Hanging from a wooden post along a meandering gravel road deep in Baltimore County farm country is a placard with a pair of crisscrossed polo mallets and the enigmatic headline "Claustrophobia" scrawled across its face -- painted legibly but offering no indication of the underlying meaning to passers-by.
In these parts, with the fields of soybeans and horse pastures extending as far as the eye can see and centuries-old family estates, a fear of enclosed spaces hardly seems a relevant concern.
But when Peggy Maher and her husband, Ron, moved into their house on the 22-acre plot 11 years ago with their young son, the one-time farmhand shack off Old York Road was a mere 20 feet by 40 feet, consisting of three cramped rooms.
"We called it `Claustrophobia' because the house was so small," said Peggy Maher, a 37-year-old former steeplechase rider. "It was one-third the size of the barn. I just couldn't do it."
Like many of the farms that checker the landscape north of the city, the name of this rural residence is inextricably tied to the history of the land and its occupants. The significance of a farm's name is often unknown to outsiders or even nearby residents, but each tells a tale.
Ultimately, those familiar with the custom said, naming a farm is intensely individual and of more than nominal importance.
David Martin, the county extension service's director for agriculture and natural resources, said the reasons for choosing a name are many and that there is no dominant method or pattern.
"It may be the name of a highway or a crossroads, or the name of a past historical feature of an area," Martin said. "Others involve something that may be particular to a family's interest or how the property was acquired. It's pretty much a personal choice type thing, similar to naming a boat."
Jim McKay, the Emmy-winning longtime ABC sportscaster, agrees. For 21 years, he has lived at Bellefield Farm in Monkton. He says that name has "no real terrific story" behind it and that he inherited it.
Farm names "just vary a lot," said McKay. "Everybody has their own" rationale.
Twelfth Night Farm, just off Monkton Road behind a tall picket fence, is an example of what Martin referred to as a "family's interest."
The farm has a new generation of owners whose livelihood depends on more modern professions.
A lacrosse net shares the grounds with two horses, two ponies and a pet pig.
Sarah Schweizer, who has lived on the family farm with her husband, Bob, and their three sons for four years, said a fascination with Shakespeare's plays led to the farm's name.
"Twelfth Night is the last day of the celebration of Christmas," said Schweizer, an architect. "And it would set itself up for having a party on the Feast of Fools."
J-Mar Stables is a former slave plantation just north of McKay's farm on Sheppard Road.
The old farmhouse, shrouded by trees, overlooks a dale that the owner says has been a breeding ground for foxes over the years.
Susan Marshall, owner and supervisor of the farm for almost 40 years, said the decision to name the farm was made for her.
"Everyone in my family has a name that starts with `J,' except for me, and my last name is Marshall," she said, keeping close tabs on the newest inhabitant of the roughly 250-acre farm, a Jack Russell terrier puppy. "I had to come up with a name for insurance purposes and advertising, so that just came to mind."
Marshall just had her roadside sign refurbished, at no small cost she said, attesting to its importance in attracting customers to the farm, where she sells fox-hunting horses and offers riding lessons to children.
Another farm that traces its name to family history is the picturesque Andor Farm on Houcks Mill Road, which features a pond in the center of the property where chocolate-hued horses drink and geese tarry between flights.
Barbara Obre, daughter of gold-mining magnate and art collector Solomon R. Guggenheim, bought the 500-acre farm in 1947 for $48,000, said Bob Ludwig, who lived at the farm with Obre's son, Michael Wettach, until Wettach died four years ago.
The Obres named the property Andor because the couple's checks were made payable to "Barbara and/or Henry Obre."
The farm has retained its name despite subsequent changes in ownership and the partitioning of the property after Wettach's death. Ludwig says such continuity is standard.
"Once a farm is named, they usually just stay that," said Ludwig. "Everybody knows properties by names, and if you go and change the name, people will ask, `Where is that place?'"
So, in a game with very few ostensible rules, maybe the one that has some currency after the passing of decades and generations comes from the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school of thought: If a farm does not have a name, name it. If it has one, leave it.
"It's sort of a bad luck thing to change the name," Peggy Maher said with a grin. "It's just the way things are."