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The naming of chickens (and a Regency rant). June 23, 2008

Posted by ourfriendben in chickens, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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People sometimes look at me strangely when I tell them our chickens have names. And they always look at me strangely when I tell them what the chickens’ names are. But here at Hawk’s Haven, we think names matter. Real chickens aren’t stupid (as opposed to factory-farmed fowl who have had pretty much everything but their egglaying or meat-producing capacity bred out of them), and they know their own names as well as we know ours. We keep our chickens for life—which is up to twelve years—so we know them as well as any of our pets. And besides, choosing names is fun.

We like to give our hens theme names, which is pretty easy, since we only have six. Originally, Silence Dogood gave them all the names of Regency romance heroines—Venetia, Sophia, and the like. Silence swears to me that she hasn’t read a Regency romance since high school, when she was a Georgette Heyer addict, but I have my doubts. (Ack! Now I’ve done it. Silence just came in and, looking over my shoulder, announced that she’d like to put in a word at the end of this post.)

Our current flock is as follows: Stella, a Buff Orpington; Roxanne, a Spangled Sussex; Lucretia, a Barred Rock; Olivia, a Partridge Rock; Imelda, an Americana/Partridge Rock cross; and her half-sister Griselda, an Americana/Delaware cross. (To our friend Ben’s knowledge, there are no shoe closets in the Pullet Palace, and if Imelda has any Manolos hidden away, she only wears them after dark.) Needless to say, each hen has her own personality—some more pleasing than others—and because no two look alike, it’s easy for us to tell who’s who. I suppose if you had an entire flock of Rhode Island Reds, it might be easier to just call them all Lucy and get it over with.

But if you have a mixed flock like ours, our friend Ben encourages you to choose a theme and give your girls names you’ll enjoy, be they Jane Austen heroines, favorite Disney or Star Trek characters,  beloved cartoon characters like Blondie, Cathy, and Nancy, or the female stars of your favorite TV show, be it “Ugly Betty,” “Gray’s Anatomy,” or “House.” (Or, say, “American Idol” winners or female rock stars, or even women from famous rock songs like Layla, Lola, and Melissa.) You’ll enjoy your chickens more if they have names that also amuse you. And the more you talk to your chickens, calling each by her own name, the tamer and more affectionate they’ll be. And that’s a good thing.

Let us know if your chickens have especially wonderful names. And now (gulp), here’s Silence…

Silence Dogood here. I’d just like to go on a brief rant about the wretched state of today’s so-called Regency romances. The Regency romance—and the romance novel in general—was the love child of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer. Jane Austen lived in the Regency period, that time in England in the late 1700s and early 1800s when England’s King George III was suffering his bouts of “madness” and his son, the Prince Regent, was acting king. Her delightful novels were set in her own time.

Georgette Heyer, writing in the first half of the Twentieth Century, emulated Jane Austen’s winning Pride and Prejudice formula (smart, entrancing girl meets wealthy, handsome boy, difficulties ensue, but ultimately girl gets boy) in her own novels. She recognized the allure of setting her novels in the past, in a more “romantic” era, so she also chose Jane Austen’s period (thus, Regency romances). And she upped the ante: her heroines, though invariably well bred, were usually reduced by circumstances to take humiliating positions such as governess or paid companion, making them ineligible as marriage partners in the rigid class structure of the day; her heroes were almost always of the nobility, and often dukes. Her plot twists brought the pair together in such a way that the hero overcame his class prejudices to ultimately perceive the lady’s charms, and love conquered all.

It’s tempting to say that, in America’s classless society, the appeal of these books would be incomprehensible. But the success of Harlequin and other romance-novel publishers gives this assumption the lie. Jane Austen is, if anything, more popular now than she ever was. But why? I think it’s because these novels touch on a core issue for women, who want to be loved for who we are, not how we look. Like everyone, women want to be loved. But we distrust surfaces. We have seen the most beautiful, the most famous, the most admired women in the world—Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Martha Stewart, Jennifer Aniston, Oprah, you name her—fail to find fidelity or marital happiness. If they can’t manage it, how can we ordinary women?

That’s where the Regency romance comes in. The wealthy, handsome, sophisticated man of the world has seen it all. And then he sees us. Wearied by superficiality, he perceives the timeless qualities that set us apart. He is ready to give up his life of idle dissipation in order to love and cherish us—and us alone—for the rest of our lives. It’s as if James Bond suddenly fell madly in love with, and proposed to, Miss Moneypenny.

Obviously, most of us are not out to marry a duke, or James Bond, or even Indiana Jones. But that captain-of-the-football-team-falls-in-love-with-the-brainy-science-major business is still pretty heady stuff for many women. (And I’m here to tell you that it really does happen.) So romance novels continue to sell.

But here’s the thing. In Jane Austen’s day, physical contact between the sexes—at least, until marriage—was a scandal. I’m not sure any of her heroes and heroines even so much as kissed, even after they pledged their troth. And all of Miss Austen’s books ended when the happy couple finally made it to the altar—no steamy night-of or morning-after scenes. Georgette Heyer pretty much stuck to that formula as well, though if memory serves, there were a few kisses in her novels, at least at the end. By contrast, today’s romance novels are filled with graphic sex and pre-marital pregnancies.

I understand the point of this—these novels are aimed at bored 30- and 40-something housewives, not (ahem) virginal teens, who were the heroines in both Miss Austen’s and Miss Heyer’s novels. I assume the authors and their publishers figure that these women are a) not virgins and b) would like to read about heroines who are closer to their own age and life experience. Thus, the age of the romance heroine has moved into the twenties, and more of them are widows or discarded fiancees (discarded, of course, after the cad who engaged their affections has ravished them, often with horrific consequences).

But oh, please. Reading about the couplings of the characters in graphic if eccentric detail (romance novels have their own language as far as describing body parts and sex acts is concerned) is ludicrous at best, screamingly (though unintentionally) funny at worst. Some things are best left to the imagination, as Georgette Heyer knew. That’s why I think that Bollywood’s “Bride and Prejudice,” where the Darcy-and-Elizabeth equivalents never so much as kiss, is truer to Jane Austen’s intent than most modern interpretations of her novels, and one reason why I love Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books. Though his heroines pursue romances, become engaged, and marry, you never read about so much as a kiss.

Anticipation. Hope. The realization of a seemingly impossible dream. This is romance (if not reality, but that’s the whole point, now, isn’t it?). Our friend Ben is right; I don’t read modern Regency romances. Not because I wouldn’t enjoy the delightful escapist romp every now and then, but because that obligatory graphic element spoils the romance of them for me. How about you? 

Um, Silence, if that’s a “brief” rant, what’s a long rant? And here you accuse me of never being at a loss for words! Uh, Silence? Silence?! Uh oh. Our friend Ben signing off…         



1. Cinj - June 23, 2008

Uh oh Ben, you’d better go make Silence some breakfast now! LOL.

Thankfully I can say I’m not much of a romance book reader, there’s too many other interesting books to read. I do tend to think that if the authors feel the need to sneak in unsavory details, they don’t need to be vulgar about it. I mean, we DO have imaginations, don’t we?

I also appreciate the naming of the chickens. I would do it too if I were allowed to have livestock here. I’d think about moving somewhere that I could choose to have livestock, but I’m thinking I can live happily here for several years before I take on any extra responsibilites.

Ha! Right you are, Cinj! And we’d love to take on more livestock responsibilities, too–at least a couple of goats! But, well, first the lottery…

2. ceecee - June 23, 2008

First, Ben–My chickens all have names. They follow no particular theme, except that I decided they all needed lovely names. A couple of them were named by the children and you’ll be able to pick out which ones.
Buff Orpington sisters, Sunny and Rosie
Light Brahma sisters, Sophia (Loren) and Violet (Elizabeth Taylor’s eyes)
Surviving Black Australorp sister, Audrey (Hepburn)
A timid Americauna that was assumed to be a rooster by the hatchery, Penny (Henny). A hardworking, chicken heroine.
Tuesday is our roo. He is named Tuesday of of necessity. He was hatched on a Tuesday. I save him from being named Fluffy, or Fuzzy or Cutie Patootie.

Silence, In my early 20’s I ran across several modern day romance novels at a garage sale. I had two children under the age of 4 at the time and needed a get-away. I caved in and bought them. I read during the kid’s naptime. I found them to be too “heated” for midday reading and decided to quit reading them. I much rather like the ones that leave you guessing.

Ha! Great names, CeeCee!!! And frankly, I find the modern romances a bit too heated for anytime…

3. deb - June 23, 2008

We have pets so of course they have names. If we had chickens, sigh, they would have names too. Brief up date, MM has not given in.

I always found romance novels even the classics just to complicated. I guess I had enough bad boyfriends in college not to need to read about someone else’s romantic angst. The trashier versions, ewww.

Oh no! Well, don’t give up, Deb! MM may yet come around… As for those bad boys, ain’t it the truth?!

4. kate - June 23, 2008

Your chickens have great names. I would so love to have chickens, but it’s forbidden in the city. My friend has many chickens, and like you, knows the name of each one of them. They come when called (although usually followed by the rest of them.

Romance novels – I’ve never really understood the allure of them, but they must be extremely popular since they seem to be at every supermarket checkout.

Yes, they do come when called, Kate! (And also when not called…) They’re so rewarding. I’m sorry you can’t have some of your own. Maybe someday…

5. Victoria - June 23, 2008

I absolutely LOVE Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels. I think I’ve read them all. They have sustained me through colds, pregnancies, backache, rainy days and miserable times: they’re the ideal thing to read when you have flu, or you’re in a hot bath after a hard day’s gardening. Silence, I shall now always imagine you as a typical GH heroine, with a firm chin, a mouth slightly too wide for conventional beauty and grey eyes brimming with laughter.

Ha!!! Priceless, Victoria! I’ll try to think of myself that way from now on, too!

6. Meg - June 24, 2008

Hey, you guys have a Stella, too! Our chickens are named after Grateful Dead songs, though I have to admit I was angling for X-Files characters. I’ll have to call dibs on naming the next flock.

That’s great, Meg!!! Of course, I’m still recovering from going to Sugar Magnolia’s up in Gloucester and discovering that it wasn’t a Southern restaurant…

7. Becca - June 25, 2008

ahem, I was writing a comment and it turned into a blog post about my favorite chicken. So, I think I’ll mosey on over to my blog to finish it up. I can’t think of anything to say about the Regency rant. The closest I have come to reading modern “romances” is the Mitford series by Jan Karon.

Great, I’ll be moseying along after you! Did Jan Karon base a series on the famous Mitford sisters?

8. Becca - June 25, 2008

I just did a bit of research on the famous Mitford sisters and they’re not even remotely related to the series. Jan Karon’s series is a pastoral romance about life in small town America and an Episcopalian priest who finds true love in his sixties. She really is a great character writer. I have all seven of the books. And the cookbook. It is a treasure.

Thanks, Becca! This is good to know. If she has both a series and a cookbook, I’ll definitely have to check it out!!!

9. Becca - August 22, 2008

I just read my first Georgette Heyer novel. I picked it up in a thrift store and said to myself: “Silence recommends these books. I’ll give it a try.” It was “Cotillion” and I LOVED it!

By the way, they kiss quite a bit on the last page. In fact, I believe he crushes her bonnet.

Ha! I hope you find the others, Becca! I just found the entire set that someone had donated to the library’s discard pile and snagged them for my sister—I think she somehow missed them when we were growing up! And if you search for Georgette Heyer on Wikipedia, you’ll be surprised (or at least I was!) to see that she looked just like her heroines. For some reason, I’d assumed she’d have looked more like poor Gertrude Jekyll and that the novels were her escape into fantasy. They may still have been escapes, but they were escapes that could actually have happened to her! And yes, unlike Miss Austen’s originals, Georgette Heyer’s do kiss. But that’s still a far cry from the obligatory graphic sex scenes, rapes, unwanted pregnancies, and etc. that litter today’s Regency romances!

10. Becca - September 6, 2008

I’m going to have to stop taking your suggestions. I am now a Georgette Heyer addict. I just finished “Arabella” and “The Convenient Marriage.” I must say, I didn’t like Horatia nearly as well as the other two heroines so far…

“Arabella” is a good one, Becca, as is “The Grand Sophie.” But my favorites are “These Old Shades,” “Devil’s Cub,” and “The Black Moth.” Make sure you don’t miss those!

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