Fido is a generic name many people use when referring to any dog. It’s a Latin word that means “to trust, believe, confide in.” However, there are few references to the name throughout the pages of time, and it’s not a name found on those “most popular dog names” lists – except briefly during one period in history. So if Fido has never been popular, how did it become a common name used to mean any dog? To answer that question, we have to go back to the election of our 16th president, Abraham Lincoln.
Suffering from bouts of depression that made it difficult for him to work, Lincoln found comfort with his pets and they became a lifeline that pulled him out of his darkness. He was passionate about animals throughout his life, with a special fondness for cats, and was an outspoken advocate for animal rights as well as human rights. Lincoln served one term in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1847 to 1849, returning to his law practice after leaving office. He stepped back onto the political stage at the 1860 Republican National Convention to accept his party’s nomination to run for president.
Fido’s story, however, begins in Springfield, Illinois in 1855. Lincoln rescued a medium-sized, yellow retriever/shepherd pup he named Fido. The pair became inseparable and were commonly seen strolling around town together. Fido had the run of the house, much to the disapproval of Lincoln’s wife, Mary Todd, who wasn’t fond of animals. She bristled when Fido tracked mud through the house, and wasn’t amused when he claimed a horsehair sofa as his. But she tolerated him, and for five years Fido lived a carefree life – until 1860 when Lincoln won the presidential election.
It’s not uncommon to use a generic name for a dog when you don’t know his name, or when talking about canines in general. The generic name Rover has been used for quite some time, but it’s never shown up on a list of popular dog names, which surprises a lot of people. So how did a name that has never been popular become a common name we use to mean any dog?
It began with a 6½ minute movie during the early years of filmmaking. In 1905, Cecil Milton Hepworth produced the first movie starring a dog, “Rescued By Rover.” It’s a simple film, especially when compared to today’s blockbusters, but the story line is believable. It’s considered to be a groundbreaking contribution to film history because the dog is the star, and the story unfolds in continuous frames that create a smooth transition from scene to scene, which is how it’s done today.
The star of the movie is Hepworth’s Collie named Blair, a handsome dog who looked like Lassie, playing the lead role of Rover. The scene opens with Blair and Hepworth’s infant daughter sitting next to a fireplace. The baby’s nanny enters the room to take her for a walk in her stroller. During the walk, the nanny runs across a soldier and stops to talk with him. While she’s distracted, a drunken beggar woman runs off with the baby. Distraught after finding the infant gone, the nanny rushes back home to inform the parents.
Most of us put a good deal of thought into what we’re going to call our new pet. Usually, their name reveals something about our own interests or personality. I get a kick out of learning what my friends call their pets. Here are some of the funny pet names they shared with me.
My friend Wendy used to walk with a lady on the beach who named her dog Taxi. Every time she called her dog, people thought she was a nut, going down the beach yelling “TAXI!”
Laurie has two cats that are brothers…Isaac and Figg, you know, the Newton brothers. And Patricia’s mom had a dog named Seiko. Can you guess why?
Sports related names include Tiffany’s dog Kobe, because she’s a big Lakers fan. Caren’s beagle mix is named Philadelphia: Philadelphia Beagle (her husband is a Philadelphia Eagles fan).
Ken once had a black cat named Demon and the cat’s mother’s name was Deacon – named for the fighting Demon Deacons of Wake Forest University. His current cat is named Kasay after the ex-kicker on the Carolina Panthers football team.
One of our dogs, Big Al, is named after the University of Alabama football team’s mascot.
The names people give their pets fascinate me. Not just the names, but the reason behind the names. For instance, our all white dog is named Frosty and I believe the name is self-explanatory. My husband named our second dog Big Al because we like Alabama football (Roll Tide) and their elephant mascot is named Big Al. Not wildly original, but that’s the back story.
The list of popular pet names was recently updated and the top spot for dogs and cats was Bella, undoubtedly because of Twilight. On one list, Bella was the 3rd most popular name for birds and exotic pets. Another pet name that ranks high on the list is Max. Names like Max and Lucy are often used in children’s picture books, and kids help name the family pet so that stands to reason – Max is the hero’s name in Where the Wild Things Are. Live Science reports that humanlike names like Charlie or Lucy are popular for dogs, while unisex names like Shadow and Smokey, describing physical traits like color, currently rank high for cats.
These reports are all very interesting, but I decided to tap into my bevy of creative friends. I asked a simple question: what is your pet’s name and why?
Literary characters, musicians, and television or movie characters
Starr’s boys named their dog Marley after Bob Marley, and Juniper named her attention-loving cat Ziggy Stardust because she’s a David Bowie fan. One of Cathy’s dogs carries the name Ozzy because her daughter was a big Ozzy Osbourne fan. She has another rescue dog with beautiful deep eyes that she fell in love with immediately so she named him Rudy, after Rudolph Valentino.
Pet names are kind of funny sometimes. Most dogs get their names when they are puppies, and once they grow up the name may or may not fit their personality. The same is true for cats. I once named a kitten Chicken because she was scared of everything, but after she got used to the family there was no fear in her! So how do you choose a dog name that your puppy can grow into? It’s a guessing game really, and the idea is mainly to pick a name that he will understand, that you like and that rolls off your tongue easily! Julia Williams has offered up some great suggestions in “How to Pick the Perfect Name for Your New Pet.”
Do you have a really big dog that maneuvers about as well as a bull in a china shop? Was he the runt of the litter and you despaired of him every growing big and strong? If so, he may have a name like Tiny or Baby. You can’t change his name after he grows big so his name may be a bit of a misnomer, but it’ll make a great story when people ask!
Some dogs have such a strong personality when they are puppies that the name you give them based on their personality will fit even when they are grown. Bruiser may be the moniker tacked onto the biggest pup in the litter as he tramples the others to get to his CANIDAE dog food. That “leader of the pack” mentality tends to stick with a dog, and he’ll likely have a personality that matches his size.
Dog owners sometimes name their dogs based on physical appearance, but this can change a great deal as the dog ages. I recall a Pit Bull puppy we had years ago – at 8 weeks of age he hadn’t grown into his feet or his coat, and when he sat down it looked like his pants were wrinkling around his butt! Luckily I didn’t name him Saggy or Clumsy, because although he always ran a bit sideways, he grew into his feet and his coat, and there was nothing saggy about him. His name was Max, and he was loyal, loving and very fit.
Growing up, I had lots of dogs as pets, but it wasn’t until I was 18 years old that I picked out my very first puppy of my own. He was a mixed-breed puppy, blond with a stripe of white on his forehead (see photo at left). I’ll admit he was spoiled, and I named him Twinkie.
Yes, Twinkie. That’s right; I named the poor little guy after those delicious cream-filled sponge cake treats. Why did I name him Twinkie? My brother made the comment that he looked like a Twinkie due to his blond fur and the white stripe. My immature teenage mind thought “Awwww, Twinkie! That’s such a cutesy wutesy wittle name for the puppy wuppy! *squeal*”
Looking back, I can see that my choice of name for this little guy doomed him to being the butt of every doggy joke, and friends and family alike viewed him as a frou-frou dog, even though he wasn’t – all because of his name. He developed a little dog attitude that said to the world “Pamper me. I am the sweet Twinkie baby!”
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