N on-chicken-keeping friends chuckle when we mention Heidi the Appenzeller (from Switzerland), or Violet the lavender Pekin. But, if you have only a few hens in the back garden it is only natural that they become regarded as family pets and you want to give them names.

It is particularly helpful when discussing our small flock of mixed breeds. We find it easier to remark: ‘Alice has been a bit quiet lately…,’ rather than, ‘the silver spangled Appenzeller Spitzhauben your grandmother bought us…’. Furthermore, a simple boiled egg is elevated to five-star status when the astonished diner is informed, ‘Naomi laid that one’. A box of new-laid eggs is always a welcome gift, but is particularly special when the hens who laid them can be proudly named.

With different breeds, it’s fairly easy to identify each hen, and even the egg she’s laid. A group of identical hens can be trickier, although eventually their personalities shine through. This will mean watching them closely, which is a good way of getting to know your chickens, and understanding their daily lives. It’s also fascinating to see how characters vary, even within hens of the same type. Shadow probably thought her name was ‘for goodness sake, get out from under my feet, a lavender Leghorn, she followed us around devotedly, unlike her sister, Giovanna (Leghorns originate from Italy), who better demonstrated the typically flighty, aloof nature of this breed.

The origins of breeds can suggest some interesting possibilities for chicken naming. For example, Leghorns do seem to have a sultry Italian air about them, so I christened an attractive mottled hen Mimi. My husband declared this a silly name, and decided she looked like a bowl of cereal. Marital compromise means he calls her Muesli, while to me she is Mimi Muesli.

Sometimes a hen almost names herself. Marilyn (as in Monroe) was a glamorous Cochin, despite having lost many of her back feathers due to the over amorous attentions of the cockerels. Lara Croft invaded the house, stormed the stairs, and joined my startled husband at the computer. When finally evicted, she set up camp on the garage worktop, clearing it of paint pots and other paraphernalia with one quick karate kick.

Chickens can quickly make themselves at home, and often become very tame, but it would be interesting to hear if anybody has trained a hen to respond to her name!

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