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WEST FARGO — Hildebrandt Farms doesn’t simply have jack-o’-lanterns.

The greenhouse at 349 Main also has Ralph-o-lanterns. And Meg-o-lanterns. And even the occasional Felix-o-lantern.

The family behind this local mainstay has been naming every pumpkin they sell for years.

The idea started in the early 2000s, when Trina Kalm took over the business which was first started by her parents, Bill and Kathi Hildebrandt, in the 1980s.

Kalm had read an article that suggested naming products helped build a stronger relationship with consumers.

They started out gifting their Christmas trees with names but in time the name game transferred to pumpkins.

So, in addition to the individual price tag on every one of the hundreds of pumpkins for sale here, there is a yellow piece of tape on which that particular pumpkin’s name has been written in Sharpie.

“It’s just fun,” says Tanya Reinke, Kalm’s sister who manages the greenhouse.

You could argue that the members of the

Cucurbita pepo family

are as individual and quirky as the members of the homo sapiens clan. Some are evenly orange and perfectly symmetrical, as if fresh out of the tanning bed and ready for the Miss Gourd-jous Pumpkin contest. Some are short and squat, some have knobs and boreholes and some stay stubbornly half green.

See that pumpkin that somehow became perfectly square? Could that be anything but Frankenstein’s monster from the Boris Karloff era? Or that long, lean, nobbly, warty specimen? That could only be a witch’s face. 

It’s not only impressive that the Hildebrandt family has come up with hundreds of names for every crop of pumpkins over the last two decades, but that they also are so good at it. Each name seems to fit each pumpkin to a T.

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That pale fella with freckle-like markings? Of course he has a good Scottish name like Cameron. That small, cute, sweetly round pumpkin? Maggie, naturally. That voluptuous pumpkin with long tendrils sprouting from the stem like a long ponytail? Foxi. That perfectly orange, upright, balanced pumpkin who looks like he never misses work and drives a Ford Explorer? Kevin, of course.

Hildebrandt Farms staff spend a lot of time thinking of the perfect name for each pumpkin they plan to sell at the West Fargo greenhouse.

David Samson/The Forum

The West Fargo family had figured out the power of names well before a mega-corporation like Coca Cola ever did with its

“Share a Coke with (insert name here)”

campaign. When someone or something has a name, we develop more of a personal connection to it. On top of that, people love the sight and sound of their own names.

Reinke says she believes it definitely boosts sales. “I think so,” she says. “It’s more of a connection thing with our customers. And it’s easier for them to pick one out.”

Parents have been known to call ahead and ask Reinke to name a pumpkin after their child, then will make a game of bringing their kids to the greenhouse and challenging them to find it.

The Hildebrandts also honor friends, family members and even pets by naming pumpkins after them. This year, her sister-in-law is expecting a baby girl. Reinke photographed pumpkins representing all family members together, including a tiny pink pumpkin tagged “Baby Larson.” She sent it to her sister-in-law, who drove right over and bought the whole bunch, including her next of (pump)kin.

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Reinke sometimes amuses herself by placing names that belong together — like “Bert” and “Ernie” — on pumpkins located near each other. But people don’t always catch the connection. She recalls how one customer brought “Bruce” to the counter with intent to buy him, prompting her to ask: “Don’t you want Willis?”

When considering how some new parents agonize over giving a newborn the perfect name, it’s all the more impressive that the Hildebrandt staff doles out entire crops of names each year. In some cases, Reinke or another one of the greenhouse staff will be unloading a pumpkin from the farm and will instantly know what it should be christened.

But sometimes it takes longer. This year, Reinke found a light-green squash that is perfectly shaped like an alien head. Should it be Marvin the Martian? Roger from “A Family Guy?” She’s still trying to find the perfect handle.

She admits that she sometimes mulls over potential names all day long, in between waiting on customers and running the storefront. She has named the gourds after her favorite TV shows and movies, like the pumpkin named “Lucifer,” which has a greenish cast reminiscent of

the title character’s

dark green suit.

101522.F.FF.Pumkins

Hildebrandt Farms sells hundreds of pumpkins and 30 varieties of squash during the fall season.

David Samson/The Forum

All I know is that this “Name That Squash” approach works. When Reinke told me she had named a pumpkin “Tammy,” I spent a lot of time furtively searching for it.

At last, we found her, hiding among some vividly hued squashes on a back table in the greenhouse. She was technically

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a red pumpkin

(like me, she needs sunscreen) and had a big scar on one side — like the big scar from when I broke my arm as a girl.

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And although her name was spelled “Tami,” I still felt like she was my spirit vegetable.

So I drove home that day with Tami/Tammy, straitlaced Kevin and a few other festive gourds.

Normally, I wouldn’t be that excited about being the namesake of a round object with a bad tan and lined skin, but, for some reason, I didn’t mind.


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