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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.

 

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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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