In my case it explains why I celebrate Frankie’s birthday on the 4th of July.

Frankie is a rescue and he came prenamed, after the golf partner of his rescuer’s husband. Frankie’s not a duffer-type pup — although he has been known to pee on the greens at resort courses — but the name nevertheless suited the little guy to a tee. So I kept it.

But of course it turned out to just be the base for the riffs I play on it. Frankie soon became Frankie Doodle, a spin on Yankee Doodle, because I thought he was dandy. And, as the chorus of the George M. Cohan song goes,

I‘m a Yankee Doodle Dandy,

A Yankee Doodle, do or die;

A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam’s,

Born on the Fourth of July.

Not everyone comes with prenamed dogs, however, which leads me to dispense some advice (adapted from Chapter 2 of  AM I BORING MY DOG).

Entire books have been devoted to dog names, replete with etymologies. According to a survey, the most common labels for today’s trendy pup are:

For girls: Lucy, Bella, Daisy, Molly, Maggie, Chloe, Sophie, Lola, Bailey, Roxy.
For boys: Buddy, Max, Jake, Charlie, Rocky, Jack, Bailey, Toby, Buster, Bear

But it’s best to find a name that fits the personality and appearance of the actual dog who has taken up residence with you.

Along with sussing out the suitability of a name to your dog’s looks and personality, other factors to consider are:

  • You will be using the name in public.

Although Sweetcheeks might be endearing at home, you run the risk of humiliation — and of having unsavory strangers respond — if you use it when you’re shopping with your Maltese in Home Depot.

Be careful, too, of sound-a-likes. My friend Clare had always liked the name Venus, which suggested both strength and beauty — until, that is, she heard it used on the beach. It took a while for her to realize that the dog’s owner wasn’t attempting to summon a male sex organ.

The converse holds true, too — that is, you might regret choosing a name primarily for its public effect. I’d always wanted to call a dog “Stella” no matter what the gender — so I could bellow down the street a la Stanley Kowalski. Never mind that I’m not generally a bellower and that not everyone has seen A Streetcar Named Desire. I was convinced it would be an endless source of amusement for me and everyone I encountered.

Luckily, I was saved from my worst instincts when I got a prenamed dog.

  • Irony gets old quickly.

Lots of people think it’s funny to call their Chihuahuas “Tiger” or their Great Danes “Tiny.” One man I pass while walking Frankie always says “Hi, Killer” to my shy, pint-sized guy. I was amused maybe the first 10 times he did it, not so much after that.

  • Pop culture references also get dated, fast.

Except in the case of Elvis. I personally know two canine Elvises (Elvi?) whose owners are generations apart.

  • A name shouldn’t be too long or complex.

Dogs have fairly short attention spans when it comes to language (as opposed to food;  your dog’s gaze might remain fixed on your plate for the entire duration of your dinner). By the time you’re done saying “Titus Andronicus” or “Princess Grace,” your dog will have stopped looking at you and returned to licking his or her privates. One or two syllables — anything you can shout quickly in an emergency — should suffice.

  • A name should not sound too similar to a command.

If you name a dog Don, for example, he will either spend a lot of time in a down stay position or look at you quizzically whenever you try to put him in one.

  • A name should not sound too much like that of a noncanine member of your family.

Unless, of course, you discover that the similarity helps resolve a child’s discipline issues.

  • A name shouldn’t be chosen as a tribute to someone who’s still alive.

What might seem like a good idea in puppyhood can turn dicey if the dog becomes fat and flatulent. It’s also a good idea to steer clear of the recently departed, lest relatives feel their kin has been disrespected.

23 thoughts on “What’s in a (Dog’s) Name?”

  1. Our dog’s name, Mingus, has proven to be a great conversation starter at the park. Mingus’ name comes from the great jazz musician Charles Mingus, although I won’t go so far as to say Mingus was “named for” the bassist. The majority of folks we meet mispronounce our dog’s name as “Mangus” or “Angus”… but every once in a while, upon hearing our dog’s name, there will be a flicker of recognition in someone’s eyes… at which point I usually find myself foundering in a discussion of jazz music, about which I know very little. I then have to sadly admit that I don’t know all that much about jazz, I just liked the sound of Mingus’ name. (Now, four years later, the name “Mingus” fits my skinny, awkward, shy, allergy-prone guy a little too well.)

    With the naming of our second dog, we broke one of your rules — we named her Dottie, which sounds a little too much like “potty”… so we had to modify the “go potty” command to “go pee-pee,” which yes, sounds a little silly in public. Live and learn.

    1. Your Dottie/potty comment made me laugh out loud! I had this image of poor Dottie peeing whenever she heard her name (though I know you would never punish her for the confusion, no matter where she followed the command)….

  2. I named my dog Juno, not after the movie (well, kinda… she had a litter sometime before I adopted her at the ripe old age of 2, pregnant teen!), but mostly because I liked it Luckily she’s really well-behaved or else she would think she’s in trouble all the time ;).

    She a pit bull who also answers to BooBoo, my nickname for her. I’m so lame.

    1. That’s not so bad, since you emphasizing the first syllable of the name anyway (JUno, not juNO). BooBoo is cute! I have so many other names for Frankie, including BatBoy (he has ears that make him look capable of echolocation), Frankfurter, Poodle boy (offshoot of Frankie doodle). He pretty much answers to all of them if they’re said in a certain tone of voice (and if food is involved).

  3. One further bit of dog-naming advice: Do not pick any of the names on the most-popular list. Unless, of course, you want 20 Chloes or Maxes to come running when you call yours at the dog park.
    I read a story once about a man who named his dog Taxi I believe they lived in the country, but he just loved standing in the fields, summoning, “Taxi!’.

      1. I did, and not one cab ever stoppd when I called my pup.
        I don’t know if rebecca has read about me and Taxi but,
        I did name my dog Taxi.
        I thought it would be interesting to hail a cab in the middle of the woods, but it sure got her a lot of attention and good comments.

        Sadly, I had to put her down last week, on nov 11 2011 due to cancer, Taxi was almost 13 years old. Not bad for a First Nation reserve dog! she will be greatly missed.

  4. My first greyhound came with the name Painter. He was black and white (think cow) and he did look like paint exploded on him. I kept the name even though I told everyone I wanted a dog named Asta after the Thin Man’s dog. I could never conceive of Painter as an Asta.

    I failed fostering with my second greyhound. Her name was Birdie and I hated that name. The adoption group said it was a golf term. As I toyed with keeping her, once I called her Lily instead of Birdie and she came to me and the rest was history; she had to be mine. Had I waited a few more weeks, I probably would’ve named her Lucy because she somehow knew that she was staying with me and then her really naughty personality exploded and she was always in trouble like I Love Lucy. Now she’s Lily, Tiger Lily, Lilly-Pilly (also a dessert wine), and Drama Queen.

    1. Painter was definitely not an Asta (you were probably not thinking about greyhound rescue at the time)! And Lily is definitely Lily, a blooming drama queen, not a Birdie (which sounds to me like the name of one of the yentas who used to hang out in Brighton Beach, rather than a golf term. Oy).

  5. And a further bit… think about how it’s spelled. My dog Cedi is named after the Ghanaian unit of currency. I wanted a unit of currency because my older dog was named Nickel. Cedi’s previous name was Sadie. Cedi is pronounced “Seddie.” (At least, that’s how I pronounce it for her.) The trouble is, people who hear it want to spell it “SETI,” and people who see it (you know, all 700 of my best online buddies) want to pronounce it “Seedie.”

    My flyball club has a Bella and a Lola. We had a Lucy before. We also have a Mellie and an Elli, and a possible future member named Stella. New rule for further members: If your dog’s name has “ell” in it, you’ll just have to come up with something different to call him or her at practice!

    1. Ah yes, spelling… another wrench in the works. Well, as someone who is often called Eddie (though my name is spelled with one “d”) I say we’re only responsible for our intentions, not the results/mistakes of others!

  6. My son named our dog. Someone put her in our back yard the year my son turned 16, and we’ve had her since. He’d never had a dog before then. My son is now 26. The dog is nearing 11, and HER name is Clooney, after George. She’s a Schnauzer, so my son picked the name because of her eyebrows. They’re big and full, you know. I keep threatening to get a second one, a boy, and name him George so I’d have the full name, but I haven’t. It’s just a funny idea.

    Cute blog.


    1. Thanks for your comment, Jackie. I hope Clooney the Schnauzer continues to live long and prosper (even without George for company)!

  7. My boyfriend named our black lab Solitude, mainly after the ski resort in Utah, but partially because he thought it was a peaceful and meaningful name. I disagreed at first but came around just before we picked her up and granted her the name. We get so many comments and opinions from strangers all the time. It’s about a 50-50 on those who like it and think it’s pretty counter to those who think it’s an inappropriate name for a sociable, happy puppy. We have shortened it down to Sol, or Soli, when we call or talk to her. I’m happy we named her Solitude if not for the conversation piece but for the sheer uniqueness of it, as we have yet to come across another pup with her name.

    1. A dog named Solitude. It sounds like the title of a novel, or perhaps a film in the noir tradition…. I like it, very evocative, even if your pup doesn’t fit the profile!

  8. i rescued my first dog and she came to me as “Pinkie”…(no dog of mine will ever be named pinkie)…so i went through the list…inky, stinky, winky, dinky…nothing fit…(thank god)
    after about a week of Pinkie with no name…it came to me…”Punky”…that was it….and then it was Punky Brewster…it fit…she also became little dog, and many other names of endearment…she went everywhere with me for the next 14years

    1. I love that solution to the Pinkie problem — close in sounds but oh so far in spirit! It sounds like you and Punky had a terrific run together.

  9. Personally, I don’t believe in giving animals human names– and then I went ahead and did it, though on my blog he’s simply Our Best Friend (or OBF). There have been one or two dogs at the dog park with the same name, but more embarrassing, I”ve met people there with the same name. It’s also the name of a close friend’s nephew. I almost wish I’d named him Fido.

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