beekeepers miscellaneous musings

A hive by any other name is still a hive

Today I am venturing away from science into the world of wonderment. Sorry, but sometimes I get to thinking too much and then I start wondering about things I can’t answer . . . like why some people name their hives. Mind you, this is not a criticism. It’s just a question. Why do some people name their hives?

Before we get too far into that, let me say that I have other issues with names as well. My neighbor names her beef cattle. Each in turn, she fondles them about the ears, feeds them sweet pea pods from her apron, and whispers their names tenderly. Then, when the day comes that Bessie or Betsy or Matilda is on her plate, she proclaims in a thundering voice, “Matilda with mashed potatoes and green beans.”

Yikes. This behavior astounds me. I don’t eat meat anyway, but if I did, a comment like that would put me off my feed. I don’t actually like this neighbor very much, so the whole name game makes me wish cows ate people . . . Mrs. Jones with perennial ryegrass and yellow clover. Sounds yummy.

Anyway, back to beehives. Let’s say you have two hives, one named Camelot and one named Paradise. Late in the spring the populations become uneven. You decide to equalize them by switching the top two brood boxes with each other. Now you have Camedise and Paralot. Then, low and behold, Paralot starts to thrive. In order to prevent a swarm you do a split. Now you have Camedise and Para and Lot. But a month later, Camedise isn’t doing too well, so you fortify it with some brood from Lot. Now you have Camediselot and Para and Lot. Or not.

It’s embarrassing, but I’ve become completely confused by beekeepers who write about things called Stonehenge, Grassymount, and Green Valley. I thought they were campgrounds or cemeteries or retirement villages. I had no idea they were writing about beehives. No, I’m not kidding, I really didn’t get it. (Okay, you can stop smirking now.)

Then there are the people who name beehives by color: the red hive, the blue hive, the green hive. After a few hive manipulations you’re going to have the blue/blue/green and the red/green/blue and green/red/red hives. How long will that last before they become just multicolored hives number one, two, and three? You’re either going to do a lot of re-naming or an egregious amount of re-painting if you’re going to make that system work.

Beekeeping is hard enough without adding a lot of linguistic hoop-jumping. On the other hand, without the compulsive namers of the world, however would I amuse myself on a rainy Friday afternoon in the middle of winter with no bees in sight?



  • My husband keeps about 25 hives in Wisconsin. In the 20 years he has kept them, I have never heard him refer to the “girls” he just reminds me that they are female. He has never named his hives. He is a practical beekeeper and does not get overly emotional about his beekeeping. Having said that, he is adamant that he must encourage others to do it for the health of the planet. Me, well, I am allergic to bees so keep to the sales and marketing for his business and although I am the resident video queen, I have made a long unipod for extending to the hive while I am encased in extra suits.

  • I refer to my bees as the girls, but I also refer to my chickens as my girls, so that gets a little confusing. I joke that I’m running a convent out here…two human females, 11 female chickens, four hives of bees, two female rabbits. The only outliers are my husband and my male cat, both of whom seem to huddle in the basement more often than not.

    I am in the process of naming my hives merely for ease of reference. You suggest that naming them makes it more complex, for me it will make it simpler. When I mean “the leftmost Warre hive out behind the trailer” I can just say “Alpha”, or whatever name I choose. There’s no appreciable difference between declaring them “one, two, and three” and “Paul, Ringo, and George”, when it comes down to it. You need some way to refer to them if you’re trying to either keep them straight in your own head, or communicate with a helper about what your plans are. With your Camelot and Paradise analogy, I would simply use the names to refer to the hive body in That Spot There, regardless of its composition or contents.

    Incidentally, I don’t do much box switching. Actually, I lie, I’ve never done any switching, but I’ve only had hives for a couple of years.

    Growing up, my best friend also did the cow naming thing. I remember a cow named Coffee. One morning when I stayed over, I was served Coffee sausage. I was confused for about 30 seconds, then just rolled my eyes. Coffee was tasty, incidentally. (I don’t name most of my chickens, but I don’t eat them anyway. Sometimes they acquire a nickname that becomes a name. DeVille sits in the coop all day long, for example, and Racer X is the speediest chicken I’ve ever seen.)

    • Lisa,

      Okay, okay, I have to admit I number the positions on my hive stands. I have three long hive stands that each hold multiple hives. So, yes, when hive #4 needs syrup, I know I’m referring to the current hive in position #4.

      My chickens for the most part don’t have names, although there have been a couple over the years, such as Scruffy, who have done something that earned them a name and a special place in my heart.

      Just for the record, the men in my life tend to have names. That would include two cats and a husband. My daughter also has a name, but she doesn’t live here so she doesn’t count.

      I don’t know how this post went from naming hives to the “girls” discussion . . . I’ve been trying to avoid that one. I think I’ll blame Phillip!

  • I expect it is, in part, to allow us to relate to them better by personifying them. Allowing them to build their own character around their name and us to build rapport with them.

    I think a beekeeper out of tune with their hive is just going to find trouble, and whatever works works for some people so I’d say fair enough.

    Tell me, when you were very little did you have toys with names? Or did you just call them by the position they sat on the end of the bed? “Mummy, can I have toy 4 tonight please?”

    Mixing the names based on manipulation is not something that I had thought of, that does sound silly I’d agree. What about naming the queens? Is that ok then?

    • Ha. “Mummy, can I have toy 4 tonight please?” No, but my husband always asks if I want 1, 2, C or D . . .

      You can name your queens, but what happens when they get superseded or they swarm? I hope you rename the new ones. The new ones might be insulted if you kept calling them by the same name as the old ones. Sort of how your second wife would get riled if you called her by your first wife’s name. Better stick to “honey.”

      Naming is definitely a hobbyist thing. No commercial beekeeper would name 4000 hives–or their queens. Thing is, I don’t know where the cut-off point is. It’s probably different for everyone, but my cut-off point is at hive one.

      • Oh no, if you name a queen you can’t use that name for another one, that would be rude, and she would be a different bee and may have different moods, benefits, tantrums if you let the cold in.

        I quite agree about the commercial thing, I expect if I ever get to over 12 I’ll forget their names anyway.

  • I must admit I named the hives. We home-school the children and I like to get them involved in seeing things by being a part of them, even if it is a small amount. Last year was the first bee year and we started out with four hives. We also have four daughters and a son, he being a newborn wasn’t involved. We named the four hives after the four girls. It was a way to get them involved and personally interested. And quite frankly it is very convenient. We all know which hive I am oooh-ing and aaah-ing over. But there is the practical side: this year we are bumping up to ten hives and one will get named for the male heir but the rest will either be numbered or remain anonymous.

  • Entering my second year as a beekeeper and loving it. I currently have 4 hives with 4 more on the way (spring). I understand your issues with the names but how do you identify them to keep notes without some sort of identification system? Actually I paint my hives and enlist others to paint scenes on them which is a great way to raise awareness. One of the hives has a tree painted on it that looks like a scraggly old Black Jack Oak, so by default I refer to it as Black Jack which also is a hit with others. I guess the main reason is to keep notes on the hives and what is happening to them.

    • David,

      Actually, I do have a system. I have permanent hive stands that each hold three hives. Each position on the stands is numbered, so the hive in position #1 is hive #1 and so on. My notes just read #5 needs this and #9 needs that. It’s a simple system that works for me.

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