How Do We Name Our Sea Turtles?

We received this e-mail from Loggerhead Marinelife Center volunteer Jeff Porter.  I’m including it verbatim because it was such a great read! I hope you find this post as clever (and informative) as I did!! If you ever want to check out Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s current patients, click here. Without further ado:

“A Big Angry Turtle by Any Other Name Would Smell Just as Sweet”

One question that new volunteers are likely to hear from our guests is “How do you name your turtles?”  A young guest named Kay asked me that question in an e-mail back in 2002 (yes “2002”) and in the course of writing her response, I came to an unsettling conclusion:

“The Loggerhead Marinelife Center has no turtle-naming protocol.”

What I wound up telling Kay was that there is really no official system for naming the turtles when they arrive.  Loggerhead Marinelife Center is only required to number each patient.  Each turtle is assigned a number based on its species, the year of its arrival and the number of that species that have been received at that point in the year.  For instance, “Kahuna” is a Loggerhead Sea Turtle, whose Latin name is “Caretta caretta”.  Therefore her Loggerhead Marinelife Center number starts with “CC.”  She arrived in 2010, so the next two digits are “10” and she was the 25th loggerhead to arrive that year.  Thus her official number is “CC 1025.”

That being said, most volunteers wouldn’t proudly tell a guest that “CC 1025 has been eating well” or “CC 1025 should be released in a few months” or even “Don’t put your hand in that tank or CC 1025 might rip your hand off at the wrist!”  So, names are certainly a more natural and personable way of referring to turtles than patient numbers.

So what happens when a turtle arrives?  Initially everyone is busy logging the patient in and obtaining photographs, radiographs (x-rays), weight, blood samples, etc.  At some point, someone (usually Melissa) looks up and says “Hey, what are we going to call this turtle?”  At that point…the games begin.  Basically, naming ideas are then tossed out until either A) One name seems to fit or B) Most volunteers stop actively mocking the name in question.  This is not an endeavor for the faint of heart.

Having kept track of turtle names for the past decade or so, I can say that they run the gamut.  We’ve had simple names (Bob), complicated names (Direct Pressure), fun names (Sprout), sophisticated names (Pierre), literary names (Dulcinea), casual names (Half Pint), political names (Chad), descriptive names (Splinter), volunteer names (Barbara), Spanish names (Machan), locale names (Daytona), celebrity names (Robin Leech), science fiction names (Gamera), Slavic names (Olga), holiday names (Valentine), muppet names (Kermit), ironic names (Little John), vaguely risqué names (Perky), annoying names (What), Italian names (Vito), goofy names (Geico), wimpy names (Irwin), tough names (Burt), religious names (Saint), prophetic names (Diva), television names (Oprah), food names (Mayo), beverage names (Yuengling), Shakespearean names/hockey names (Puck), planetary names (Mars), auditory names (Thud), cereal names (Cheerio), rock and roll names (Layla), country music names (Patsy), reggae names (Marley), punk names (Scruffy Wallace), names related to Frank Zappa (Dweezil), Mayberry names (Opie), ‘Finding Nemo’ names (Squirt), Russian names (Ivan and “Ivanoff”), German names (Hilda), stellar names (Sirius),  Greek names (Sigma), African names (Asha), cartoon names (Sponge Bob), Native American names (Tonka), pirate names (Lafitte), Hindu names (Kali), avian names (Sparrow) and automobile names (Bentley).  And all of those were prior to 2006!  Believe it or not, we have a working rule to try to avoid “re-using” the same name more than once (except in special circumstances).

The first name I ever had approved for a patient was Earl.  He was a rough, banged-up, sixty pound loggerhead and I thought the name fit him perfectly.  Many of our guests seemed to feel the same way.  I had no idea that the Dixie Chicks had recently released a successful country and western song of the same name, but that only seemed to make him more popular.  Some other names I came up with in subsequent years were “Kong,” “Ash”, “Aretha” and “Lowell.”

When you get down to it, naming a sea turtle patient isn’t (on the face of it) a very important act, but it’s amazing how much difference such a small decision can make in our guests’ ability to connect with our charges.

So, when a turtle arrives, my recommendation is…have some ideas in mind, ‘cause you can bet everyone else will!  Good luck!

One last note from Brittany: Because I’m sure Jeff’s e-mail sparked your curiosity, the names of our current patients are Andre, Ivanoff, Kahuna, Pinta, Taquito, Mimosa, Cubby, Kacie, Leo and Ryker. To support Loggerhead Marinelife Center by adopting one of them, click here.