Doug? Or…What to Name this Unintended Bird?

by Karen Van Fossan

With no offense meant to the friends I have had – or will have – who are named Doug, I confess that I’ve never really loved the name Doug. In high school, I landed on the name Zephyr as the coolest of all possible names. This was during my Karen-with-a-Y phase, the one and a half minutes or so when I spelled my name with a Y (Karyn) instead of an E (Karen) – same pronunciation, of course.

As a child, I was certain that my place on Easy Street would have been assured, if only my parents had thought to name me something super-elegant like Cindy. (You could even switch the I and the Y, without embarrassing awkwardness about how to say your name.)

When I lived in Chicago as a full-fledged adult (way past the Cyndi and Zephyr periods), I fell in love with the personalized names my students and friends were giving their children: names like Takiya, Takeela, Takayla, Tameeka. You might have to share a few syllables. But your name – that was your name.

If I’d ever awakened from a dream where I was the doting mother of a child named Zephyr, or Cindy, or Takylah, I would never have wondered at the deep, hidden meaning of the name. But twice, I remember dreaming that I’ve had a child named (here it comes) Doug – whom I loved to absolute distraction.

The first time, Doug was the younger of my two beloved children, hanging on me like a koala-bear-monkey combination. My older, more independent child, who also drew my heart from my chest, was Star – looking into my soul with two dark eyes.

I admit that Star and Doug are a curious combination of names – like the first was born on a peace march and the second at a Sox game. Even so, I might have let the dream disappear into subliminal memory altogether, if it hadn’t been for what happened the next morning.

My partner and I found a bird.

For weeks, even a month, we wondered what kind of bird she was, being only 5-days old when we rolled the tree away from her wings – and by day thirty-something, completely imprinted. It was only that strange Star-and-Doug dream that led me to type “starling photo nestling” into the search box.

Yes, our doting and yet independent young fledgling was a starling. The Internet pictures – Day 7, Day 14, Day 21 – looked like a diary of my summer.

We’d been calling her Star forever by then. When my partner discovered that Stari is the translation for Starling in Icelandic (where starlings are beloved and really belong), we simply added an I – though it could have been a Y (same pronunciation, of course).

As I write these words, more than a year since she joined us, Stari sings and clicks (and often says, “I love you” – in English) across the hall, in my beloved, former foster-daughter’s beloved, former bedroom.

And this sparrow. Well, this sparrow…

This sparrow was unloaded on us by a friend of a friend of a friend, early this July. I didn’t even mark the date on the calendar. If there was ever a time to invent an ice-mother persona, this was it. No singing. No cooing. And certainly no “I love you”s. At just about 2-weeks old, the sparrow had a chance, a chance to meet the sky some day – and forget us.

Today, at thirty-plus days, she (or he) sometimes sings on my shoulder, joins me in my yoga moves, clings to my shirt as I stand up from the floor. I confess that I love this treatment. I confess that I love my morning serenade. I confess that I love how she holds a mouthful of water in her beak, swallowing just a droplet at a time.

I confess, OK? I confess!

Of course, when she (or he) can eat and drink independently, there’s still a chance the bird (no name given) will leave us behind. We’ll do our best to make it so. We’ll do our best to help her make the acquaintance of other sparrows. We’ll do our best to pass her from the world of human mothers to the world she was born for.

Still, the other day, after my second, unexplainable, Doug-related, nighttime dream, I found myself typing the words “name Doug meaning” into the search bar.

The name is Scottish and Gaelic.

Translation: black river.

Not a bad name for a bird – or even a byrd – whether she makes her home with us or with the sky.