To tell the truth, I always thought it was kind of silly to give an inanimate object like a machine a name. I wouldn’t name my blender or my table saw something, why would I name my vehicle? But vehicles – be they motorcycles or cages – do have a personality, and like pets they sometimes take on or reflect the personality of their owners. They often feel like living, breathing things, and they are in a sense “alive” when we fire them up. Gradually over the years I found myself referring to my own bikes this way. As a living semi-autonomous being, not just a machine or a collection of metal parts.
Ships have always had names. In the nautical universe, boats have traditionally been named after women and referred to as a “she”. This practice, going back to antiquity, most likely stems from a way to honor and remember the women sailors left on land when they went to sea, and that the ship cradled them like their mother did. And even after ships started being named after men, the vessel themselves are referred to as women; “The Abraham Lincoln – she’s a fine ship”.
And since a motorhome is somewhat analogous to a land based ship, I know quite a few people who have named their motorhomes. A close friend once named her beat up old homemade contraption of a motorhome “Rocinante” after the horse in Don Quixote because, like the horse, it was awkward, past its prime, and engaged in tasks past his capabilities. Some would say sort of like me writing this column every month.
But a motorcycle or a car? These are not ships that one in a way becomes married to and lives aboard. Nor are they living breathing entities like a pet or a horse. Or are they? Maybe that’s why I actually gave both my bikes names a few years back. They are the only machines I’ve named, and they are very much “alive”, and some would say I live aboard them and are married to them. But I’ve not named my truck – it’s still the truck. However the bikes on the other hand, well mine are named Angus and Bandit.
The names just sort of came to me too – I didn’t set out to name them or put a lot of thought into it, they sort of just popped into my head one day and they fit. Angus because he’s short, stout, black, and powerful – like Angus cattle, and because I’m Scottish, it makes perfect sense. Bandit because he’s quick and fast and runs like crazy, like a bandit would escaping the police. It fits both of them and seems natural.
So when it comes to naming bikes, and why we do it, I reached out to a couple of my riding buddies who also named their rides and asked why they did and what the meaning behind the name was. One said he named his bikes because he believes it creates a special bond between man and machine, and with that bond the bike becomes your “trusty steed” and your road protector. He says his bike is his best friend and thinks of all the laughter, joy, and unforgettable memories he’s had, and thus owes it “respect” and calling it just his “bike” or his “Harley” instead of something with meaning or heart would be disrespectful. His latest bike is named “Rose” because she changes colors like a rose petal can, and his old bike was named “Fancy Irene” after the Reba McEntire song and his grandmother. His mother’s bike is named “Rizzo” since he’s an old school rat bike and reminds her of the character from the musical “Grease”. Unlike ships bikes seem to be either male or female it seems.
Another friend named his bike Edna. For a 30-something guy this name was just a bit too “old” for me to figure out and I would always snicker at it. He said all his vehicles have names and they have all been female, and the name just “comes” to him, and doesn’t really have any personal meaning. Although he says he named a pair of troublesome busses that he drove for work “Thelma and Louise” for that reason.
Maybe I’m being sexist, but my bikes are both male. I don’t see them as ladies at all. When one is in being repaired “he’s” in the shop. And if I’ve not gone out riding, I need to take “him” out for a ride. These two bikes are just not feminine in any way for me to give them female names. And perhaps I do it because they are like an extension of me and part of my family, and they, like people and pets, have a personality. Some would say even one that reflects their owner. Loud, fast, obnoxious, persnickety, troublesome, grouchy when cold or hungry, opinionated…
But I guess in the end, whether you name your bike or not, whether you consider it alive and a member of the family, or just a tool to get out on the road, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, as long as it calls you to the highway to get out and ride and you head off down the road to see what’s around the next bend.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com or http://www.grgardner.com