise" and we couldn't figure out right away which taxa was being referenced.

Since I've been at my current facility, I've had a lot of completely misunderstandings.  

Kyle, our male sea lion, also happens to be the name of one of our former trainer's boyfriends.  Once in a while, something like this would happen:

Trainer: Hey, I need to go for a few minutes, I have to go see Kyle.
Cat: Oh okay, is he out in the parking lot?
Trainer: Uh, no.  He's in the south habitat?
Cat: asldiguaosdivaosg78o9w8egtkahsdvliasudgliu

What are you doing in the parking lot, dude?

This also continuously happens with a sea lion and and employee named Cory.  Cory (human) has been at this particular facility for something like 16 years.  He's a former Marine, a sweetheart and  in his early thirties (I should mention he's single, ladies!) and has done just about every job short of working with the marine mammals.  Since I've known him, he's been an aquarist and most recently he took a job in the maintenance department.  He is a jack of all trades, but he is also the Scuba Dive Guy. 

Cory is a sea lion who has been with us since the early 2000s.  She was born at Zoo Atlanta and when she was one year old, moved to MAP  (the facility tragically destroyed in Hurricana Katrina) and is in her early 20s.*

Sea Lion (not Human) Cory

I can't tell you how many times I mix these two up in scenarios people are describing to me.  My brain creates great mental pictures of this confusion, too.  

One day, someone said to me, "Hey Cat, Cory's in South Habitat.  Should we clean in there?"

I imagined Cory sea lion, sleeping in her usual spot in that habitat.  I was like, "Uh, we clean in there all the time with sea lions.  Is there a reason you think we can't?"

"Well Cory's just blocking the door with all these paint equipment in there and I didn't know if it could get wet."

My brain instantly pictured this old female sea lion amidst her pile of paint supplies, warning all trainers away so we wouldn't ruin her precious cargo.  And then I realized they were talking about Human Cory.

Jenna Marbles gets it

Another time this happened was when I came back from my weekend but had to organize the day.  So I asked all the trainers at our morning meeting, "Hey where is Cory?", because we had been shifting her into different habitats to socialize one of our new sea lions.

"I think out by the dumpsters."

Again, mental picture: Cory Sea Lion helpfully taking out the trash.  And then the realization that they didn't know to which Cory I was referring.

But the best story I have recently of this mix up was of Patty (the subject of my last blog).  We indeed have a Human Patty, too.  She is our finance/HR type person.

During one of Sea Lion Patty's extreme trainer preference episodes where she hadn't been eating from almost anyone, we had an issue with our time clock machine.  This machine will not work under circumstances such as: humidity, heat, and/or daylight.  So everyone's time card was getting really screwed up, a problem that fell into Human Patty's jurisdiction (Sea Lion Patty made it crystal clear she wanted nothing to do with payroll problems).

Such as payroll

My boss was out of town while all this was happening, so I was the next in charge to help mitigate the issue of the Picky Sea Lion and the Ornery Time Card Machine.   In between the other things I had to do that day, I was checking my phone to keep in touch with my boss who was getting emails from vets, the general manager, and other staff members about all the aforementioned problems.

Here's the text conversation:

Bossman: How's the day going?
Me: It's going well, busy.
Bossman: What's going on with Patty?
Me: She's eating well today!

Eatin' good.

And then I didn't hear anything back from him for a few hours.  I figured, hey, he's satisfied with the fact that our only potentially problematic animal situation was resolved, that Patty had found a trainer she could eat from and we didn't have to worry about anything medical right then.  

So I continued on with the day, until I checked my phone and saw a text:

Bossman: What??
Bossman:  I meant did she figure out the time cards?

I started laughing uncontrollably.  I realized my boss was asking me about Human Patty, not Sea Lion Patty.  I can only imagine what HIS mental picture was when he wanted to know what was "going on" with Human Patty and the only response he got from me was that she was eating well.  As if I was carefully monitoring all of Human Patty's food intake, because hey, I sure as hell wouldn't solve problems on an empty stomach.

Speaking of food, here's another important reminder that it's OCTOBER AND PUMPKINSSSSSSS

I think I've just resolved myself to accept that animals with the same names as coworkers is always going to confusing the heck out of me, but luckily it's usually hilarious.  And the other good thing is that this doesn't happen very often; three shared names is a lot (I think) for one facility, but it's still only three names.  If we start hiring people named Emerald, Chopper, or Oreo, then I'll be in for some serious brain malfunction.  So for now, I'll enjoy the bizarre images my brain forms as it struggles to discern Human from Marine Animal.

What about you guys?  Do you have this same problem?  Share your story and we can all laugh (or cry at our simpleton-ness) together!

* She is also single, but prefers to remain that way


  1. I would have to agree with you on the human names for animals. I absolutely love it when I meet an animal with a name like Sherman, Toby, Sherry, or Bart (I can't think of Bart the owl without getting a little giddy, Bart was one damn good animal!).

    The last facility I worked for had a plethora of nicknames for each animal, which was fine by me because i love the stories behind nicknames. Anyway we had one animal who had the nickname of Norman. Before I learned who Norman really was I had no idea what anyone was talking about when they said things like "I'm going to go hydrate Norman" or "Norman is doing the next swim program" or "hey Mary come out and be a mock guest for Norman"... Who the hell is Norman...our accountant? Well as it turns out Norman was Stormy the dolphin. He got his nickname from Norman Schwarzkopf aka Stormin' Norman.

    Mary G.

  2. If Cory ever makes his way to New Orleans, I will gladly take him on a date.

  3. My mom is called Rossy and someone gave me a German shepherd named Roxy, when you pronounce these names in spanish can get a lot of confusion... i had to change the dog's name, orders from my mom XD