Ethics Quiz: A Horse By Any Other Name…

In the pantheon of 2022 “Wait…WHAT?” headlines, “Help! I’m So Embarrassed by the Name of My Daughter’s New Horse!” is an instant classic. This comes by way of a query to Slate advice columnist “Dear Prudence,” and you have to pay to see what wise ol’ Prudence decrees. Well, I’ve read enough of Prudence’s advice over the years and have been unimpressed. I don’t care what she thinks; I care what you think (and what I think, naturally). Here’s the letter:

My 10-year-old daughter is a horse girl. She’s outgrown her first pony, so we just bought her a new horse. This horse was priced right, he’s the perfect size, age, and temperament, and he’s trained in what she wants to do—we seriously could not have found her a better horse. Except for one thing. He’s an almost entirely white Pinto, and his registered name is [Farm Name] White Flight. I don’t want to know what his breeder was thinking. My daughter thinks it’s beautiful. But I would be embarrassed to have my child showing on a horse with this name, and I want to officially change it, or at least call him by another name. I’ve explained the meaning of “white flight” to her, but she still thinks it’s a perfect name for a white showjumping horse and says she wants to use it to mean something good, instead of something bad. How can I convince her to rename her new baby? Would it be too mean to say either the name is changed, or the horse is sold and she can’t have another one?

—Whitest Problem Ever

Ah, the problems of families who can afford to buy their child two horses before she’s eleven! But I digress…

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

“Is there an ethical obligation to change the name of the horse from “White Flight”?

Let’s get some distractions out of the way first. The girl is ten. If her parents think the name “White Flight” is inappropriate, then they should change it whether she wants to or not. Is the family competing for the coveted “Most Spoiled Child in America” title? Who is this kid, Veruca Salt? Let’s ignore the part where this is a child’s horse and focus on the more tricky question of whether the name “White Flight”—for a white horse that sails over fences—is so intrinsically offensive that an owner is ethically obligated to name it something else, like, say, “Black Lives Matter.”

I think the three Niggardly Principles might be in play here:

  • The First Niggardly Principle:

“No one should be criticized or penalized because someone takes racial, ethnic, religious or other offense at their conduct or speech due to the ignorance, bias or misunderstanding by the offended party.”

  • The Second Niggardly Principle:

“When an individual or group can accomplish its legitimate objectives without engaging in speech or conduct that will offend individuals whose basis for the supposed offense is emotional, mistaken or ignorant, but is not malicious and is based on well-established impulses of human nature, it is unethical to intentionally engage in such speech or conduct.”

  • The Third Niggardly Principle:

When suppressing speech and conduct based on an individual’s or a group’s claim, sincere or otherwise, that such speech or conduct is offensive, however understandable and reasonable this claim may be, creates or threatens to create a powerful precedent that will undermine freedom of speech, expression or political opinion elsewhere, calls to suppress the speech or conduct must be opposed and rejected.”

I’m only going to submit this clue to my verdict: the horse is white, and it jumps. Nobody could mistake the intent of the name. It is an obvious play on words, and horse names that are plays on words are extremely common. Nor are names assumed to be literal salutes: just perusing the list of Kentucky Derby winners, I noted horses named after a bad President, several crimes, a deadly storm, an epic disaster and a Shakespearean murderer. Nobody was offended by any of those names, and nobody should have been,

Is “White Flight” different?

17 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: A Horse By Any Other Name…

  1. Leave the horse’s name as is. It’s a great name for a jumper. I hadn’t heard anyone use the term “white flight” in regard to segregation in at least twenty years. Good grief!

  2. It took me awhile to remember what the derogatory definition was … and then I laughed til the tears came. I could see where the problem could arise — suppose the daughter’s horse won a race with Black Beauty coming in second?
    It IS a great name for a white horse.

  3. I don’t think there’s any obligation to change the name. The intention behind the horse’s name is clear, and intention is crucial.

    I disagree with your assessment of the little girl. She said that if her horse’s name meant something bad, she wanted it to mean something good. I think that shows an intelligent child who is aware of the discord in the world around her, and instead of capitulating to the negative pressure, she wants to use her tiny platform to turn something ugly into something positive..

    Professor Turley frequently says that instead of censorship, we should strive to “combat bad speech with better speech”, and I agree. Part of that is letting go of the notion that every word that might be construed as a slur IS a slur. It means the concept that schools named after historic figures (people once revered who are now torn apart for simply being a man/woman of their era) or sports teams whose names reflect something once acceptable that’s now taboo, etc.,
    need to immediately change their name/logo/mascot and repent.

    If we yield to every criticism by every person who claims offense to a name, an expression, a job, an idea, etc., half the world won’t be able to say/write a single word, out of fear of retribution, and when people cannot communicate freely they cannot communicate effectively, and everything from education to workplace relations to social /intimate relationships break down completely.

    Where would that leave us all?

  4. If it’s ok to name a horse Demon or Devil, White Flight is pretty benign, especially in light of the fact that there was nothing wrong or illegal about the concept of white flight (i.e. leaving a neighborhood that’s about to flip before property values tank). This is just an example of progressive virtue-signalers worried that an action won’t sufficiently jibe with the overly race-conscious zeitgeist.

  5. Part of a parent’s duty is to make the calls on issues where a child doesn’t have the experience, maturity, & etc. to make a wise decision. If they truly believe leaving the horse as named carries a good likelihood of causing their daughter embarrassment or problems (warranted or not, in their view) in ways and to an extent she can’t currently comprehend, they need to change it. Unless she IS a thoroughly spoiled brat, engaging her in the process and coming up with a mutually acceptable alternative should be easy enough. “White Flyer”? “Snow Flight”?… It’s one thing for an adult to choose the hill they want to die on; it’s another to defiantly send your unsuspecting kid up that hill as your proxy.

  6. The name is fine.

    Also, whoever wrote this is probably trolling the Slate writers. Would love to see if the horse is actually registered, but I have sock drawers to arrange.

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