Monday, October 12, 2009

The name game

I have never found another breeder or owner as consistently clever at naming his horses as was the late Alfred G. Vanderbilt Jr., but Maria Niarchos-Gouaze has surpassed herself with her name for her current star two-year-old Eightfold Path, who won the Prix Eclipse today in France.

Eightfold Path, who was winning for the second time in three starts in the Eclipse, after finishing third in the Prix de la Rochette a few weeks ago, is the first foal of the Niarchos family's French champion 2- and 3-year-old filly Divine Proportions, by Kingmambo. For those who did not study Renaissance art, Divine Proportions is another name for the golden ratio, a mathematical-philosophical concept that has influenced great art at least since classical Greece. You can click on the link to read the way-too-complicated Wikipedia explanation, but basically, artistic representations based on the divine proportions are believed to be more aesthetically pleasing, and indeed artists have been using the golden ratio as a template at least since Phidias carved the friezes of the Parthenon.

Eightfold Path's sire, Giant's Causeway, is named for one of the natural wonders of Ireland, a volcanic basalt formation near Bushmills, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, that looks something like a giant staircase leading into the ocean. According to Irish legend, mythical Irish giant hero Finn McCool built the Giant's Causeway as a pathway to Scotland. In fact, the other end of the formation crops up at Fingal's Cave on Staffa Island off the coast of Scotland.

According to the teachings of Buddha, the Noble Eightfold Path is basically the path to enlightenment or awakening, one of the Buddha's four noble truths. With all that arcane knowledge--obviously possessed by Mme. Niarchos-Gouaze--the path, as it were, from Divine Proportions along the Giant's Causeway to the Eightfold Path is, well, clever, erudite, charming, and (I can't resist) just divine.

For me, the best names have always been those that incorporate the meaning of both the sire's and dam's name in a clever, euphonious, meaningful, and--if possible--humorous way. Alfred Vanderbilt still holds the title for the all-time best in the humorous category, naming his otherwise forgettable 1968 colt (later, sadly, gelded) by Tom Fool out of Last Leg, by Native Dancer, ....wait for it....Dirty Old Man.

Vanderbilt, of course, gave great names to far more famous horses, including Social Outcast (Shut Out--Pansy, by *Sickle) (hey, it was the '50s) and Native Dancer himself (Polynesian--Geisha, by Discovery).

So what's your favorite name?


  1. This is not my favorite name, and maybe this is not the forum to discuss it, but I can't help mentioning it:

    the 1978 daughter of What a Pleasure from Ciboulette, by Chop Chop.

    Ciboulette was the farm girl, the order was chop chop -- right away! -- and the What a Pleasure filly's name...and this got through the JC...was SOMFAS

  2. Silly, of course, but a few years ago I wanted the owner of the mare Calamari (by Caro) to breed her to Lemon Drop Kid, and name the resulting offspring Lemon Drop Squid.

  3. Vanderbilt had many, but a particular favorite of mine was Social Climber by Your Host ex Wisteria. In the clever but risque department, I offer a daughter of Honor and Offer that was named, at the suggestion of the late Joss Collins, Coming and Going.

  4. In the small world department, Kerry, when I was at Pillar, I bought Coming and Going as a filly out of training--I think at Deauville, but I can't remember the price, but it wasn't much--for our operation at Haras de Victot. She was rather coarse and not at all pretty and unfortunately her foals took after her. She could run a bit, but none of her foals coould. We sold her after four or five foals.

    We named the first foal, by Noalcoholic, On and Off.