Names for Princesses

Director´s view

Miroslav Bobek  |  27. 06. 2020

On Sunday we named both our baby elephants. The daughters of Tamara and Janita, our Prague elephant princesses. I’d like to remind you that the first was born on March 27th, when the zoo had been closed for a fortnight, and the second on May 9th, when it had been reopened, but many restrictions still applied. Of course, right after the baby elephants were born, we were inundated not only with questions about what they will be called, but also with suggestions for their names.

Lakuna a Amalee. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo Lakuna a Amalee. Photo: Petr Hamerník, Prague Zoo

Four years ago, with the help of the public, we chose the dynastic names Maximilian and Rudolf for our two male elephants. They refer to the Habsburgs, one of whom had a live elephant brought to Prague as early as 1570, and both built their own kind of zoo here.

We started resolving the name for the first of the two female elephants two days after her birth. This was due to both rationality – we didn't know what sex the baby elephant would be – and a certain amount of superstition. It stemmed from fears of how the birth would turn out. And I probably don’t have to point out that these fears and the overall nervousness were further enhanced by the atmosphere in those days, when only the key workers remained in the closed zoo and the keepers took turns in separate shifts. At that time, the main elephant breeder, Martin Kristen, wrote, “My colleagues and I understand that the naming will be a big deal. However, if it was up to us, we assume that the little one will probably be with Tamara and Janita all her life, so we would like her to have a name that is used in Sri Lanka as well.”

As it happened, on the same day that the first female elephant was born, I underwent surgery. Before I was taken to the operating room, my doctor commented on her birth, saying it was a good sign. And when I read Martin’s report two days later, my memories of Sri Lanka, from where we brought the mothers of our baby elephants, came together in the hope that everything would turn out well. “She could be called a 'good sign' or just a 'sign' in Sinhalese,” I thought, and I immediately wrote it to Martin. “Great by us,” he replied after a moment.

And so, we chose the name Lakuna, the Sign, for the first of the elephant princesses.

Paradoxically, choosing a name for the second elephant was much more complicated. In the end, Araliya and Amalee ended up on the shortlist. Araliya is the frangipani flower used in Sri Lankan temples for ceremonial purposes. Amalee is just a name. But it was that name that won the vote among our elephant keepers, albeit by just one vote.

“Do you think it’ll matter that Amalee doesn’t mean anything?” Martin asked me on June 4th, as I was leaving from another visit to the baby elephants. The zoo was already more or less back to normal, even the limit on the daily number of visitors had seen a significant increase that day.

I replied to Martin that the second name didn’t have to mean anything now. So, we named the second of our princesses Amalee.