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Naming a Harp: Naming Rights and Wrongs

Article submitted to the FHJ by Jerry Brown

Have you named your harp yet, or does that sound like a silly notion to you? I’ve been known to roll my eyes when people brought in a harp for regulation or repairs and introduced me to their instrument by first name. “Here’s my Desiree – she needs some expert attention. Please be careful with her, she is so precious to me.”

“Ooh-kaaay,” I replied with a bit of hesitation. “We’ll take good care of her here.”

Why bother naming a possession? I thought. Isn’t that going a little too far? Getting a little kinky? I once got a call from a distraught harp owner who had lavished her “adorably-named” instrument by giving it a full-body massage with lotion — just as a loving gesture you know — only to discover a sticky mess when she was done. “Help!” She cried over the phone. “How do I clean her up?” So yes, you can go a little too far with this!

Over the years, however, I have changed my attitude toward the whole naming thing. Maybe it was because I noticed how important my cat’s name was to the vet when I dropped her off for treatment. “Oh, hello, Schnoodles, I’m glad to meet you. We’ll help you get rid of that bothersome fur-ball, and you’ll feel much better by tomorrow.” Have you ever read any of the James Herriot books about his veterinarian career in the Yorkshire Dales? He has very humorous stories told with such warmth that maybe that’s how I softened to the general concept of giving a first name to non-human life, and even to inanimate objects.

Naming adds an emotional element to ownership, and that can affect how we “relate” to the item, whether it be a car, a pet, a harp, a boat, or a summer cabin. My guess is that the harps that are gathering dust in someone’s closet or basement have no names. They were easily set aside, forgotten and neglected. Naming your harp installs it in a place of importance in your life. You’ll find yourself attracted to it more readily, and you’ll maybe use him/her to help you express your emotions, even if just to yourself. Harps make wonderful companions for that purpose.

It’s a way of making the thing more endearing to you. So if you are on a first-name basis with your harp, you might say things like, “I’ll play with ‘Ricardo’ today and see if we can make music together.” Or, “Let’s see how that song sounds on my little ‘Jenny’ now.”

I’m hoping that naming your harp also commits you to take better care of it, though hopefully not to the extreme of a massage. If “Cassandra” has difficulty staying in tune, for example, you might seek advice from her maker more quickly, replace strings more frequently, or just have a good careful look at her to make sure everything appears to be healthy.

A name can also help us re-frame a difficulty we are having when learning a new song or struggling with a difficult passage of music. You might look at the challenge differently if you were to say, “Come on Alberta, let’s get it right this time – I know we can do it!”

Still with me so far? Maybe you are wondering what sort of name is appropriate or inappropriate for a harp. There are no written rules about this, but harps, by nature, are viewed as exotic, shapely, romantic beauties. Their names should reflect some of those qualities.

Most people would not call their harp “Fred.” [LOL.] But “Federico” might be perfect!

“Jim” is too common and plain, but “Jiminy” is fun, and “Jameson” adds a certain je-ne-sais-quoi.

“Mary” may have the reputation of a ‘grand old name’, but “Maribelle” or “Maryellen” seems more fitting for a harp to me. What do you think?

A Nickname (“buddy”, “sis”, “old chap”) might help you to be more relaxed when sitting down to play. Or a stage name, such as “The Great Yolanda!” might give you a new freedom to perform without your normal inhibitions, or might make you feel more attractive and professional in front of a crowd.

Yes, it’s probably all in your mind, but sometimes we need to alter our thought-life in order to overcome a hurdle. Having an imaginary companion to enhance your mental picture of success can be life-changing. It can make all the difference. And it doesn’t need to be the most expensive harp or the most beautifully finished.

I remember watching a performance years ago at a harp conference where Philip Boulding, who is a tall, broad-shouldered man with wild hair, introduced his short wire-strung harp as “Igor” because he said it was so ugly. But when Philip sat on a low stool and bent over that instrument to play little “Igor”, there was an audible gasp in the audience. The striking beauty of the music Philip elicited from that harp held everyone breathless. He could make it sing like a bird and cry like a baby. It was enthralling.

So. Are you ready to christen your harp yet? If and when you do, I’d like to hear about it – what name you chose and why, how the name has changed your relationship with the instrument, or made a difference in your care of it, or your love of learning to play it, etc. I’m interested in relating your stories here in the Folk Harp Journal. This could be fun sharing. Just send me your thoughts — positive or negative — and I will compile a few at a time and submit them to the editor for future issues. Maybe we will end up with a “Book of Harp Names”….

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