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What's in a (Horse) Name? No More Than 18 Characters

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Picking a name for a newborn can be an agonizing process for parents, but it's a whole lot easier than naming a racehorse. While Thoroughbred owners may not have to worry about the risk of subjecting their foals to ridicule on the playground, they must select names that sound good when shouted but that also meet strict guidelines. Here's an overview of the naming process and an explanation behind the names of some of the horses in Saturday's Kentucky Derby.

The Jockey Club

Since 1894, the Jockey Club has been charged with maintaining The American Stud Book, a registry of all Thoroughbreds foaled in the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, as well as Thoroughbreds imported into those countries. North American breeders register approximately 37,000 Thoroughbreds each year and the Jockey Club has an online database of more than 430,000 names in active use, all of which must first be approved by the organization's censors.

One of the most common naming conventions is to combine the names of the foal's sire and dam. For instance, 1995 Kentucky Derby winner Thunder Gulch was the son of Gulch and Line of Thunder. A cleverer example of this sort is the name Inside Information, which was derived from Private Account and Pure Profit. Of the roughly 60,000 name requests submitted annually, about one-third are rejected because they fall into one or more of the Jockey Club's 15 classes of names that are strictly forbidden.

The Guidelines

jockey-club.jpgThe first rule of naming a horse is that a name may consist of no more than 18 letters, and spaces and punctuation marks count as letters. Eighteencharacters is acceptable (and is, in fact, a registered horse name) but Eighteen Characters is not. Other ineligible submissions include names consisting entirely of initials; names clearly having commercial, artistic, or creative significance; names that are suggestive or have a vulgar or obscene meaning; names considered in poor taste or names that may be offensive to religious, political or ethnic groups; and names of living persons unless written permission to use their name is on file with The Jockey Club.

In an interview with NPR, Jockey Club registrar Rick Bailey said he once received written permission on White House letterhead granting permission for an owner to register a horse named Barbara Bush. In 2005, the Jockey Club rejected an owner's request to name his horse Sally Hemmings after Thomas Jefferson's slave and reputed mistress. The owner claimed the name was meant to honor Hemmings and filed suit, but the Jockey Club's decision was upheld by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati. Today, there's no shortage of political statements being made on the tracks, with registered horses named Obama's Promises, George Dubya, Palin Power, and McCain. Names of horses that win major races are retired permanently, while all other names may be recycled over time.

Slipping Through the Cracks

With as many names as the Jockey Club reviews, it's no surprise that some questionable names have found their way onto racing forms. Slate took an amusing look at some of the racier names that slipped past the Jockey Club's reviewers. Among them: Blow Me (1945), Spank It (1985), Date More Minors (1998), Bodacious Tatas (1985), Sexual Harassment (1997), and "“ say it aloud "“ Hardawn (1937). "It's difficult with the use of some words that meant something 20 years ago may mean something totally different with the MTV generation," Bailey told NPR. There's also Hoochiecoochiemama (1989), Panty Raid (2004), Thong Thong Thong (1989), Thong or Panties (2004), and, because the Jockey Club is an equal opportunity registry, Boxers or Briefs (2007). While it's hardly dirty, a horse named Mental Floss was registered in 2001.

Fusaichi Who?

pegasus.jpgThe Jockey Club requires an explanation for names with meanings that are not self-evident. In the case of 2000 Kentucky Derby winner Fusaichi Pegasus, they could've also used a pronunciation guide. (That's foo-sah-EE-chee.) The name proved so difficult to pronounce that some of the reporters covering the race for ABC referred to the horse simply as "Pegasus." Owner Fusao Sekiguchi combined his first name with "ichi," which means "one" in Japanese, and Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology. Here are the stories behind the names of a few other famous horses:

• Big Brown: The 2008 Kentucky Derby winner was named after UPS, which allowed its trademark of the moniker to expire in 2005. Big Brown's owner, Paul Pompa Jr., was a trucking company owner and said the horse's name honored UPS's renewal of a contract with his firm. UPS, in turn, agreed to a sponsorship deal and the value of the Derby exposure for the company was estimated at $4 million.

• Giacomo: The 2005 Kentucky Derby winner was named for the son of recording artist Sting, who worked with A&M records co-founder and Giacamo's breeder Jerry Moss.

• Seattle Slew: The 1977 Triple Crown winner was named after his owners' two hometowns, Seattle and a soggy area in Florida, where a swamp is often called a slew.

• Secretariat: Elizabeth Ham, the secretary for the stables where the 1973 Triple Crown winner was born, had submitted 10 names to the Jockey Club, all of which were denied. Ham's 11th submission was finally approved.

• Seabiscuit: A sea biscuit is the name of a type of cracker eaten by sailors known as hardtack. Seabiscuit's father was named Hard Tack.

• War Admiral: The 1937 Triple Crown winner was the offspring of Man "˜o War and Brushup.

• Burgoo King: Foaled near Lexington, Ky., the 1932 Kentucky Derby winner was named for a local grocer who was famous for his burgoo stew.

The 2009 Kentucky Derby Field

While Saturday's Kentucky Derby field doesn't include any names that are likely to make you blush, there are some good stories behind some of these monikers. Papa Clem, one of the favorites, is named after owner Bo Hirsch's late father, Clement Hirsch, a legendary owner in California until his death in 2000. West Side Bernie, a son of the stallion Bernstein, is named after West Side Story composer Leonard Bernstein. Mr. Hot Stuff's name was inspired by the owner's son-in-law, who once wore a flamboyant ski outfit that included a pink hat that read, "Hot Stuff." The outfit could make an appearance at Churchill Downs this weekend. Mine That Bird is the son of Birdstone and Mining My Own. And finally, Chocolate Candy's breeder is none other than diet guru Jenny Craig.

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Where Did The Easter Bunny Come From?
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Getty Images

The Easter Bunny is an anthropomorphic, egg-laying rabbit who sneaks into homes the night before Easter to deliver baskets full of colored eggs, toys and chocolate. A wise man once told me that all religions are beautiful and all religions are wacko, but even if you allow for miracles, angels, and pancake Jesus, the Easter Bunny really comes out of left field.

If you go way back, though, the Easter Bunny starts to make a little sense. Spring is the season of rebirth and renewal. Plants return to life after winter dormancy and many animals mate and procreate. Many pagan cultures held spring festivals to celebrate this renewal of life and promote fertility. One of these festivals was in honor of Eostre or Eastre, the goddess of dawn, spring and fertility near and dear to the hearts of the pagans in Northern Europe. Eostre was closely linked to the hare and the egg, both symbols of fertility.

As Christianity spread, it was common for missionaries to practice some good salesmanship by placing pagan ideas and rituals within the context of the Christian faith and turning pagan festivals into Christian holidays (e.g. Christmas). The Eostre festival occurred around the same time as the Christians' celebration of Christ's resurrection, so the two celebrations became one, and with the kind of blending that was going on among the cultures, it would seem only natural that the pagans would bring the hare and egg images with them into their new faith (the hare later became the more common rabbit).

The pagans hung on to the rabbit and eventually it became a part of Christian celebration. We don't know exactly when, but it's first mentioned in German writings from the 1600s. The Germans converted the pagan rabbit image into Oschter Haws, a rabbit that was believed to lay a nest of colored eggs as gifts for good children. (A poll of my Twitter followers reveals that 81% of the people who replied believe the Easter Bunny to be male, based mostly on depictions where it's wearing a bowtie. The male pregnancy and egg-laying mammal aspects are either side effects of trying to lump the rabbit and egg symbols together, or rabbits were just more awesome back then.)

Oschter Haws came to America with Pennsylvania Dutch settlers in the 1700s, and evolved into the Easter Bunny as it became entrenched in American culture. Over time the bunny started bringing chocolate and toys in addition to eggs (the chocolate rabbit began with the Germans, too, when they started making Oschter Haws pastries in the 1800s).


The Easter Bunny also went with European settlers to Australia—as did actual bunnies. These rabbits, fertile as they are, got a little out of control, so the Aussies regard them as serious pests. The destruction they've caused to habitats is responsible for the major decline of some native animals and causes millions of dollars worth of damage to crops. It is, perhaps, not a great idea to use an invasive species as a symbol for a religious holiday, so Australia has been pushing the Easter Bilby (above, on the right), an endangered marsupial that kind of looks like a bunny if you squint. According to some of our Australian readers, the Easter Bunny is not in danger of going extinct.

Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
The Men Behind Your Favorite Liquors
Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Gregor Smith, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

It's hard to walk down the aisle of a liquor store without running across a bottle bearing someone's name. We put them in our cocktails, but how well do we know them? Here's some biographical detail on the men behind your favorite tipples.

1. Captain Morgan

FromSandToGlass, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The Captain wasn't always just the choice of sorority girls looking to blend spiced rum with Diet Coke; in the 17th century he was a feared privateer. Not only did the Welsh pirate marry his own cousin, he ran risky missions for the governor of Jamaica, including capturing some Spanish prisoners in Cuba and sacking Port-au-Prince in Haiti. He then plundered the Cuban coast before holding for ransom the entire city of Portobelo, Panama. He later looted and burned Panama City, but his pillaging career came to an end when Spain and England signed a peace treaty in 1671. Instead of getting in trouble for his high-seas antics, Morgan received knighthood and became the lieutenant governor of Jamaica.

2. Johnnie Walker

Kevin Chang, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Walker, the name behind the world's most popular brand of Scotch whisky, was born in 1805 in Ayrshire, Scotland. When his father died in 1819, Johnnie inherited a trust of a little over 400 pounds, which the trustees invested in a grocery store. Walker grew to become a very successful grocer in the town of Kilmarnock and even sold a whisky, Walker's Kilmarnock Whisky. Johnnie's son Alexander was the one who actually turned the family into famous whisky men, though. Alexander had spent time in Glasgow learning how to blend teas, but he eventually returned to Kilmarnock to take over the grocery from his father. Alexander turned his blending expertise to whisky, and came up with "Old Highland Whisky," which later became Johnnie Walker Black Label.

3. Jack Daniel

LeeRoyal, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel of Tennessee whiskey fame was the descendant of Welsh settlers who came to the United States in the early 19th century. He was born in 1846 or 1850 and was one of 13 children. By 1866 he was distilling whiskey in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Unfortunately for the distiller, he had a bit of a temper. One morning in 1911 Daniel showed up for work early and couldn't get his safe open. He flew off the handle and kicked the offending strongbox. The kick was so ferocious that Daniel injured his toe, which then became infected. The infection soon became the blood poisoning that killed the whiskey mogul.

Curious about why your bottle of J.D. also has Lem Motlow listed as the distillery's proprietor? Daniel's own busy life of distilling and safe-kicking kept him from ever finding a wife and siring an heir, so in 1907 he gave the distillery to his beloved nephew Lem Motlow, who had come to work for him as a bookkeeper.

4. Jose Cuervo

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In 1758, Jose Antonio de Cuervo received a land grant from the King of Spain to start an agave farm in the Jalisco region of Mexico. Jose used his agave plants to make mescal, a popular Mexican liquor. In 1795, King Carlos IV gave the land grant to Cuervo's descendant Jose Maria Guadalupe de Cuervo. Carlos IV also granted the Cuervo family the first license to commercially make tequila, so they built a larger factory on the existing land. The family started packaging their wares in individual bottles in 1880, and in 1900 the booze started going by the brand name Jose Cuervo. The brand is still under the leadership of the original Jose Cuervo's family; current boss Juan-Domingo Beckmann is the sixth generation of Cuervo ancestors to run the company.

5. Jim Beam

Jim Beam, the namesake of the world's best-selling bourbon whiskey, didn't actually start the distillery that now bears his name. His great-grandfather Jacob Beam opened the distillery in 1788 and started selling his first barrels of whiskey in 1795. In those days, the whiskey went by the less-catchy moniker of "Old Tub." Jacob Beam handed down the distillery to his son David Beam, who in turn passed it along to his son David M. Beam, who eventually handed the operation off to his son, Colonel James Beauregard Beam, in 1894. Although he was only 30 years old when he took over the family business, Jim Beam ran the distillery until Prohibition shut him down. Following repeal in 1933, Jim quickly built a distillery and began resurrecting the Old Tub brand, but he also added something new to the company's portfolio: a bourbon simply called Jim Beam.

6. Tanqueray

Adrian Scottow, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

When he was a young boy, Charles Tanqueray's path through life seemed pretty clear. He was the product of three straight generations of Bedfordshire clergymen, so it must have seemed natural to assume that he would take up the cloth himself. Wrong. Instead, he started distilling gin in 1830 in a little plant in London's Bloomsbury district. By 1847, he was shipping his gin to colonies around the British Empire, where many plantation owners and troops had developed a taste for Tanqueray and tonic.

7. Campari

Michael, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Gaspare Campari found his calling quickly. By the time he was 14, he had risen to become a master drink mixer in Turin, and in this capacity he started dabbling with a recipe for an aperitif. When he eventually settled on the perfect mixture, his concoction had over 60 ingredients. In 1860, he founded Gruppo Campari to make his trademark bitters in Milan. Like Colonel Sanders' spice blend, the recipe for Campari is a closely guarded secret supposedly known by only the acting Gruppo Campari chairman, who works with a tiny group of employees to make the concentrate with which alcohol and water are infused to get Campari. The drink is still made from Gaspare Campari's recipe, though, which includes quinine, orange peel, rhubarb, and countless other flavorings.


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