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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's In A Name?

I've been in the veterinary field for about 25 years now, and during that time I have known countless thousands of pets. Most of them have had relatively common names, and honestly not much originality. If you look at the most common or popular pet names in the USA, it breaks down like this (listed in order beginning with the most popular).

Dogs: Max, Jake, Buddy, Maggie, Bear, Molly, Bailey, Shadow, Sam, Lady
Cats: Tigger, Tiger, Max, Smokey, Sam, Kitty, Sassy, Shadow, Simba, Patch

Now, depending on which resource you use, the list may vary a little, but most of these names will show up in the top 5 on any list. Do any of your pets have these names? Then you're in very good company. And I'm sure many people have good reasons for giving these names to their pets. However, as a veterinarian, I find them lacking in originality. Sure, there's nothing wrong with them, and they make great names. But the ones I enjoy are the truly unique ones that you may not immediately know the significance of. These often stick in my memory, sometimes for years.

One of my favorite examples was a cat I saw when I was in vet school. Honestly, I don't even remember why he was being seen, since pets normally only end up at veterinary colleges if it's a difficult case. But I definitely remember his name....Bird Dog. Yes, a cat with this name. Of course, it was a bit of an unusual name, so we asked the owner about it's significance. He said that when Bird Dog was a kitten, he would look out the window and see something that caught his attention. When he did, he would go stiff, hold up one front leg, and point with his nose. Just like a pointer, or bird dog.

In my own family, I try to do unique names. The first pet I ever named myself I called Galahad, a gray and white cat. I love mythology, and wanted something Arthurian. I was going to use Merlin, but his personality didn't seem to fit. My second cat I named Perceval, to keep the theme going. After being married, my wife got a cat of her own, and named him Pooka, after the dog in the animated movie Anastasia (one of her favorite movies). When we got our lab, we mulled over many names, but ended up back in the Arthurian names with Guinevere. A year ago we got a new kitten, and let our kids name it. They wanted Pikachu, since they are fans of Pokemon, but I couldn't bring myself to call a cat that. I talked them into Ash, which is the name of the main character, and the kitten was all black. I've already picked out the name Gimli (from Lord of the Rings) for the English bulldog that I will eventually own.

Clients often have difficulty picking names, and I've had many that will go through different names for the first several visits. When it comes time to your own pets, give it some thought, and don't be afraid to really branch out. If nothing else, your vet will really enjoy the story.

Speaking of that, I'd love to hear yours! Readers, post a comment with your own pets, and how you chose them. Any of you who happen to be in the veterinary profession, feel free to add any names that have really stuck in your mind (like Bird Dog did with me). I'm looking forward to seeing them!


  1. far as the names I've picked for my cats over the years, they have always been related to my fandom in some way. My current cat's name is Pippin (this is because of my favorite character & hobbit from 'The Lord of the Rings).

    I also had a cat named Phantom (after 'The Phantom of the Opera') and Zero (after the pet in 'The Nightmare Before Christmas).

    When I was very young my mother named the cats. At one time there was a French word theme going on with the cat's names so my cat was named Petit (meaning small...which he was far from). I also remember we had a cat named Blue (he was a Blue Point Siamese) and Little Girl.

    I have to agree with the more original names people name their cats. I've met so many Snowballs, Fluffies, Sams, Maggies, Sparky's in my life, its incredible.

  2. I ran a boarding cattery for years... as well as being a vet. My favourite cats name was Horibop.

    We also used to write the cat's name and then the owners surname above the cage...
    the best was for a cat of over 20 years old... "Blue" Mold :)

  3. our cat's name is cloud. she's grey and white, so that's pretty self explanitory i think, lol!

  4. My current dogs (both papillons)

    Toulouse Lautrec (my choice) after the famous french painter and Chris Kringle (Chrissy, breeder chose-as she was a Christmas puppy)
    and our cat Truffle (chocolate siamese) my son chose this name and lastly our cockatiel Cinnamon Isis-grey and white cockatiel.

    My previous cat was Jareth named after the goblin king David Bowie played in Labyrinth and my husky lab cross named Pandora (Pandy for short) and a papillon named Miss Mississippi Belle (Missy for short). I don't know how I chose that one! lol

    My friend named her one sheppard cross dog Caerphilly after Caerphilly Castle and now has a new dog named Tuppence (irish wolfhound).

    I prefer the more unusual names.

  5. Slinkerton Spycat- because she liked to hide behind doors and look out the cracks
    Periwinkle Dustbunny- because she's a fuzzy shade of gray (more blue as a kitten)
    Nutmeg (Nutty)- because he's a psycho orange cat

  6. Josh, shih tzu x my then 6 year old son named. Josh now almost 12 and son 18. Buddy as a nick name.

    Finnegan mini doxi (who I really wanted to name Birdie as in the Disney Movie (no idea which!) where one of the other bird chicks proclaimed the brother "Mama's Little Birdie!", which he so is. Now his middle name).

    Ended up with Finnegan, name of the beloved puppet dog of Mr Dressup; Canadian child tv star hero of my youth :)

    Abigail Fleur, My daughters are not dog people so when one of them showed an interest in the new mini doxie I ran with it. Abby for short.

  7. Ok, so my posting here is only a few years late, but alas...

    During my childhood, I lacked creativity in naming my companions. My first dog was a Cairn Terrier named "Daisy" She was a wonderful friend, full of spunk.

    As I got a little older, I became more creative with naming, but lacked direction. I had a pet rat named "Novias Reign" It had no meaning, it was just a random name I sculpted. Sweet little guy used to love napping in my lap.

    Finally, I began naming my furry friends with both creativity and direction. I rescued a dog from the streets, never been sure of her breed, but vets have guessed shelty/husky mix. I named her "Kshama", which is Hindu for "patience & forgiveness". The meaning fits her spot on and I think the name is beautiful. She has since saved my life on more than one occasion.

    Finally, I got a cat and named her "Achala" which means "unceasing" in Hindu. I gave it some time before I named her, to make sure I had a good fit. She was the most social cat I had ever known, putting some dogs to shame even. She would constantly meow and was always eager to come brush up against you. She only lived to be about 3 years old, unfortunately. I miss her dearly.

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