How to name an elephant


Gabriella Russell, International Intern

Date Published

Naming an elephant is no easy business. Each one has a specific ID number, telling you their ancestry and their year of birth, but it is their individual names that are particularly memorable and occasionally amusing.

The Spice Girls and Spices families add some flavour to the elephant population here. There’s Nutmeg and Saffron of the Spice Girls family, plus Cinnamon, Pilipili and Celery of the Spices. Mostly normal names, but I do feel bad for the one female of the Spice Girls called Basil… I wonder if Mr Fawlty would be flattered or insulted to have an elephant namesake…

The Virtues are exemplary to us all – Mercy, Generosity, Tolerance and Honesty. Although once you run out of obvious names in a category you have to get slightly more creative – Flexibility is one of the more obscure virtues I didn’t know I lacked.

Jackie, Cherie, Michelle, Malia and Sasha join forces with Ida Odinga, Lucy Kibaki, Janet Kagame and Salma Kikwete in the First Ladies family, while the Refugees family sees an unexpected alliance of Somalia, Ethiopia, Yugoslavia, Sudan and Rwanda.

The largest family is, fittingly, the Royals. Even more appropriately they seem to have passed a genetic defect of patches of pink skin down the generations – too much Royal inbreeding perhaps? The expected Victoria, Margaret, Catherine and Anne are joined by Anastasia, Cleopatra and Nefertiti, plus Grace Kelly and Sarah Fergie. Perhaps William and Kate should check the STE records for inspiration on what to name the expected royal baby!

Becca and I may be able to have a say in the naming of a young female of the small Turks family. Sifting through the “Women in Turkey” Wikipedia page (who knew there would be such a thing!) we’ve found a few potentials – Latife (Ataturk’s wife), Tansu (first female PM), Hati (one of the first female MPs), Halide (a feminist writer) or Sabiha (Ataturk’s adopted daughter and the first female combat pilot). So perhaps one of these will shortly be joining the tuskless Turk matriarch, Elif!

Tuskless old matriarch Cinnamon spices up her favourite tree

It is while flipping through the folder of bulls that you realise how many greats we are in the presence of here in Samburu. It is humbling to think of all that these elephants have collectively achieved.

Obama and Osama lie on opposite pages, forever staring each other down. They are joined by Blair, Gorbachev, Roosevelt, Washington, Kenyatta and Moi. Tensions must be running high. There’s even Napoleon, Tutu, Marx, Henry VIII and King Tut present! Sports star Usain Bolt makes an appearance, along with musicians Marley, Hendrix, Coltrane and Lennon. Creative competition ensues between the likes of Orwell, Rushdie, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Dickens and Wilde. But let’s not forget the scientists – Pasteur, Einstein, Dawkins, Attenborough, Leakey, Darwin, Turing, Hawking and Mendel, along with the classics – Plato, Galileo, Archimedes, Homer, Pythagoras and Virgil. Even Batman is included, his sidekick here perhaps being my personal favourite, Badassa. There are even bulls in tribute to Safaricom, Motorola, Google and Suzuki. Some of them have more descriptive names – Floppy Ear, Weird Tusk and Flower Boy – while others are the more mundane Craig, Ben, Charlie and Matt. Lastly but certainly not least there is B1101, otherwise known as Iain.

The old bull Orwell observes elephant family life, searching for inspiration for his next political allegory

Who knew all these famous people have really been elephants all along! A truly remarkable species if ever there was one.

Banksy rests her feet and face after a long day of graffiti-ing