What’s in a Name?
There’s an old superstition amongst koi enthusiasts that says once you name a koi, something bad will happen to it. So it follows that when it comes to playing the naming game, there are opposing teams.
“If you consider koi to be pets, it’s understandable to give them names,” says Bill Thompson of the Koi Club of San Diego, Calif. “Koi are subject to so many perils. The superstition maintains that by naming them you’re tempting fate. However, at the risk of suffering even a greater sense of loss when they go to the big pond in the sky, I have personalized all my fish.”
“There’s a large, very orange Ogon called Sunkist. Sunny is a shy male .However, at spawning time, he ardently pursues our big female Shiro Utsuri, named Smoky. Incidentally, she was previously called Hoover because of the way she used to ingest more than her fair share of koi pellets. But we changed her name as she grew and her inky black faded to a smoky-gray color. A popular fish in my pond is a long-fin Tancho Kujaku named after the androgynous icon RuPaul. I can’t determine the fish’s sex but with his long flowing fins, silvery scales and red head, he’s certainly flamboyant and entertaining.”
So who plays the naming game?
“Yes,” says Ben Plonski of Laguna Koi Ponds in Laguna Beach, California. “My fish at home all have cutesy names given by family members and friends. We have a Fiji, Phantom, Mori, Sunshine and Koko. We name them as people name their cats and dogs.”
“No,” says Burt Nichols of Water Garden Gems in Marion, Texas.” I refer to them in terms of their variety. And so do most of my customers. They will talk about their Kohaku or their Sanke as if it was the fish’s name.”
“No,” agrees Jeff Dearling of Koi Gardens in Spokane, Washington. ‘But I do understand that people consider them pets and name them as such.”
Interestingly, you only have to scan the message boards on the Internet to discover that koi enthusiasts from all over the world spend a lot of time trading names and asking for suggestions.
A quick survey shows that very often the names are linked to the type of koi; Fish that have mixed blood lines and are not suitable for competition seem to have more casual pet names or nicknames such as Glitters, Hot Lips, Mohawk, Dottie, Freckles, Lady, Sparkles, Marble and Tiger. Other popular names include popular Star Wars characters like R2D2 and Darth Vadar and Disney favorites like Snow White .Whereas ornamental quality koi often have more traditional Japanese names or designations that reflect their patterns and colors.
“Yes,” confirms Thompson. “ Grand champions in Japan are usually named after their breeder or bloodline and sometimes get another name based on their appearance. The Japanese are definitely more traditional than American koi enthusiasts.”
Robin Matos, Wildlife Manager at the Flamingo Las Vegas Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada says that many of fish in the hotel’s spectacular ponds have names that reflect their personality or some physical characteristic.
“Their names are either Japanese or English. There’s Ichee and Nee, which means number one and number two in Japanese. There’s a Platinum named Shiro, a large Asagi that grows benign tumors on her body named Lumpy, a Showa with a checkerboard pattern named Checkers, a Hajiro with white fins called Angel and a Kuchibeni Kohaku named Smackers.
“We also have a jumbo female Sanke named Bugsy after Bugsy Segal, the man who started the Flamingo Hotel. I spend a lot of time with them and have been given the unofficial job of naming them. But there are too many to give them all individual names. So there are at least six or seven named Ugly.”
Thompson says he’s always wanted a pond with a theme, naming all the fish names after Japanese pop stars or koi judges or “B” movie actresses.
“It would be such fun to impress friends by saying. ‘Look, there’s Virginia Mayo and Jayne Mansfield under that lily pad and here comes Esther Williams!’”
Well, he needs look no further than the beautiful koi pond at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, California for inspiration. Staff members have named some of the fish after famous guests both past and present.
“Sir Anthony Hopkins is a big confident fish with gray markings around the edges,” says Chad Wood, room director at the hotel. “Then there’s the famous trio Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo and Betty Grable. Our newest celebrity fish is Britney Spears, who darts amongst the others causing trouble.
“Is it a privilege for these celebrities to have a koi named for them in our pond? Well, I’m not sure.”
So what’s in a name?
Well, for those that play the naming game, there’s definitely a lot of personal history involved. Interestingly, t he world’s oldest koi named Hanako died about ten years ago. The fish was reputed to be more than 200 years old.
Perhaps that’s just another fishy story …
This article is from Koi World