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The naming's the game

Naming a child is an awe-inspiring task. Most parents have months to agonize over their choice, though sometimes they get down to the wire before a decision is reached.

Not having children myself, I exercise my naming skills on my cats. Cats can carry off unusual names: Asphalt (a gray cat), Kiddlywinks, Peanut (a very small, energetic, and nutty cat), Tuna, Sweet Pea, Yoda (who had big ears). Cat-naming requires great imagination.

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My husband and I struggled for days over what to name a little black-and-white bundle of fur until my mother-in-law finally said, "How about 'Elvis'?" Of course! He wiggles his hips when he walks, just like the King. You just know when you've discovered the right name.

When I was a child, I really let loose naming my first warm-blooded pet, a tiny brown hamster who carried a huge name: Aloysius Clyde Fitzgerald Herald Stetson. (I must've been saving them up for a while; he didn't seem to mind.)

Sometimes, I think inanimate objects need names, too. Our vacuum cleaner, Winston, is small and red and bulbous. I have a 10-speed bicycle named Manfred, a high school graduation gift from my mom. Our blue canoe is Flipper.

Perhaps my naming habit began with Jonathan, a kid in my sixth-grade class. He was funny. I was smitten. He named all the gadgets he had in his desk: hole punch, ruler, pencils, eraser, and - best of all - a battery-powered pencil sharpener named Charlie. Jonathan went on to be our class president in high school. He's still a funny guy.

Some cars need names, too. Old American cars often have women's names. A horror movie was created around a car named Christine. Scary. We won't go there.

Old Volkswagen Beetles all had names. Ask any Beetle owner. One friend had a Beetle named Nero. He burned. My very first car was a yellow Beetle named Patrick. I used to look out my bedroom window at him sitting in the driveway. He was gorgeous. Only later did I discover that that he was appropriately yellow - just like a lemon. Later, I bought a white VW Rabbit named - what else? - Peter.

Not every inanimate object can carry off a name, though: There has to be a personality involved. If not, you could name something and too easily forget what you named it.

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I tried naming my third car, an elegant secondhand BMW. It was, as advertised, the ultimate driving machine. But I kept forgetting what I'd named him. It just wouldn't stick.

Enter the new Beetles. Mine is named Emmett. OK, so I talk to him. He has personality to spare. People stare at him when we drive by. Children point and jump up and down. He's bright blue with lines like a cartoon.

You know what I think? I think anyone buying a Beetle should have to name it before it leaves the showroom, so there aren't any Beetle children out there running around without names.