bichon in upholstered chair
At arrival, the bichon was a tiny ball of white fluff. The family's young son felt the bichon needed a name that would make up for the dog's diminutive size, and called him Titan. Wouldn't Fluffernutter have been a better choice for the small fluffball? Photo by Jennifer Smith.
What’s in a name? Does your pet care what its name is? What name would it give itself if it could?
Pet names are a personal thing, or so we think. But ask any veterinarian about pet names they’ve encountered, and the stories abound. We’ve likely heard them all: funny, embarrassing, cryptic, borderline obscene. There are several rules about naming pets that seem to emerge when you talk to veterinarians.
Kids naming pets - not even once: Never, ever, ever let children name pets. Ever. No exceptions. Even if you promised them when they get their first pet they have naming rights. Don’t even enter that negotiation. If they aren’t old enough to vote or drink responsibly, they’re not old enough to bestow monikers on family members. You need to reserve full veto power or you’ll end up with the pet equivalent of Boaty McBoatface or Bridgey McBridgeface. (Although, Doggy McDogface does have a bit of a nice ring to it.) Think of common names like Blackie, Midnight, Goldie, Spot, Flash, or Star. If your kids come up with one of these, challenge them to flex their creativity muscles and come up with something that won’t cause 15 dogs to come running when yelling their name out at the dog park.
Or even worse, the Disney effect (Elsa is a double-whammy, hitting both the "Lion King" AND "Frozen"). Of course, there’s the vampire craze, which is thankfully mostly over now. How many Bellas are out there because of that cursed "Twilight"? Perhaps the worst are the unholy portmanteaus, those amalgams of pediatric nomenclature – Mr. Skittles Pumahead Doodle (each name partly assigned by one of the three children).
Dawg-gone-it, you’re just not that punny. Your funny pun, or a riff on the word dog or cat, may not be as original as you’d hoped. Your veterinarian has probably heard them all before. Doaghee, Dow-gee, Dee-o-gee, Deeoghee. D.O.G., Kit-Cat, have all been done to death. Even in another language (Animosh is Ojibwe for dog), they’re still not as funny as Doggy McDogface. Resist the temptation.
Lenny Bruce you’re not. Got a pet that’s one leg short? Please, don’t call it Tripod. Feeling rebellious or a little saucy? Please avoid Shithead even if you are fan of the movie “The Jerk.” Ditto Sluttycat, Pussy Galore, or any other pejorative. It’s not funny and probably will cause someone some serious discomfort when the veterinarian or technician are calling for your pet in the waiting room.
Some cryptic puns are funny…but not all. A cat named Meow Zeh Dong. Now, that’s funny, especially if he has a 5-year plan. I recall a patient named Nunyette. Why Nunyette? Because when asked if she had a name, the owner’s response was… (wait for it)… “None yet.” Funny? You decide. Or consider the case of Nonee. Why Nonee? Because the owner had “no need” for another cat (of course, they could always claim that it lifted was from the Shakespearean sonnet “Hey Nonny-Nonny"). How about Mandu? Clearly, this name belongs to a cat. It’s a way-homer, even for the veterinarian.
I could go on and on about silly dog and cat puns. And since you can’t stop me, I will: The Dalmatian named Harry Spotter. Two hunting dogs called Georg Friedrich Houndel and Wolfhound Amadeus Muttzart. Clearly, the owner is a classic music buff as well as a hunter and well-versed in the art of the pun. Or the Russian literature major whose cat went by the name Alexander Pusskin (and his housemate Boris Dogunov). Three small terriers called Genghis, Attila and Hannibal, collectively known as the Mongrel Horde. What about a bonded pair named Frank and Stein? What would you call a pot-bellied pig? Hammy Faye Bacon, of course. Feeling a little political? Henry Kittenger. A Sphinx cat named Brazilian. Give it a sec.
Cryptic names can be amusing in moderation. Privilege was a white male cat. Get it? The one female dog in a family of males was called Tidelnyne (sound it out). Aureus means gold. So why call a Staffordshire terrier Goldie in Latin? It’s a little perplexing until you realize that dad is a bacteriologist (Staff. Aureus). Leucine (“No, it’s not Lucille, doc”), named after an amino acid, belongs to a nutritionist. Molly was a chemist’s dog. Full name? Molybdenum, a chemical element. The owner of a local bike store named his two Labradors Chainring and Sprocket. A Dachshund was called, rightly, Delicious Sausage. Another pair of Dachshunds were called Nathan and Sabrett. They seem painfully obvious (hot dog brands in some parts of the U.S.), but, nonetheless, funny. I once knew a dog called Devo. No need to guess that Devo was a whippet (that’s not only cryptic, but a great pun as well!).
Unintended consequences: Consider your last name when naming your pet. Fluffy, George, and Lady all take on a particular connotation when the owner’s last name is Bush. If your last name is Jobs, you might veto your husband’s attempt at funny when he suggests naming the dog Blow; better to go with Steve on this one. However, the names of Mr. Wray’s cats, Manta and Light, were deliberately chosen to meld with his last name, as was his parakeet Fay. So were Ms. Homer’s two cats, Iliad and Odyssey.
Do your pet and yourself a favor and never, ever, ever name a pet Lucky. Lucky is destined to have a miserable existence, punctuated by frequent visits to the veterinary office for serious maladies and annoying chronic complaints. Lucky will develop intractable diarrhea or incontinence. Lucky will manage to contract ringworm and fleas and transmit them to your children. Lucky will invariably be hit by a motor vehicle, have its tail caught in a door, and develop some slow, progressive terminal condition. Lucky is never lucky.
Then there are names that are situational. The adopted black stray cat that got caught under the hood of a car and needed to have its fractured hip repaired? Dipstick. And then there’s Stump, who was found tied to a stump and so named. Turned out he was about as bright as, well, a stump. But he was a happy Stump. So happy, in fact, that he injured his tail wagging it into things, and required a tail amputation, which left him with – you guessed it – a stump.
So when you have a new non-human member of the family, think carefully about the name you bestow upon your beast, lest your veterinary staff roll their eyes at yet another Rambo, unless, of course, Rambo happens to be a fluffy white Netherlands Dwarf rabbit, which is just plain hilarious! To paraphrase Groucho Marx (and his dog Karl): Naming pets is easy…comedy is hard.
VIN News Service commentaries are opinion pieces presenting insights, personal experiences and/or perspectives on topical issues by members of the veterinary community. To submit a commentary for consideration, email firstname.lastname@example.org.