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What’s In a Name? Naming Your Dog

By: Virginia Wells

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A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.
                                 Book of Proverbs

Some people believe that names can affect the way people behave and how they feel about themselves. Puritans believed this and gave their children names like Felicity and Obedience in hope that the children would live up to their names. But could the same thing be true of dogs? Would you feel as comfortable petting a dog named Killer or Psycho as you would petting Waggles or Molly? Choosing the name for your dog is an important decision, but along with showing off your originality, perhaps you should try to capture the essence of your dog, too.

In the past we tended to name our dogs based on some physical or personality trait, like Spot or Rover. However, today we think of dogs as real family members, and the latest trend is to give dogs human names, names that we would give our children. According to the ASPCA's official list of top 30 pet names, the two most popular names are Max, Maxie, Maxwell or Maxine, which means "the greatest" in Latin, and Sam, Sammie or Samantha, which means "listener." Scanning the list you will also find Buddy, Ginger, Jake, Maggie and Charlie, a list not unlike a grade school attendance roster.

But not every dog is given a human name. The list also contains some tried-and-true oldies that are still popular, like Lady, Buster, Patches and Pepper. And these names give you an idea of the dog, either his personality or appearance.

Dog names arise from many popular categories. For example, movies and television have inspired such names as Beethoven, Radar, Scully, and Rocky, while the arts have given us Beowulf, Bronte, Plato, Elvis and Mozart. Chanel and Calvin materialized from the fashion world, and geographically speaking, Dakota, Sydney and Paris are also on the map.

But let's not forget about the dog's personality. Names that reflect the very nature of your pet may be the way to go. After all, we probably have a pretty good picture of a dog that's called Mayhem, Frisky, Adipose, Morpheus or Couch Potato.

How do you go about naming your dog? You might want to observe your new pet for a few days and see if the personality suggests a name. But, for a start, keep the following tips in mind:

  • The general sound and rhythm of the name is important. You will say it and your dog will hear it over and over again. If the name is too long or too difficult to say, your pup will become confused or lose interest by the time you get to the fourth syllable.

  • Choose a name that your pet will easily recognize. Some experts say the ideal name is two syllables ending with a vowel sound, like Sami or Lassie.

  • Avoid names that sound too much like standard commands. For example, when you call Snowy or Joe, your dog might only hear "No."

  • Pick a name that will be just as appropriate once your pet is full-grown. A pup named Damage or Havoc may eventually grow up to be a quiet, stately dog.

  • Pick a name that you will be proud to call. Shadow or Molly might be less embarrassing than Ooga Booga or HeyYou.

    Once you have named your dog, be sure to use it often so he will learn it quickly. But remember, you want your dog to like his name. Try to use it only when you are playing with him, petting him, hugging him or trying to get his attention. Don't use it when you are angry or reprimanding him. If you raise your voice every time you use his name, he won't come when you call.

    Dr. John Wilson, a veterinarian in Ireland believes that naming a dog is serious business. It's a major family decision to find the correct name. Wilson says, "Creativity, aptness, sensitivity, nastiness and, in some cases, a sense of humor can be involved in naming the pet."

    Then he adds, "Picking the name is an art form."

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