I love guessing how dogs get their names. Sometimes the name comes from something simple like marking. Think Patch or Spot. But other times the dog’s name reveals more. So what secrets are in your dog’s name?
The naming struggle
I’ll start with a few examples close to home. More often than not I struggle to find a name that I think will suit my dogs. There are so many factors to consider when selecting the right name for the right dog. How will you feel when shouting it in the park? What was a great joke at home may turn into an embarrassing moniker in the park. A Friends fan might think it amusing to call a dog Smelly Cat, but to shout that across a public area isn’t quite as funny.
If you have multiple dogs, it’s useful to ensure each name has it’s own distinctive sound. Dogs with similar names could get confused. The common thinking was that the end of the names should sound different. So Brandy and Sandy should be avoided. But I have found that the start of the names is just as important. It took my dog Ella quite some time to realise I was calling Ettie and not her. I won’t make that mistake again.
How do you choose the right name? Do you choose by looks, e.g. Goldie? Or by personality, Happy? Or maybe your dog came with a name. In general I don’t think changing the dog’s name to something you prefer is a big deal. For example I changed Elsa to Ella. She was handed in as a stray and so had only been called Elsa for a matter of days and had very little attachment to it. But even those with long standing names are likely to have been called more than one name. Nicknames, or shortening the name, means that more often than not dogs learn to associate themselves with more than one title.
Save the name
But in cases where the dog has been known as the same name for many years, especially senior dogs, I believe that keeping the name helps give some sense of continuity. When I worked in rescue some of the saddest situations were when a senior dog came to us because the person they had lived with for their whole lives had died. Their lives were turned upside down. Keeping the name was about keeping something from their previous life. They know what it means, that it belongs to them even when they have lost their home, their family.
I mentioned that Ella was called Elsa. Can you guess why? This name reveals two secrets. The first one was that she was named by a child. And the second was that the child loved the film Frozen. Many dogs named by children reflect their favourite characters from movies or TV. Not only can you guess there’s a child in the family, you can also guess their age or the age they were when the dog was named. Think back to the Lion King and all the dogs called Simba or Nala. Or the Harry Potter films spawning lots of dogs called Dobby. Which is fitting since Dobby’s appearance was based on a Jack Russell dog.
Adults too take their naming inspirations from favourite TV shows, films, books and popular culture. In my experience, Star Trek seems one of the most popular. From the straightforward Kirk to the more hardcore/obscure Yeoman Rand, I’ve met a fair few. My own dog Solo was named after Han Solo from Star Wars, but also reflected where I was in my life. I was just starting out in my own business as a sole trader so his name was apt on two fronts. And let’s not leave out the cats. My cat Pan is named after Lyra’s daemon from the Philip Pullman ‘His Dark Materials’ books.
A new trend, apparently, is to call ‘Lockdown Puppies’ (those bought during the pandemic) Covie. I’m not sure I’d a) want to shout that in the park or b) want to be reminded of this terrible time. But each to their own.
And so to my youngest dog, Ettie. What secret is she carrying? She is named after one of my favourite places in the world, Glen Etive. Glen Etive is a beautiful part of the stunning Glencoe area of Scotland. Lots of dogs are named after favourite places. They don’t have to be places that folks have visited, but they are often places that mean something to the namer. They might represent a dream or hark back to a memory. And of course, they might just have a nice ring to them. I’ve known lots of dogs named after Scottish Islands. Think Skye, Isla, Harris, Iona, Jura, but I’m doubtful that all the namers have visited them. But you never know.
It might not be the specific location that inspired the name, it might be the heritage. Us Scots are well known for being evangelical about Scotland, especially when we don’t live there! And I’m sure it’s the same for many other nationalities. This more subtle secret reveals heritage. So you might get Scottie (Scotland), Brooklyn (USA) or Hiro (Japan) Or you might get the heritage of the dog. Hence Heidi for a St. Bernard or Bryn for a Welsh Springer Spaniel.
Food names are also popular, giving away the secrets of our favourite nibbles and drinks. How many chocolate lovers do you know that named their chocolate labrador Coco or Wispa or Cadbury? I’ve met lots of Cookies and more than a few Buds (although this is also short for one of the most popular dog names Buddy) I’ve heard of dogs being called Biscuit, Pepsi and Tablet. Tablet is Amie’s cocker spaniel and he was named after the Scottish super sweet confection. This gives up two secrets – Amie’s love of Scotland and of the Scottish sweet treat.
Some of my favourite names are those that are given with humour. One dear friend has two large rotties called Dinky and Bunny. I like tiny dogs being called Fang or Rocky. And I enjoy the old classics, like Jimmy (for Jimmy Choo), Chewie (Chewbacca), Santa (Santa ‘Paws’)
Play the naming game
If we’re not revealing our favourite foods, we are signposting our favourite people. I’ve known dogs named after WW2 pilots, scientists, explorers, politicians, sports people, and doctors. Each name reveals the namers’ political leanings, interests, heroes. I find it so fascinating that the naming of a dog can carry so much information. From whether the family has children, to nationality, favourite food, heroes, interests. Guessing these secrets is a great game. Try it, see how often you’re right.
With all these secrets being revealed, I can’t omit the dogs who have been named simply because the namer likes the name. The most popular names, in the West at least, continue to be Max, Bella, Charlie, Lucy, Bailey and Daisy. All sweet names and all popular for good reason. Classics each and every one.
Your naming story
I would love to hear the story behind your dog’s name so please share it in the comments.