O

n her last trip through town, a friend worked to find homes for a few stray items of value. An extra label maker, too cumbersome to take and redundant upon arriving at her destination, was offered. Would I have use for such a thing?

“I don’t know about me,” I told her, “but I think I know somebody who would.”

Since being given into her capable hands, Peaches has put the label-making machine to good use. There have been name tags for family members and stuffed animals; small, sticky signs calling out the purpose of otherwise innocuous items; and the occasional label asserting ownership of an empty cheese straw tin.

There have been funny labels and ironic ones. Almost without exception, tended toward the obvious. But I have come to appreciate the lure of attaching a name to thing—deliberately and definitively—in a new way. The outlines of our relationships to almost any object or person begin in our naming of them. It is how we understand the world’s contents, its contours and creeping threats. Labels are just a handy way to remember what to call them.

Until the tacky side curls up on the ends and fails, of course. Then you’re on your own.