Stuffed Animals: What’s in a Name?


Which one of these guys would you put back on the shelf? Tusky, Snugs, Buster, or Ralph?

When I was in primary school (in the mid-seventies) I had an orange bulletin board in my bedroom. The board matched my yellow and orange shag carpet and orange bedspread.  I used my bulletin board to express my deepest dreams and interests. That meant I combed through my mom’s Better Homes and Gardens and Good Housekeeping magazines for Puppy Chow ads.  I would carefully cut out the puppy pictures and add to the collage of my heart’s desire — being surrounded by cute, fluffy pups.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I proudly told them — a professional puppy petter.

I even hung up pictures of my dog, Patches, on my door and made every member of my family sit through Buddy Holly singing Everyday while looking at a specific picture, which I indicated with my dad’s extendable silver pocket pointer. The pictures told a story in concert with the song. This was before PowerPoint or camcorders (oh, if only I had a iPhone back then). My family endured these musical picture shows, but to me it was so much more.  I could see the feeling in my dog’s eyes and I matched the feeling to the lyrics.

My obsession with animals continued. Like a lot of kids, I collected stuffed animals. I named them all. The name gave them life and personality. The name came from looking into their eyes and into their fluffy little souls. They were my friends. We had adventures and they were part of my Animal Kingdom. My dad built shelves around the top of my room to house them all. By the time I hit high school my collection had reached about 120. Each had a special name cataloged on my roster and sometimes even placed in taxonomic order. And at night, when tucking me in, before my dad was allowed to do his bedtime routine  (quiz me on state or world capitals) I required him to walk around my room and call each animal by name.

Names give life. Knowing a name is powerful. It was true for my stuffed animals and, as I grew, I discovered it is the same for people. When you know someone’s name, a person becomes so much more than “that guy on the street corner” or “my boss” or “that cleaning lady” or “some tax accountant” or “that kid who sits behind me in church.”  The name gives life and personality and when looking into a person’s eyes you can see into his or her fluffy little soul. We all have them, you know, fluffy little souls. And we can share them by first sharing our names with one another.

Yesterday I went shopping for a big fluffy soul to offer comfort to a friend of mine recovering from surgery. I’m not sure if she wants a big fluffy animal, but it was the first thing that came to mind when I saw her recovering in bed.

At the store I looked into the animals’ eyes. I couldn’t decide. I ended up with four fluffy friends riding in my cart as I continued shopping (pictured above). Just like people they all possessed something special and each of their eyes told a different story.

If my parents are reading this right now, they are not shocked. And neither will they be shocked hearing three of the four were purchased. My shopping companion consoled me as we placed the bear back on its shelf in a prominent place and made up a story of a parent who will come along and be overjoyed to finally find the perfect toy for her toddler. Ralph went home with my friend and Tusky and Buster came home with me.

Oh, and if you are wondering, I did not become a professional puppy petter. I consider myself a hobbyist puppy petter and I only own one dog, Ratchet. Luckily, I didn’t need to become a professional to learn the value of a name.

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