name my instruments

Thoughts on… naming instruments

Yesterday, I bought my colleague, Laura, a ukulele for her birthday. She loved it and decided to call it Peggy. I rather like that name, it’s a good pun for those who know about instruments (the bit you turn at the top to tune a guitar/ukulele is called a tuning peg). This got me thinking: none of my instruments have names.

Some musicians have a sentimental bond with their instruments and give them names. B.B. King had a guitar which he called Lucille (after a girl he saw two men fighting over in a burning building – he named it to remind him not to fight over a girl in a burning building) and Willie Nelson named his guitar Trigger (after Roy Rogers’ horse).

A couple of times I’ve attempted to name some of my instruments, but I’ve never found a name that stuck enough for me to use it. I tend to just refer to them as why I bought them. So the ‘office uke’ is the tenor ukulele I bought to keep in the office and the ‘Paris uke’ is the soprano ukulele I bought to take to Paris with me.

I do like the idea of naming instruments. I am very fond of mine and treat them with great care and respect, so why don’t I name them? I think I know the reason why I don’t name my instruments. If I was going to name one of my ukuleles for example, it’d have to be a girl’s name or a non-gender-specific name, because if I gave it a male name it’d sound a bit odd. So then if I did name a ukulele something – let’s use the earlier example of Peggy – then I would find it awkward referring to it when talking to others. People know I don’t have a girlfriend, so if I kept talking about ‘Peggy’, they’d be confused and I’d have to constantly explain that it’s my ukulele. It would also make me look a little weird, but over time people would get to know it and understand me when I use the name. I mean, if I was as famous as B.B. King, then I wouldn’t have to worry about it at all. However, the main problem lies within my tendency to make jokes. As soon as you give an instrument a female name, it opens up the doors for countless innuendoes and jokes.

To explain what I mean, here’s a little sketch I wrote for Ben & Mike, where Mike thinks Ben is talking about a girl, but he is in fact talking about his ukulele:

M: “What have you been up to today?”
B: “Nothing much. I gave Peggy a quick strum this morning.”
M: “Pardon?”
B: “Just a little fiddle, y’know how I enjoy it.”
M: “Did you have fun?”
B: “Yeah, but I think I did it too hard, cos I broke the g string.”
M: “Really?!”
B: “Yes. The neighbours also came round cos they said it was too loud.”
M: “Blimey.”
B: “I asked them if they wanted to stay and watch, but they said no.”
M: “I’m not surprised.”
B: “It’s a shame really, I think they’d have enjoyed it.”
M: “I’m sure they would have.”
B: “You never know, I could’ve got them involved as well.”
M: “Involved?!”
B: “Yeah, they could’ve joined in.”
M: “Are you sure ‘Peggy’ would approve of that?”
B: “Yeah, she’s there to be played with.”
M: “So, can I ‘play’ with her?”
B: “Yeah sure.”
M: “Where is she?”
B: “In the bedroom.”
M: “I might have guessed.”

Mike goes into the bedroom, shuts the door, then comes out a few seconds later.

M: “Ben?”
B: “Yeah.”
M: “There’s no girls in here.”
B: “Of course there isn’t.”
M: “So who’s Peggy?”
B: “Peggy is my ukulele.”
M: “… … you dirty devil.”

Mike shuts the door.

You see my point. I would never tire of making those sort of Morecambe & Wise style jokes, but I feel that would cheapen the instrument and I don’t want to do that. I might use the idea in a routine if I ever did another live gig, but for now, I will refer to them as what they are and just continue to enjoy playing the nameless instruments.