The naming game

By Julie Hill

I suspect that the two things that take the most effort with a new puppy are toilet training, and choosing a name. What’s your dog called, and how long did it take you to decide? The name is important. You’re going to have to say it a lot and in public it can reveal a lot about your attitude to your dog, what you expect him to be, plus it’s got to be fairly short and snappy so he recognises it. To paraphrase Shakespeare – and to paraphrase him badly – would a dog by any other name smell as much?

In past times choosing your dog’s name was simpler. There was a fairly well defined, albeit limited set of names that were suitable for a dog. Spot, Rover, Blackie, and so on. Nowadays of course we often tend to give our dogs more human names, and increasingly there is less difference between the top ten dog names and the top ten baby names.

Humourous names can be a safe option, as you can claim you intended the name ironically if it attracts criticism. Obvious examples are Tiny for a Great Dane, or perhaps Brutus for a Chihuahua. While surfing the net I came across the novel suggestion of Willu. This works well with commands, such as “Willu come here?” or “Willu leave it?” The Comeidan Steven Wright offers the amusing suggestion of Stay. This of course doesn’t work well with some commands – Come here stay, come here.

Naming your dog after something can be easier. You can use a person, animal or event as inspiration cutting down on the amount of thinking you are required to do. The latest trend is borrowing a celebrity name. One of the drawbacks with following a trend of course, is that one day you may be standing in the park shouting, Britney, Brangelina and so on and be stampeded in the rush.

I have a theory that the name you give has an effect on the dog’s character. Nominative Determinism; they grow into their name. For example a Buster may well develop a boisterous, rambunctious nature, while perhaps a Clarence might well have a gentler temperament. With this in mind our dogs’ names were very carefully thought through.

When we were thinking of a large shaggy Leonberger, Bungle was our favourite. This was after a children’s television character who was a bear. We hoped this would encourage the bravery and loyalty of a bear, while keeping the child friendly aspect. However Bungle just didn’t seem right for a Labrador, and so after a rethink we chose Buddy. Although I hadn’t met a Buddy before ours, I have since met or heard of so many it is a good reminder of what most of us want from a dog – a friend. Star was almost Sweetheart, but Jenny decided on Star as she could then customise bedding, collar and all accessories with stars, practical you see.

Or is it, because in our house we have developed a bad habit of playing with our dogs’ names, of tweaking names to show affection. For example Buddy will often be Buddy-wuddy, Budge, Budley salterton, and so on. The worst victim of this habit is Star. She has a good name and is little and cute, so she becomes, Starry, Starry-woo and I’m afraid Starry-warry-ferrari.

Embarrassing but true.

At this point my husband insists that I make it clear he does not indulge in this namby pamby nick naming nonsense. However I can tell you he does. He just chooses different terms of endearment. His sweet nothings are more likely to be Smelly dog, or wet dog or noisy dog depending on the situation. While it is difficult on a family show to give you the full flavour of his approach I will do my best. I typical exchange between him and Buddy might be “Oh you *&%$! dog you’ve got my *&%$! socks a *&%$! gain!” Fill in the *&%$! as you see fit.

Whatever name you consider blessing your puppy with one thing must be remembered – other people will hear this. You may already have considered that you will have to call it loudly in the park, but bear in mind this scenario. You will be sitting in the veterinarian’s waiting room, your fellow patients will have thus far regarded you as normal when over the tannoy comes “Tricky-wicky-woo Hill to room 2 please”, and suddenly the short stroll across the waiting room becomes a walk of shame.

Be sure to look after yourselves and your dogs – whatever they’re called!