Naming, 14.10.2013

Legend has it that you cannot re-name a boat until you have taken it out of water. I cannot remember where I first heard this, but it is one of those things that’s impossible to erase from your memory once you have heard it. Most boats, or narrowboats, should be taken out of water once every three years, to be repainted. Then the boats are taken to dry-docks and lifted out of water so their undersides and hull can be cleaned, stripped and re-painted with thick, durable bitumen paint.

Our boat’s name is Hawisia. But, like her previous owner, we haven’t found the time to paint her name of the outside of the boat yet. For now she is still waiting to ‘come out’, like a young confederate débutante.  Somehow it feels as though this neglect is more meaningful than it really is – as if we’re denying her true nature, or embarrassed of it. As it is, it’s pure coincidence that we have not painted her outside yet. It is a question of money, and the season. As winter creeps upon us, doing outside painting jobs seems like an increasingly bad idea.

And I am not ashamed of her name. Though it sounds rather florid, the etymology of ‘Hawisia’ tells a different tale. The name’s origins are English and Germanic. I remember from studying Anglo-Saxon at university. Hathu from ‘battle’ – and vid for ‘wide’, she is a wide battle maiden. So the Old Germanic name is ‘Hadewidis’, Latinised to Hawisia from the English name Hawise. And then I think of that exquisite poem, by the faceless poet known simply as The Wanderer-poet, steaming silently along the ‘paths of exile’. So to my mind, this Anglo-Saxon etymology is highly significant. They were a people whose lives were dictated by water. It represented the site of their loneliness, exile, wonder and enterprise – and also, given the immanent and constant threat of violence from the Vikings – fear.

A name seems like one of the few truly irrefutable, inviolable facts of life. You can change your name but you will always remember your original one. And then I think of my name, katya that it has taken me literally years to grow into. As a girl, I too, disliked its floridness, preferring the abbreviation ‘kat’. Now I grow to love it and understand it more each day. I am proud of its Slavic difference, its strange, rare ‘k’ and slim ‘y’.

But sometimes I fantasize. Most recently I came across the name Maud in quite a different context. But then it immediately stuck. I became fixated on the idea. A beautiful old, English name. Its strikes deep. I remember Tennyson, his Idylls of the Kings. In my mind Maud is the name of an evil sorceress – perhaps the witch who betrayed Merlin, or an evil spirit in Malory’s Arthurian tales. (It is also, glibly, a nautical pun).

So I will set this fantasy of names, and life-giving to paper now. In my dreams our boat is called Maud, and she sails at night, her search-light angled into the darkness. Maud –


Inspired by my topic I thought that readers might be interested to read a list of boat names that I have collected from the rambles along the canals, some of these are hidden (written in small print on boat licenses), some are revealed (clearly embellished on the outsides of boats).

Lillypad, Goldilocks, Miss Behaven, Firefly, Wildwood, Foxley, Iona, Kathryn, Sheffield, Genesis, Pride of Slough, Jenny Bee, Dragon Fly I, Quite Content, Pineapple, Hackney Wick, Verity, Armistice, Mayflower, Sharpness, Vince Regent, Dokkum, Finlandia, Boomer, Ivy, Sprokkel, Jenny May, Narrow Escape, Greenfinch