Why is that reindeer called (insert weird name here)?!

A few months ago I wrote a blog about how we choose the names for the individual reindeer in the herd, and the themes we use each year. I mentioned, however, that there are always exceptions to the rule, so I thought I’d explain a few of the odder names in the herd, which don’t fit their theme. Most names do fit – even in a rather vague roundabout manner – but sometimes they just don’t at all!

First up, Hamish. Hamish was born in 2010, the product of his mother Rusa’s teenage pregnancy. Teenage in reindeer years that is, at 2 years old. Reindeer generally don’t have their first calf until 3 year olds, but some will calve as 2 year olds occasionally, especially if they are of decent body size already during the preceding rut, triggering them to come into season. Rusa was one such female, but unfortunately Hamish was also a large calf, and he got stuck being born. This resulted in a bit of assistance needed from us, and then a course of penicillin for Rusa, which interrupted her milk flow. We therefore bottle-fed Hamish for the first 2 or 3 weeks of his life, and any calf who we work so closely with at such a young age either requires naming, or ends up with a questionable nickname that sticks (a la Holy Moley!). In Hamish’s case we hadn’t already chosen the theme for the year, so just decided we’d choose a nice, strong Scottish name. And Hamish went on to grow into a nice, strong Scottish reindeer!

How many reindeer herders does is take to work out whether a calf is suckling or not?! Hamish at a few hours old.

Svalbard next. While we’ve used both ‘Scottish islands’ and ‘foreign countries’ as themes, we haven’t technically done ‘foreign islands’. So where does his name come from? In fact, he was originally named Meccano, in the Games and Pastimes year. But at around 3 months old he was orphaned, and while he did obviously survive, it will have been a struggle, stealing milk from other females but never quite getting enough (this was while out free-ranging, so we weren’t around to help). As a result when we came across him a month or so later his growth had been stunted a bit, and he was very pot-bellied – a sign of inadequate nutrition.

On the Norwegian-owned island of Svalbard there is a subspecies of reindeer (imaginatively called Svalbard reindeer). Without any need to migrate anywhere, over time Svalbard reindeer have evolved shorter legs and a dumpy appearance, and Meccano resembled a Svalbard calf. Never one to like diversion from a neat list of themed names, I tried in vain to call him Meccano but eventually gave up. ‘The Svalbard calf’ had become ‘Svalbard’. Oh well. It does suit him.

And then there’s Stenoa. He was born in 2012 when our theme was ‘Things that happened in 2012’ (being as quite a lot of things did that year – the Olympics, the Queen’s Jubilee and most importantly, our 60th anniversary). Most of that year of reindeer have names with rather tenuous links to the theme, but Stenoa’s is probably the most obscure. Taking part in the Thames flotilla for the Jubilee was the Smith Family onboard the boat Stenoa, which belonged to Tilly’s dad and was given her name from the first name initials of Tilly, her three siblings and parents.

Handsome Stenoa as a young bull

Every now and then we import some reindeer from Sweden, bringing them into our herd to bring in fresh bloodlines and to therefore reduce the risk of us inbreeding within the herd. There are currently about a dozen ‘Swedes’ in the herd, and while most have Swedish names, some don’t. In 2011, when they arrived to join our reindeer, we were all allowed to name one each, with Alex (out in Sweden with the reindeer while they were in quarantine), named the others – mostly after people they were bought from. So we have Bovril, Houdini and Spike still amongst the more traditional names… ‘My’ reindeer was named Gin (read into that what you will…) but sadly isn’t with us anymore.

Spike – whose antlers have developed over the years to suit his name quite well!

Other than Holy Moley (explained in Fiona’s recent blog), the only calf who doesn’t quite fit last year’s Seeds, Peas and Beans’ theme is Juniper. On the day we named the class of 2020, Tilly’s long-time favourite (and ancient) Belted Galloway cow, Balcorrach Juniper, died, and her one request was that we name a calf in her honour. No point arguing with the boss! And juniper plants do have seeds I guess.

Juniper

There’s been plenty more in the past (Paintpot for example, born with one black leg which looked like he’d stepped in a pot of paint) but I think that’s the main ones covered in today’s herd. But no doubt others will come along in time, and the cycle of constantly explaining a reindeer’s odd name to visitors on a Hill Trip will continue.

Hen

What’s in a name?

People who see our photos on social media without knowing much about us must wonder why some of our reindeer have such strange names. Where’s Dasher and Dancer? Prancer and Vixen? And Rudolph??? Where on earth have ‘Pavlova’, ‘Caterpillar’ and ‘Clouseau’ come from?!

Santa’s lesser known reindeer: Hopscotch, Kipling and Hobnob???

We’ve been naming the reindeer on a theme each year since the early 70s. As well as making life a bit easier for us coming up with 15 – 30 brand new names each year (where would you start otherwise?!), it has a very practical application in that it helps us remember the individual age of each reindeer, based on their moniker. For farmers naming animals is often done using words starting with a certain letter of the alphabet each year, but different themes is our chosen method.

Up until the early 70s Mr Utsi named his reindeer mainly just with human names, both English and Swedish in origin. However, in 1971, the calves were instead given names of different trees, such as Spruce, Larch and Alder. In 1972 it was birds: Raven, Wren and Hawk. And Tit (teehee).

Themes need to be chosen to have enough ‘good’ names; those not too long, not too complicated, not double-barrelled and either unisex or enough names suitable for a rough 50:50 split of male and female names within the theme. This rules out some ideas pretty quickly.

Camembert – no prizes for guessing her naming theme!

Over the years however, all the ‘obvious’ themes have now been done. Rivers; Butterflies; Countries; Sweeties – we’ve been there and done that. We do our best to never reuse a name as each reindeer is their own character and we feel they deserve an individual name, but also because it can cause confusion on the database if there’s more than one of the same. We do accidentally slip up however – I’m well aware that both Juniper and Frost in the herd are not the first of their kind. I think Lady holds the record – the Lady that I knew when I first started here turned out to be Lady the Third when I looked closely at the database…

So now we have to think outside the box, hence our slightly off-the-wall themes of later years. This year the calves are named after ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’. We did ‘Police and Detectives’ recently. And before that ‘Ancient Civilisations’.

To an extent we try not to use themes that are too commercial, hence ‘car makes’ or ‘football clubs’ aren’t options. Something else we don’t generally do, or not nowadays at least, is to allow other people to name reindeer in our herd. This is quite a popular request, and most often comes from people wishing to name a reindeer in memory of someone in their family who really loved visiting the reindeer, or had some special connection with the herd for one reason or another. While this would seem a lovely tribute, sadly reindeer don’t live forever and we don’t want people to be too invested in a certain reindeer, only for it to pass away unexpectedly. Sod’s law is a big factor here – allow someone to name a reindeer in this manner and you can almost guarantee it will be the one to pop it’s clogs a week later… However, we like to accommodate people if possible, so we have in the past, in exceptional circumstances, allowed someone else to choose the theme (from a shortlist). We did it this year in fact – ‘Seeds, Peas and Beans’ was chosen in memory of a gentleman to whom gardening had been a very important part of his life.

While all the staff here are involved in naming the calves each year, the Smith family, who own the reindeer herd, have the final say in all names. And themes they don’t like won’t make the grade. Hence don’t bother asking us if ‘Game of Thrones’ will ever be the theme – I can tell you right now that it won’t. I did make a bid for ‘Sean’ for this years’ theme (think about it) but sadly it was out-ruled.

Just a gang of detectives… Sherlock, Poirot and Morse

Of course there end up being lots of exceptions to the rules and reindeer often end up with really random names, but I think some details of these can wait till a future blog (which I’ve now written!).

Hen