One question that we receive pretty frequently is whether the chimpanzees had their names before coming to the sanctuary. The answer, for all of them, is yes. The laboratories or other facilities where they were born or who acquired them, gave them both numbers and names. The numbers were tattooed somewhere on their bodies, often across their chest or inside of their thighs. These numbers are surprisingly large, but we don’t see them very often because their hair has grown over the tattoos.
With Annie, Missy, Jamie, Jody, Burrito, Foxie, and Negra, their names followed them from one laboratory to another. For Mave, Honey B, and Willy B, they were named at the laboratory LEMSIP and their names stayed with them when they went to Wildlife Waystation when they were around five years old. All of the chimpanzees have been referred to by these names for most or the entirety of their lives.
The “B” after Honey B and Willy B’s names signified that they were the children of chimpanzee mothers who were owned by the Buckshire Corporation, the same facility that owned Annie, Missy, Jamie, Jody, Burrito, Foxie, and Negra.
Upon learning this, some people have asked if we might drop the “B” from Honey B and Willy B’s names. I have definitely thought about this. But then I think about three things…
First, they have always had and been called these names. A name is just a word, but it does provide a part of their identity. I honestly don’t know whether the chimpanzees would be bothered if we started calling them different names, but I would find it strange for people I just met to call me by a name that was different than what I had been referred to for decades. (That said, we do have nicknames for everyone that we use interchangeable with their given names, like JoJo for Jody or Bubba for Burrito. I think this is different since nicknames develop over time.)
Second, one of the tragedies that occurred in their previous lives was being separated from their mothers and/or separated from their children. It’s possible to piece together relationships and genealogy when names have not changed. An ambitious project that demonstrates this is The Last 1,000 which is chronicling the last 1,000 chimpanzee used in biomedical research and identifying when they move from laboratories to sanctuaries or when they pass away. We knew Missy’s daughter Honey B was at Wildlife Waystation because Honey B’s name had not changed. Keeping their names, in my mind, respects relationships that were torn apart and helps us remember that behind each of those names, however the names came about, is or was a unique individual.
Third, why would we change Honey B’s name but not Burrito’s or Negra’s? Burrito is a very silly name. I don’t know who named him that or how that name came about, and I don’t really care to know. I don’t think I would ever name a chimpanzee Burrito. But Burrito is Burrito. He’s grown into the chimpanzee person he is over the last eleven years at the sanctuary. His name very uniquely identifies him, but you all know him because of the colorful personality behind his name.
Here’s Burrito looking out some windows in Phase 1, the new part of the building where he’s currently living:
Negra, the word for “black” in Spanish, is an equally strange and sometimes awkward name. But when I think of Negra I don’t think about the word negra, I think of a somewhat grumpy chimpanzee with blankets over her head who is asking me for her night bag. Or I think of this Negra, who had some serious all-over-body bedhead on Saturday:
If you read my blog post a couple of days ago, you know that I had a certain connection specifically to Honey B’s name before ever meeting her, having just seen her name on a piece of paper. The dog I named Honey B after her will always remain a part of my heart. Honey B the dog somehow grew into her name almost immediately. I don’t think she had a mystical connection to the chimpanzee Honey B, but I am so glad she carried her name. Here’s a photo of Honey B the dog, in case you are curious:
Willy B, Mave, and Honey B Chimpanzee have the opportunity to create new identities at Chimpanzee Sanctuary Northwest, but I would like to honor who they are and all the people who have known them over the years by keeping the names they’ve always had. They will reveal who they are little by little and we will know them for the unique and very special chimpanzee people they have always been.
So far, even though they are still at times anxious, Jody and Missy seem to appreciate getting to know the one and only Willy B. I found them both grooming him at the same time in the greenhouse on Saturday. He doesn’t look like he’s hating this attention….