What’s in a Name? Ancient Sourdough Starter


Image by Thomas Bock from Pixabay

Something’s alive in my refrigerator. 

No, I didn’t mean the forgotten leftovers in the back corner. What’s alive and active is my pot of sourdough starter, the fermented flour and water mixture that I’ve kept alive (sometimes only barely) for three decades. 

The foamy sourdough that I use for baking loaves, pancakes, and pizza dough was given to me by a friend who got it from her mom in Eastern Washington. That pot of starter likely is now a senior citizen, worthy of qualifying for Medicare.

Not long ago, I learned that I’ve been lax all these years. I’ve thoughtlessly left my sourdough starter nameless. Why would it need a name? Those in the know say that sourdough starter needs a name because it is very much alive and, use it or not, it must be fed regularly to stay vital. Cooking gurus report that many, if not most chefs name their sourdough.

There are schools of thought about what to call a living collection of yeast and lactobacilli. Some bakers are satisfied with names similar to those they call their four-legged pets: Low-key names like Buddy, Daisy, Sarge, Bruno, Champ, Dolly, or maybe even Elvis. However, there’s another perspective that holds that the sourdough pot deserves a unique and even comical name, a pun-lover’s invention. Among those I’ve heard are: Bread Pitt, Clint Yeastwood, Marlon Brandough, Issac Gluten, Carrie Breadshaw, and Sir Rise-a-lot. 

Tyson Greer, one of the seven authors of “Writing While Masked,” writes about being given a sourdough starter by a friend. It was a welcome gift when the covid-19 pandemic struck and commercial yeast disappeared from grocers’ shelves. Greer responded by naming her starter “Ovid.” I’ve heard of another pandemic-era baker who christened her starter “QuaranTina.”

Former Seattle Times writer Ron Judd (now editing the new “Cascadia Daily News” in Bellingham) recently wrote on Facebook about a disaster: He’d lost his trusty sourdough starter to neglect. (A reminder: you’ve got to sweeten the pot regularly.) Luckily Judd found an older batch of sourdough in the recesses of his fridge and was able to nourish the oldster back to health. Obviously, the rejuvenated culture deserves a name. My suggestion, which Judd is welcome to take: Lazarus. That’s not far-fetched since another cook I’ve heard about named his sourdough Jesus (meaning “he is risen.”)

For my own sourdough, I considered a slew of names, deciding to pick one to suit the culture’s unique personality. Whenever I check on the starter, it’s foamy and refreshingly tart. Among the names I thought about were: Kneady, Puffy, Sour Pants, Doughbert, Sourfina, and Weirdough. It was almost harder than picking a name for one’s infant, not knowing how he/she would turn out. Finally, however, I gazed into the sourdough pot to see what was hopping and picked the one and only proper name: Bubbles.

Jean Godden
Jean Godden
Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and late for the Seattle Times. In 2002, she quit to run for City Council where she served for 12 years. Since then she published a book of city stories titled “Citizen Jean.” She is now co-host of The Bridge aired on community station KMGP at 101.1 FM. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Comments Policy

Please be respectful. No personal attacks. Your comment should add something to the topic discussion or it will not be published. All comments are reviewed before being published. Comments are the opinions of their contributors and not those of Post alley or its editors.