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The Name Game
The unpredictable art of pet naming
Pet names as a family affair: Kate

My first dog was named Cricket. A number of explanations were offered as to why she had that name, though none of them seemed very good. My mother told me, “As a puppy, her bark sounded like a cricket!” Well, as an adult she sounded like a woman wailing whenever she barked. My dad told me, “We named her that because she’s good luck, like a cricket!” Not great luck, considering this dog had kidney stones by age two. I came to accept that there might not be a rhyme or reason for every dog’s name, which was all right with me as long as it suited the dog.

When I was old enough to consider getting my own dogs, I was determined to give them fantastic names. These names would have purpose and dignity, and make other people say, “Oh, my goodness, what a fantastic dog name!” I began to keep a small notebook on me at all times, with a few pages reserved in the back for jotting down dog names. I met a dog named Loretta once, I thought this was a phenomenal name. I also considered Greek gods as inspiration—Apollo, Hermes, Zeus. Or there were those classic names, which had gone out of fashion, but now were ironic and clever: Rocket, Fido, Sparky, Rex.
Eventually, I became convinced that all of my dogs from now until perpetuity would be named after U.S. Presidents. I’ve always thought the concept of dogs with human names was wildly funny, yet I wanted to be sure that my dogs had names that commanded the utmost respect. Presidents’ names seemed to be a good compromise, funny in a tongue in cheek sort of way, yet commanding that same gravitas I wanted. Skipper was absolutely going to be named Truman. Then I met him and he already knew his name, and he was just so happy when you said it. It seemed cruel to change it, he looked like he had already been through a lot in his life and a name change was added stress he didn’t deserve. So with dog number one, my naming scheme was already thwarted.
Leo, who was called “King Skip,” absolutely needed a name change. I couldn’t have two Skips, and calling him King just seemed like outright favoritism. I wanted to try to stick to my Presidential theme, so I considered calling him Ulysses, or perhaps Lincoln. Then I met “King Skip” and he was just so downright silly and rambunctious that giving him a name with such clout was impossible. So I did what most people probably do. I buckled and gave him a name on the spot that I thought suited him. Forget the list in my notebook.
I should tell you that in my family, when we’re not giving dogs completely inexplicable insect names, we have this odd habit of naming pets after relatives and relatives after pets. For example, my great grandmother was named Zoey. We had a dog named Zoey. My parents had an Irish Setter named Lucy. Then they named my sister Lucy. My name was supposed to be Samantha, but ended up being Kate. Soon after I was born, our nameless cat became Samantha. I named Leo after my father, who’s middle name is Leon (coincidentally after King Leopold II of Belgium, who owned several Schipperkes in his life).
Whenever a new name is introduced into the family, like Toby, the name is usually voted on by all of us and taken with the utmost seriousness. This is most likely because we subconsciously acknowledge that this new name is going to get recycled at some point, so we’d better really love it. Though none of my plans for naming have worked out to date, one thing is certain: Whomever I name in this life, whether dog or human, is inevitably going to be called Lucy, Leo or Toby.


Kate VandenBerghe is a recent graduate of the California College of Arts MFA program in San Francisco. She runs Paper Animal Design, her own freelance design company, and lives in Oakland with her two rescue pups, Skipper and Leo.
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Submitted by Kathleen | July 7 2010 |

My lovely mini-poodle is named Willow. Her name came about because when we first decided to get a new puppy, I started running through a list of names of female characters from comic books, movie & TV shows trying to find one I liked. At the time, Buffy the Vampire Slayer was just starting to get big & we had an older toy poodle rescue who came with the name Buffy. Since Buffy's best friend on the show was Willow, I decided we had to have a Willow and there you go.

I actually had the name before we had picked her out, but it totally fits her. Just like the character, she's smart, funny, the best friend you could ever want, and occasionally acts like a total spazz. ;)

Submitted by Anonymous | July 7 2010 |

I love this post! I always put a lot of thought into each name I gave to my pets and fosters. There was a foster boy that came to me with the name Kandy so to make things easy on him we just changed it to Andy. Our latest pet is a cat and we named her Tonks from Harry Potter. She is a calico with an orange striped leg that really makes her stand out. My husband doesn't always agree with the names I pick out but he's never come up with anything he would want to change the name to so my name sticks. Anyway, its nice to know I'm not the only one that just gives a pet/foster a thought out name and not just any old name I come up with on the fly.

Submitted by Loretta's Human | July 7 2010 |

Leo is a great name! Only time I've been tempted to use a pet name that wasn't a person's first name was when I met a schipperke named Osito, Spanish for little bear -- perfect. Loretta's current companion is Walter. They follow a long line: Sam, Jenny, Eddie, et al. Not a Fluffy or a Sparky in the bunch.

Submitted by Tiffani | July 7 2010 |

We got my dog Milkshake when my daughter was four. Our drycleaners had just put in a drive thru window and we had been joking about asking for french fries with my pants. So when we told her she could name the puppy, we thought she would call her french fry. She said"nope, i want to name her Milkshake!" Milkshake is now 12 and everyone has always had a good laugh about her name. We have also encountered 2 other dogs with the same name, so we know she is not the one and only!

Submitted by Jane | July 8 2010 |

I am fascinated by names for people and pets. I enjoy hearing stories on how a name was selected. The posts have been fun to read. In the last 15 years we've adopted a stray who we named Max and he learned it quickly. Then we adopted a rescue whose name was Jack. I didn't like having two dogs with a short 'a' sound for training purposes so we renamed Jack to Indy. Indy is short for Indiana which is my home state. He learned it within three days.

But then of course there are NICKNAMES which usually have terrific stories attached to them too. One of Indy's nicknames is Rooter because he roots bedcovers, couch pillows etc. to make nests to sleep in. I do yoga at home and Max used to lay in the doorway while I did poses. I started calling him Mudra [Sanskrit]. And then because I love to garden there are botanical names and nicknames galore! Indy is my buddy so another nickname is Buddleia which is the botanical for butterfly bush. Can't wait to read more.

Submitted by Virginia | July 9 2010 |

My rescue dog "Grizzy" is named George Griswald, after a 19th century family name on my dad's side.

Submitted by chm | July 9 2010 |

When I was a kid, I thought I would eventually get a sweet little beagle and name him Chester. Neither of those came to pass. My first dog (a MinPin mix) came with the name Shadow because he's that blue-gray color. He was already six months old, so I didn't want to change it drastically and completely confuse him. I am a total Celtophile (crazy about all things Scottish/Irish), so I came up with Seamus (pronounced Shay-mus). My sister independently came up with the same name and just started calling him that, so it stuck and it really suits him. I get compliments on his name all the time.

Seamus recently got a little sister, who came with a horrible name I won't even bother saying. She didn't respond to it and it just didn't fit her. At the time, I was fostering a dog, so this new kid was the third dog in the house. She went by Dog 3.0 for about two weeks. She's a tall, gorgeous, chocolate MinPin with a sweet face but lots of spunky character. Again, leaning toward things Celtic, I went with Piper (although I still sometimes wish I'd gone with Pixie). I love hearing how people and dogs got their names!

Submitted by Danielle | July 9 2010 |

My Jack Russell was names after the girl on True Blood. She name was so much fun to say SOOKIE & my Jack was just so much fun to have around.

Submitted by Maura | July 12 2010 |

It's SO hard coming up with dog names- or at least agreeing on a name with you signifigant other!
Our first dog we got together was already named Rookie, and since my BF likes chess, we decided to keep that.
Our next dog had had 2 names in the 3 months following up to us adopting her (what was one more!). Her lastest name was Pepper. I thought it was too generic so we went through the longest processes of trying to find a name we both liked. Finally we both decided on Juno (named after my BF's keyboard brand). It's stemmed off to us calling her June or June bug most of the time though which totally fits this slender, shinny black, femine looking mutt! She picked up her new names quick since she's such a smart girl!

Submitted by Poppy's Mama | July 13 2010 |

When I adopted my wonderful black lab mix I perused a list of dog names on a website that I now cannot remember the name of. I wanted something fun, yet with a deep meaning. I was in a state of melancholy after a breakup with a long time boyfriend. My new pup was to be my mate into the forseeable future- through college graduation and whatever was to come.
I clicked on a list of names for black dogs and didn't see anything incredibly inspiring- except for Poppyseed. That was too obvious a name. But Poppy, that was a name that struck me. Poppy flowers are the source of opium and my new friend was surely to be my opiate through what I expected to be a very uncertain time. I can't imagine life without my Poppy and her colorful personality. The name fits her goofy self perfectly.

Submitted by kathleen | July 14 2010 |

My hounds are usually named after favorite authors or singers, sometimes actors. Currently, I have Bailey, who is named after George Bailey, the Jimmy Stewart character in "It's a Wonderful Life." Bailey is a sweet and generous soul and it fits him perfectly. Clooney, a boy, is named after Rosemary Clooney, my favorite girl singer. Clooney is a PBGV and has a lovely singing voice. (My bro-in-law claims that you can't name a boy dog after a female. So he calls both my boys George.) Aggie was named after Agatha Christie. She is one of the smartest dogs I've ever had--or at least she has convinced me that she is.

Over the years, I've had an Olivia DeHavilland, a Bronte, a Sophie Tucker, a Dinah Shore, and a Ginger Rogers.

I always love hearing how people name their dogs. It's such a creative process.

Submitted by Jennifer | July 15 2010 |

When we were contemplating names for our dog, my husband and I knocked around a number of names; strong ones like Thor, Apollo, etc. But as a psych major, there was one name I had always wanted to use - Pavlov. My husband hated it and thought no one would get the joke, so we ended compromising on my next favorite...Freud. It is the perfect name for my wise-looking miniature schnauzer! When it came time to name his "sister", our next miniature schnauzer, it was a no-brainer - Anna - Sigmund Freud's wife. They are the perfect names for the best dogs ever!

Now I work at Southeastern Guide Dogs and very generous donors pay for the honor of naming a future guide dog - it is always interesting and in many cases very touching to hear why they selected the name they did.

Submitted by Barbara Geiss | July 16 2010 |

My black lab is named "Otter" because: We knew he would spend an inordinate amount of time swimming in our pond. His coat is sleek. He's playful and more than a little mischievous, and - of course - as a lab, he has an "otter" tail.

Submitted by Rene Shelly | July 21 2010 |

Because I have a perverse sense of humor, I have been naming my dogs after various female sex symbols. I have had a Raquel (Welch), Dayzimae West (a two for one, Daisy May and May West), and now a Sophia (Loren). I've already decided the next one will be Brigette (Bardot). Just gives me a kick to call my dog by the name of someone who has traded on their looks (Ok, Daisy May is fictional, but you know). How shallow is that!

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