People have a myriad of reasons why they give their dog a particular name. Some names are tender and touching, others are downright funny. They may be carefully thought out or suddenly occur in a light bulb moment. Whatever the reason behind each moniker we give our loved canine companions, they are forever saddled with our choice. Dogs don’t seem to mind what their name is though, as long as we love them.
My friend Donna has a dog named “Gizmo.” If you are a movie buff you will recognize the name from the movie Gremlins. Her “Gizmo” looks just like the fictional character.
My second dog “Kira” was named after a couple of movie characters I loved. She got her name from the flying Gelfling in the Muppet-style movie The Dark Crystal, and after the muse Kira who came to Earth and fell in love with a dancing human in the movie Xanadu. Considering her human grandmother was a small screen celebrity, Kira had to have a name that tied her to the cinema world and my love of a good story.
Karen’s dog “Felipe” is named after her favorite place on earth – San Felipe, a small fishing village in Baja, Mexico. With her dog named after her loved second home, the warm town is always with her, even from far away.
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.
Picking a name for a pet is a ritual all pet owners go through. Sometimes a name is chosen based on the pet’s personality, or a name suddenly pops into your mind. Famous people, pop culture, cartoon characters and sports figures often have an influence in picking a name. Ultimately, it’s a personal preference when it comes to the psychology behind picking a name for a pet.
One of my cats, Jabbers, got his name because as a kitten he was constantly talking to me. He has lived up to his name and continues to jabber for his CANIDAE cat treats, or when he feels a need to correct one of the dogs and also whenever I call his name. We’ve had some interesting conversations over the years. I just wish I knew what he was really saying to me.
I was curious about how my neighbors and friends picked their pet’s name, so I asked some of them to share their story. Here are a few:
“Our dog, Wolfy, is a toy Yorkshire Terrier. He has extremely large ears for a Yorkie, so when I sent his picture as a little three month old pup to my boyfriend, he came back with the name Wolf because of ‘my what big ears you have.’ Not named for viciousness, just for big ears. We also have a 17 year old tabby cat. When we first got him, we were told he was a girl, but a week later discovered he was a boy. We named him Carrot because he was very orange.” – Kali Armstrong and Buck Lia
“We named a kitten we rescued from a dumpster Minnie because she was very tiny when we found her. She was only 5 weeks old. We also like Minnie Mouse and Minnie Riperton. She was like both of them rolled into one with her personality, so we thought it was very fitting.” – April Paul
“I found my cat in a garbage bin looking for food. I remembered my last cat and how harsh consonants grab her attention. All of a sudden while looking at her, Kiya popped into my head.” – Shan-Lyn
“Our dogs are Milou, a Shilo Shepherd, and Sherlock, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. We seem to name all of our animals after literary characters. Milou comes from the French Tintin comic books. We also have a black and white cat named Watson, and a black cat named Hobbs, who (naturally) had a brother named Calvin.” – Sandra Caldwell
“Mickey got his name because his tiny kitten meow was more of a squeak, like a mouse. I chose the name Rocky for my other boy because although he was in bad shape when I rescued him, I could just tell he had a fighting spirit. I decided to name my other rescue kitty Annabelle because she was essentially an orphan, like Little Orphan Annie from the comics.” – Julia Williams
“We named one of our dogs Big Al because we are huge Alabama football fans and the team mascot is an elephant called Big Al. Our Big Al is a three year old rescue dog, a mixed breed from the bully breed family. He was in pretty bad shape when we got him. He had heart worms, a collapsed trachea and other things, but now he’s as fit as can be.” – Langley Cornwell
“Gunner and Eva are three year old German Shepherd siblings. The first time we saw Gunner, half of his body was in the food bag. When he would come out of his crate it was like a shotgun blast – especially during feeding time – so that’s how he became Gunner. For my other dog Eva, I was looking at a picture of Eva Longoria and I thought they had the same big brown eyes. Eva is so beautiful, but she’s very feminine and I just thought she needed an older name like from the 1940s. It’s sweet, it’s beautiful and has pizazz. We also have three rescued cats. Lucky was found by my son in a junkyard. She was really lucky he found her. Now she sleeps all day, and eats, and is very particular (she only likes to drink bottled water). Max got his name from Mad Max and the Thunderdome, because when he was a kitten his favorite thing to do was to run across the room and throw himself against the wall, and then lie down. He’s crazy! Roy is named after a character in the TV series Arrow. The character is sort of an underling who messes with the main character, so Roy got his name because he likes to mess with Mad Max.” – Michelle Allen
What’s your story? How did you pick your pet’s name?
Photos by Linda Cole
Top to bottom: Jabbers, Wolfy; Milou & Sherlock; Gunner & Eva
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.
It’s always fun to hear how people picked the name they gave their pet. For starters, there are plenty of great stories about how a pet got their name. There are numerous tales of the inspiration behind a certain name, and just as many stories of names that fit a pet’s personality or names that just ‘clicked’ when someone saw their pet. Sometimes the name we pick means something to us or stands for something, and other times we just like the sound of it.
Regardless of how a pet got their name, I have yet to hear anyone say they picked the wrong name for their dog or cat and decided to change it later. No matter what name we decide upon, it’s seems as if we just somehow know it’s the right one, and it fits. This reminds me of a story about my own name.
When I was born, my mother named me Julia and put that on my birth certificate. However, a day or so later she changed her mind and decided to call me Julie instead. All through my childhood, I disliked my name. I felt it didn’t ‘fit’ me somehow, but didn’t know why. I wasn’t aware that the name on my birth certificate was different than the one everyone knew me by. I eventually found out, and decided I would rather go by Julia.
Once I decided to be Julia instead of Julie, my name instantly felt like it fit. Now, you might not think one little letter would make a difference, but it did. What I realized was that my mother had known the ‘right’ name all along! Thus, I believe that when it comes to picking the right name for your pet, all you really have to do is trust your first instinct.
The great thing about naming our pets is that we can choose any name that floats our boat, no matter how oddball it might be. No one’s going to stop you. Well…that’s not entirely true. When I was 4, we had a yellow kitten I desperately wanted to name Blackie, but my family nixed that idea. In my young mind, I saw nothing wrong with the name and was very upset. Now that I’m an adult and can choose any pet name I want, I have two black cats – and neither one is named Blackie! Go figure.
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.
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