“Why in the world did you decide on ‘Crataegus’ Bonsai?”
I get this question a lot. And the answer comes with a story.
Well, a three-part story.
The first and easiest part of the story is that “Crataegus” is the genus name of the hawthorn tree, which is my last name in German. Years ago I was waffling about for a business name. This was way back when I made pots, and I wanted something that wasn’t Japanese, as my ceramic work wasn’t always traditional (over the years neither has been my bonsai work, for that matter). The tricky part is pronouncing it, as the spelling of it combines the “a” and the “e” into a squashed together “ae,” which comes from Latin. I’m told the pronunciation is a combination of the two sounds—and any linguist who can lead us to tongue it right is welcome to comment.
The second part of the story is that I didn’t think the world of hawthorn as bonsai and didn’t want people to think they littered my yard. I think there are two out back.
The third part is illuminating, and more adventurous, and what clinched the name for me. When I was in Japan I had a poet friend, a guy from New York City. One of my few English-speaking friends in the village where I apprenticed. We were sitting in the cafe where my girlfriend worked, talking about our families. I related one tale of my family who in 1980 were in Germany on the hunt for our family crest. We found it at long last in a church somewhere in the north. The crest was split into four quadrants. One was a typical coat of arms sort of thing, a shield and a few weapons, etc. Another quadrant made us laugh, as it was a beehive, and my father had paid his way through college with 25 hives and later became an entomologist—our laughs had a high, nervous ring to them. The fourth quadrant, I told my poet friend, was an image of a small tree, presumably a hawthorn. Of course he knew I was a bonsai apprentice, and he looked at me soberly and said, “There really is no free will, is there?”
This is why I chose Crataegus as my business name.
I’ve since been told that my memory of the crest is faulty. And that the story is as well. It is, at any rate, the story that led to the business name.