My Gong’s Name Is ….

In southeast Asia, one of the origin points of gong making, the gong makers would often name the Gong they created, as a sign of respect and to honor the spirit that lived within the Gong.

Such names as “Sir Earthquake” and “Honored Tiger” demonstrated the power that the makers felt that the gongs possessed. In one Gamelan orchestra in Indonesia, they named the largest gong in their ensemble “Sir Venerable Torrent of Honey” which sounds absolutely correct and delicious.

When I have played the gongs in my London trainings over the last several years, we have been honored by the presence of a 30” Platonic Earth Year Gong named by its caretakers as the Sat Siri Akal Gong, which means the truly great immortal Gong. Indeed.

So why do people name their gongs?

It is a human tendency to personify or anthropomorphize inanimate objects. People give their cars names and even their houseplants – especially if they love them or feel that they are an important part of themselves.

This tendency has been around for over a thousand years, in the early Homeric epics, heroes named their sailing ships and knights of old called their swords such names as Excalibur and Thor has his hammer called Mjolnir.

“If you’re a legendary knight, you trust and defend your life through your weapon, and if you’re on a ship a few hundred years ago, your life is at the mercy of the vessel,” Macquarie University linguistics professor Ingrid Piller explains. “You name the vessel because it becomes your most important companion. You want to believe it has vested interest in keeping you safe.”

Psychologists say that we tend to anthropomorphize the things we love most, not the things we hate. People who loved their cars were more likely to give it a personal name, regardless of any other factor, such as how long they had it or how reliable it was.

I think that we give our gongs names because many of us do feel that if they are not actually a sentient being, they are at least the home for a powerful energy or spirit that we experience when we play them.

In my informal survey of gong players and the names they give their gongs, I discovered that some are named after gods such as Shiva (by both Mary and Sanj) or Magec, an African God of the Sun (named by Susan).

Then there are the goddess names, like Hale’s Norse gong Freya or Catherine’s gong Aoife (named after a Gaelic warrior woman goddess).

Not surprisingly, beautiful feminine names abound such as Celestia (Shilee), Aura (Kathy), Olivia (Larry), Eden (Annie), Devi (Sanj), and Paisley (Lisbeth).

There are the names derived from yoga, such as Mandala (Martin) and Satya (Qui Ke). 

Then there are the names of endearment like Carole’s “Gongy,” Maricar’s gong named Bong (which makes his full name Bong Gong), and finally and simply Teresa from Texas calls her gong, “Sweet Thang.”

Of course, when you have several gongs – well then you have a gong family and Kenneth has named his family Matilda, Angelina, Little Henry, and Father.

When I crossed the threshold of having more than 60 gongs in my home studio, I realized the futility of trying to remember so many of their names. 

One of my gongs has its former owner’s name, Nigel Shipway, a world famous English percussionist, written on the back of the gong. So I do call that gong “Nigel” to honor its former player.

As for the rest, I came to the realization that gongs, like cats, already know their names and someday they may tell me when I learn how to listen.