Why Do Farmers Never Name Their Cows?


I was working with a 6 year old client who was raising a calf for The Chelsea Fair. With the help of his dad, they would feed it and take care of its general needs until fair time. When the fair arrived they would take it there, show it, and hopefully get a blue ribbon. Then, various businesses or individuals would bid on the livestock. The child would get a considerable amount of money that usually is saved towards college or some other future need or want. What I learned from the dad, which probably most farmers know, is that you do not name the livestock. By naming the calf, you set the child up for becoming attached more easily to the animal. This will cause problems later on when it is time to sell their cow. The scientific term is Anthropomorphism, or “ascribing human characteristics to nonhuman things.” This is why we name our pets such as dogs or cats. In our household we recently set up a fish tank and my daughter immediately named the koi fish “Carl.”
Humanizing pets or objects is a way to form an attachment to them. In psychological terms an object is something which a person can relate to. There is a whole subset of psycho-dynamic theory aptly named, “Object relations theory.”

Object relations theory differs from Freudian theory in three important ways: (1) it places more emphasis on interpersonal relationships, (2) it stresses the infant’s relationship with the mother rather than the father, and (3) it suggests that people are motivated primarily for human contact rather than for sexual …

-Sonoma State University

In the military, they use the opposite approach. They attach derogatory or dehumanizing names to the enemy in order to help soldiers be able to kill them. Occasionally when I have spoken to police officers they tend to call criminals, “Bad Guys or Knuckleheads.”

So you may be asking, “What does this have to do with my mental and emotional well-being?” When we feel rejected, abandoned, hurt, or abused by an individual who we have an attachment to, or desperately seek their love and/or approval despite rejected or in some way demeaned, it is easier on our psyche to dehumanize them versus feel the rejection from them. The sad part of this defense is we rarely are able to dehumanize someone with whom we have an intimate attachment to. Unable to do this causes us to continue to seek or crave their approval when it may never happen. This leaves us stuck in a chronic state of abandonment. I see this a lot in high conflict divorces. While the couple may state they are detached, actually their attachment turns to anger. In these scenarios, the anger boils over into rage. If children are involved they usually take the brunt of this by being put into the middle or encouraged to alienate from the other parent.
So the question is how do you detach from a relationship without it affecting you in a negative way? There is no specific or easy answer to this question. If it was a deep attachment then the first step is to grieve the loss. This is not showing weakness, but acknowledging that the person had touched your life in some way. Hopefully in a positive way. If it was abusive then you grieve the loss of a dream and move from being a victim to being a survivor.

The next step usually take time. Many confuse the opposite of love as hate. In fact, it is indifference. The state of mind and being in which the other person has minimal meaning in your life. Indifference is another way of saying detachment. You can care about the person, but they no longer hold power over your emotional state. Some try to do this the military way by dehumanizing them, but this rarely works.

There are relationships that we do not want to lose the attachment to. The death of a loving parent is a good example. While we have to grieve the loss and not stay stuck in a chronic state of depression (Toxic grief). We can still honor the memory through various ways. This can be comforting and healing. By honoring the memory of a loved one, we allow ourselves to accept the loss even through the pain. Obviously this is a simplistic answer to a complex and prolonged event.
There are many ways to honor the memory of a loved one. Rituals, markers in a graveyard, celebrations of their life. A year after my brother passed, his daughter held a small gathering and then floated paper balloons into the sky. The candles attached to the paper balloon ascended up to the heavens. It was a simple gesture yet very moving.

If you lost a loved one, don’t forget them. If they were abusive, survive and thrive. If the relationship was contentious, let your anger dissolve and if possible forgive them. Not for their sake, but for your well-being. But, if you own a cow and you want to take it to market, don’t name it.