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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!