Foreign Languages Inspire Dog Names

Is your dog a citizen of the world?
By Karen B. London PhD, May 2019

As a child, I met a dog named Oso (Spanish for Bear) and learned that the guardian had just spent a year living in Mexico. Oso was the first of many dogs I’ve met in the United States whose names come from languages other than English. Many of those names were inspired by travels to other countries or by strong connections to them.

Spanish names are especially common, which is not surprising given how many people in the United States speak Spanish or have traveled to Spanish-speaking countries. I know a Paloma (translation: Dove) who is owned by a man who visited Peru. He spent several weeks there on an adventure to indulge in his passion for birds. Also receiving monikers from the Spanish language are Jefe (Boss) and Alma (Soul) who belong to different families who met at the park. Their dogs became fast friends.

French names are popular, too, though not as much as Spanish names. Two of the most common names that have been inspired by trips to France sound similar. One of them is Bijoux, which is French for jewels, and the other is Bisous, which is French for kiss. I know a family with two dogs who chose both of these common French names, to the eternal confusion of dogs and people alike in the household.

One family I know gave both their dogs German names after returning from several years living there on a military base. Despite choosing names from the same language, they managed to go in completely different directions in order to suit each dog. One of them was called Erzengal, which is German for Archangel, and the other one received the name Pups, which is German for Fart. My husband grew up with a Whippet mix named Bruno, which means brown in German. It is also associated with physical strength and power, which was a good match for a dog who could jump their six-foot fence by the age of six months.

Many dogs have Japanese names. Two common ones are Aiko, which means love, child, or affection and Sakura, which is Japanese for cherry blossom. In Japan, dogs with this name are almost always born in April because it is the month that these trees bloom. Mochi can best be described as a pounded rice cake and it is not uncommon for pale-colored dogs to be named after this delicious food.

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Daphne is Greek for Laurel Tree. The Daphne I know has a human sister named Laurel who chose the name after visiting Athens for the 2004 Olympics. Ilio is Hawaiian for dog and I have met multiple dogs so named when couples adopted a dog soon after returning from their honeymoon in Hawaii. Mita is Amharic for Little One. The family who has this dog has spent a lot of time in Ethiopia where this language is spoken. Cão is Portuguese for dog, which is fun because it’s pronounced like cow, only more nasal. The Hindi word for lightning, Bijali, is the name of a dog who runs so fast that the family was deciding between Bijali and Flash.

Have your travels or connections to languages other than English inspired you when choosing a name for your dog?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She has authored five books on canine training and behavior.

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