Monday, May 5, 2014

Name That House

DEBORAH CROMBIE A good friend recently bought her first house.  It has beautiful, majestic oaks in the back garden, and she had been searching for a place that felt like a safe refuge, so after some thought she has named her house Oak Haven.

And then it occurred to me that although I'm accustomed to houses in England having names, we've lived in our wonderful house for almost twenty years and we've never named it. I think houses should have names if they are well-loved and well-lived in, but what?? (That's our house on the right.) Our house was known for many years in our town as The Green House, because the people who lived in it for decades (although they were not the first owners) were named Green.  But the house is not green, and Greens no longer live in it. We could call it The Wilson House (my hubby's name), but his grandparents' house (now owned by his cousin, also a Wilson) rightfully deserves that moniker.

I don't really like "bungalow", although our 1905 house is early Arts and Crafts. It's too big for a "cottage."  So what is unique about it, I've been asking myself. The perennial garden is lovely, but I'm not calling it "Rose Cottage!" We have huge elm trees, and an enormous pecan. The back garden is a veritable glade, but "glade" brings to mind air-freshener these days. Sigh. We have hummingbirds, and songbirds galore, especially cardinals, always my favorite bird. But "Cardinal House" makes me think of the Vatican...

And then of course there are the two dogs and the (now) three cats... Oh, and the koi in the pond!  And the over-abundance of squirrels in the trees... But I'm not calling it The Pound (although Squirrel Run would certainly fit my usual state of mind...)

And there is, of course, a writer-in-residence...

So, fellow REDS, do your homes have names? If not, should they? And what would you call them?

RHYS BOWEN:  It's funny you should mention this, because we always lived in houses with names in England. I grew up in a house whose entire address was Britomart, Swanley, Kent.  An old sea captain built it in the early 19th century and named it after the ship, the HMS Britomart. He also built it in the shape of a sailing ship, so it was long and thin with corridors great for roller skating down. And the garden was full of exotic plants he had brought back from around the world.

But I've never thought of naming a house here. We've lived in our current one for thirty years, but I can't say it has much personality. It's big and functional but it's only real selling point is the view. So maybe Hilltop House, but then the rest of our street has a similar view. The English House? because everyone knows we are English. Sometimes I'd like to call it Wit's End......

LUCY BURDETTE: Oh Rhys, I love Wit's End! We never had house names either, though we referred to houses by the address. The Sutton Drive house for example, where my sister and I are posing as forsythia branches. Or just plain Horseshoe Drive. I think in New England, it's more of either a vacation house thing (The Kabejz Patch is down the road from us) or something historical (as in the Deacon Grave house.)

Now that I think of it, I've never named a car either. I was stunned a couple of years ago when my stepson referred to his car as "Pablo."

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I love the British custom of naming houses, and I wish we had it here. It's enriched fiction as well - where would English literature be without The Burrow, Bag End, Brideshead and Bleak House? And those are just the Bs!

Lucy's right about vacation homes in New England. If you walk down a beach-side road in any coastal town, you'll see the names hanging over the porches and painted on mailboxes: "Bide-a-Wee" "Blueberry Cottage" "Sandy Toes" and "Time Away." It's always the small friendly shabby ones, too, the houses dating from a time when ordinary folks could buy a place on or near the water. Gradually, they're being bought and torn down and replaced by three-story McMansions squeezed onto the tiny lots - and those houses never have names.

If I were to name our house, I would call it Scribbler's Hill, as we are at the highest elevation of our road above the Saco River and, of course, because a writer lives here. We actually have a named house across the river in Hollis; Quillcote, (below) long-time home of Kate Douglas Wiggin, author of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm and The Old Peabody

DEBS: Rhys, I adore Wit's End. I may have to steal it from you! And Julia, you are so right about house names in fiction. I can think of dozens more, but just have to add Dove Cottage, home of Wordsworth's sister Dorothy in the English Lake District. While not fictional, it has wonderful writerly associations. Or Virginia Woolf's Monk's House.

Or what about Manderley? Or Tara? Would those books be the same without the house names?  And how can we not mention Downton Abbey!

So while I think I'll pass on Kabejz Patch, let's use some imagination on our neglected American homes--starting with mine! Give us a name, please, readers!

PS: Lucy, you and your sister were absolutely adorable! And Rhys, the house you grew up in sounds like something out of a story--has it crept into any of your books?


  1. Aahhh, I didn't know about the English custom of naming houses, but our house does indeed have a name. Our granddaughter came in one day and calmly announced that the house should have a name. [She also named my Nook and my GPS, but that's probably another story.]

    We asked the Princess what she wanted to name the house and now there's a sign in the front yard that says "Starshine Manor."

  2. Chiming in late... Naming houses is SO New England, too. Louisa May Alcott's Orchard House is in Concord. And on Peak's Island, many of the summer cottages have names. Waterhouse Pondsea Cottage. Treehouse.

    I love Sunshine Manor, Joan.

    I can't imagine giving our house a name. Though our first car had one (Eloise). And I've known people who name their own body parts... I know, too much information.

  3. Hallie, you made me hoot out loud. Yes, that body naming thing . . . well, enough about that . . .

    I do love the thought of houses having a name. And, Debs, what you said about a well-loved house deserving a name makes such good sense! They do!

    I am the world's worst when it comes to thinking up clever names, but if I lived in your gorgeous place (which I truly covet), I would want a name for it. So, I'm going to put on my thinking cap, but I'm thinking this group is going to be able to come up with THE perfect name.

  4. We call our old NYC apartment by its name — The Monterey... In the Monterey, we lived in two apartments, so we just call them by their numbers — 26M and 12H.

    And Halie — HA!

  5. It will likely come as no surprise to readers of JRW - but the name of my house comes from one of my favorite book series. In this case, it is not a mystery series, but instead a fantasy series.

    The series is the Kushiel Trilogy by Jacqueline Carey. And the name of the house:

    Terre d'Ange

    Roughly translated to Land of the Angels, you will find that every room in the house has an angel in it (either artwork, statue, or tinket). Visitors delight in trying to find them all.

    One of the over-arching themes of the Kushiel books is "Love as thou wilt" which basically means that love makes the world go around, in whatever form it may take.

    (BTW, yes, there is a plaque on the outside as you enter the house)

  6. I'm quite sure we *all* live in Wit's End.

    We call our houses by their street names, so we have Redbeam, Spencer, Marron, Rose, etc. But while those names are good identifiers, they're not evocative.

    Then again, it's California. We're simply "at the house, dude."

  7. Hi, dear friends, be sure to see Barbara Bent's blog and the lovely picture of Hank in our blog today. Thelma in Manhattan

  8. Although we never thought of naming our house, besides "Maslowski Mansion", which is what I use for Halloween party invitations, we did name our farm in Kentucky. After some birds we saw there the first summer we owned it. Which have never been there since. I have also thought about naming it after the lavender that my daughter and I planted the day we bought the place, but they all died this past, horrible winter.

    Maybe it's not such a great idea.

  9. I think the only name for any house in the U.S. has to be Money Pit-- although as the ferns have taken over my yard where the violets haven't, I've considered calling my house Ferne Halwes.

    Back in the Forties my grandparents' generation (and consequently my parents' generation) called the family collection of lake cottages "The Ah-jib-bah," something I much later discovered was supposed to be spelled Ojibway. But by the time my generation came along, we just all called it "The Lake."

    I have a hard enough time naming characters and dogs, so I seldom name inanimate objects, but I did call my beloved candy-apple red 1967 VW Beetle "Hermione."

  10. Oh Rhys, love the sailing-ship inspired house. How funny!

    I've never named a house. Or a car. Never felt the drive to. Of course, given how much I struggle with titles, I don't think I'm the person you want coming up with house names!

  11. We, too, have been trying to name our apartment for years, but nothing ever sticks - so I'm afraid I won't be much help on the naming. I will share my favorite house name. Friends of mine in Seattle named their first pretty little house Twig Manor. I don't know why, but this just sounds to me like such a lovely place to spend one's days :)

  12. Kristopher, I love your house name! Scanning my favorite fantasy novels... I did think, as I just reread The Hobbit, of calling it Homely House (not the LAST Homely House, which is Rivendell.)

    But I have thought of a plain name (and those are usually the ones that stick.) I've taken photos the last few days, trying to get one that would convey what it's like in our back garden under this enormous green canopy, but photos don't do it justice. But suddenly I thought "arbor." The first dictionary definition is "a leafy, shady recess formed by tree branches." There are also often roses and trellises. So "Arbor House." What do you think, all?clinedg

  13. Oops, didn't realize the captcha sneaked in at the end:-)

  14. Yours must be named Wilbie Manor.

    It's perfect!

    --Marjorie of Connecticut

  15. When I was a child we vacationed at a beachside house called Our Lucky Star. My Dad called it Sandy Acres, because we kids never remembered to kick the beach sand off our legs and feet before flying in through the screen door. I took a little Memory Lane trip there recently and the house is still there, and the Our Lucky Star nameplate still hangs above the front porch.

    Hallie, I know many of the Peaks Island houses. Mine did not have a name, it was just "the log cabin on the way to Tolman Heights." Had we gotten around to naming it, we would have called it Sprucewood Cottage or something like that to reflect its surroundings.

    My favorite cottage name on Peaks was Dick and Jane's Sea Spot, which is over near the Fifth Maine.

    I always name my cars. This one is Bobby Sue. The last one was Goldie.

  16. Debs, I've never put it into any of my books. It was also haunted--at least both my brother and I thought so. Rugs would flap, windows would blow open. And it was so cold. A fireplace in a living room the size of a basketball court. Maybe Castle Rannoch captures the feeling of it!

  17. when we lived in indiana our house was know as "the purple door" after i painted it dark eggplant. everyone knew where to find us!!!!! we haven't named the house we live in now, but i would call it "hawks view" for the fabulous birds flying by my windows all day long..........

  18. Hm-m-m, interesting topic. I love house names, once lived in a secluded little cottage that cried out for a whimsical name--'Dragon Cottage' came to mind at the time and I could envision the sign. But Arbor House, it doesn't have enough umph to it for the personality of that gorgeous house. Perhaps 'Belle Arbor'? Or add the name of one of your roses--don't you have some of those lovely antique roses?

  19. I love the naming of houses, and it's one of the pleasures I enjoy when reading so many books set in England.

    Joan, the Princess has spoken, so it shall be Starshine Manor forever. LOL!

    Rhys, what an interesting story and house in which to grow up! And haunted too! I would love for you to write a story which featured your growing up in Wales with the house, the trains, and I'm sure many other unique quirks. And, Wit's End is a great name for a house.

    Kristopher, as a "theme" person myself, I think it's so cool that you have an angel in every room. Maybe I'll try that with mermaids and call my house Mermaid Manor, or maybe I'll let my Princess granddaughter name my house, like Joan.

    Julia, I am so jealous. One of my favorite and first memorable books from childhood is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. Scribbler's Hill sounds perfect for your house.

    Lucy, you and your sister make perfect forsythia branches. I was completely fooled.

    Debs, I have long been in love with your house from past pictures. My favorite type of house is Arts and Crafts. It's so homey. For some reason, when I saw it today, I thought of Home's End, signifying that it is the comfort at the end of all journeys.

    Oh, and the name we jokingly call our house is the Reel Estate, since our last name is Reel and also a play on "real estate."

  20. FChurch, yes, we have lovely antique roses, especially the climbing Cecile Brunner that cover the pergola on the back deck. Hmmm.

    And Kathy Reel, I like Home's End, too. It has a nice Hobbitty feel to it, somewhere between Bag End and The Last Homely House.

    The house has great character, and great comforting appeal, so the name should reflect that.

    It is also, as Ellen Kozak mentioned, The Money Pit:-)

  21. I love driving down Virginia and seeing your house, especially since the re-paint. So serene and tranquil. If you felt someone just stalking your house, it was me. Just parked across the street and grabbed a view. It is on Morris, so Morris Manor but don't like that so well. How about Gemma's Hideaway because that is where you hide away, drink your tea and dream about what adventure Gemma will be in for next.

  22. When we bought our house as a vacation property 20+ years ago, my sister was taking a wood-working class and wanted to make a name plaque for us. But, we didn't have a name! We ended up telling her "The Silly Cousins" & so we have the sign, but it hangs indoors (& is now enjoyed by our grandchildren).

    My friend's house on Peak's Island has a name -- I think it is Wayside.

    My grandparents' house in Sullivan County, NY was called "The Big House."

    I love house names in general. Our Irish cousins all have addresses like the one Rhys mentioned.

  23. I like "Fleur Cottage"

    your home is definitely "cottageie" and Fleur for flowers, you have such a wonderful garden

    You could also call it

    Mar's House - because I love it ;)

    Growing up reading English mysteries I loved that houses had names

    I loving call mine "Sutton Manor" - my grams last name sounded so well with "manor"

    I Never refer to it to DH as he thought I was nuts when I met him and was talking about Bessie, he wanted to know who Bessie was, I said my car - logical to me ;)

    I should get a sign "Sutton Manor" and place it by the front door


    I like "Fleur Cottage" your home is definitely "cottageie" and Fleur for flowers, you have such a wonderful garden

  24. House names, oh yes! I cut my literary teeth on Agatha Christie, which cemented my love of British mysteries. I found the practice of naming homes utterly charming, and when we moved into this one in the Santa Cruz Mountains 27 years ago I jokingly referred to it as Snide Manor.

    In 2010 we moved out for 14 months while we had renovations made to it, temporarily living in the (Silicon)Valley. Our four year-old great-niece distinguished between our two residences by calling the one in the valley our apartment and the one in the mountains the high house. Well, given my twisted sense of humor and my checkered pharmacological past, I loved the name and it became official, we now live in High House. My poor husband just rolls his eyes.

    I’ve also named every car I ever owned, a habit I got from my brother. Last car was Opal, current one is Roofus, my 10 year-old ‘Subaroo,’ who’s going to be passed along to another great-niece later this month. I still don’t know what I’m getting next, so I won’t know what to name her ’til I meet her.

    How fun hearing all the other stories of names given and considered.

  25. You could call it Safe Arbor if you like
    a good pun.

  26. Safe Arbor! Derylie, that's tops! Can't resist a good pun! And Mar, I love Fleur, but it would be Fleur House, I think, as "manor" just doesn't suit this comfortable and unpretentious house.

    My dear hubby must be so sick of me watching The Hobbit and saying over and over again, "I just want to live in Bag End."

    Thanks, everyone. Much to mull over a Pimm's Cup or two, as my friend and now former next-door neighbor Tracy Ricketts Avery suggested!

  27. My sister got an assignment back in high school on which the teacher had written that it was written in a very 'scholarly manor.' Which prompted her to design a coat of arms that featured an owl. Since my dad taught at the local college and the house had once been a sorority house, we thought Scholarly Manor was appropriate. My car is a Scion xB, known to some as a toaster on wheels. Mine was named by my niece, 11 at the time: BUB. This is an acronym. It stands for Butt Ugly Box.

  28. We love naming places and for me it comes naturally since my great-great-great grandparents lived in a house called "Brightside" to reflect the comment to always "look on the bright side..."

    I named our place in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan "Wolf's Echo" to respect the calls of wolves we often hear at night echoing off the glass-still lake.

    We name our cars, ATVs and even our Bobcat ("Bob" - not very imaginative for that one.)

    ~ Jim

  29. I think naming a house makes it a specific place, not just another box in the row, and in my case it has caused me to think about permanent enhancements, rather than just temporary fixes. For your house, Deb, I like Belle Arbor, but that sounds French, and your house is not particularly French. When I think about the outside of the house I think about all the beautiful roses, and when I think about the inside I think about the Mackintosh rose motif you have from place to place, so maybe you could just give it a friendly, comfortable name like Rennie.

  30. We call ours "Sanctuary Woods." My husband is an acupuncturist and he painted a sign with the name in Chinese characters, and another with the house number, for the posts at the end of our lane.

  31. I like this blog! I think the trick is to find the last part first. Ende, Hole, House, Bottom, Hill, Manor, Place, Cottage, Bloom, Walk, Lane (just going by what's been named in previous posts) Then the first part will come easy. And I always like it when there are 3 syllables in a name, or a hard consonant on the front end...

  32. Debs, Arbor House sounds perfect!

    And Julia, loved Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm -- I'd always assumed that's where the author lived!

  33. I like Safe Arbor too.
    My brother-in-law and his family live in Ireland and their address is just the house name-no numbers or zip, just the house, the town, the county. My children were jealous so decided to name our house- thus Heron Hill House was christened (after much debate, as you can image with three of them participating). We still use the title occasionally but remember fondly the time when we tried to make it stick!-Kathy in Michigan (who resides at Heron Hill)