What Names Tell Us About...Animals?

Mar 23rd 2011

I look at name trends as a window on our culture and values. Usually, my subject is human names. But can the names we give our pets also shed light on our society, human and otherwise?

I've been pondering that since I was sent a link to a scholarly research paper, titled "Parrots are 'more human' than chickens." The study, by Ernest Abel of Wayne State University, was a brief analysis of names given to birds by their owners. Breeds that normally live in the owner's home (e.g. parakeets, cockatiels, canaries) were more likely to be given common human names than outdoor breeds (chickens, doves, peacocks).

Discover Magazine recently reported on the study in a blog post with "ROFL" in its headline. ("Report" is a generous word, here...the research was published back in 2008.) I can understand the giggles, but I'm not ready to dismiss the research out of hand. Let's take a look at the broader pet name context.

Our image of dog names runs to Rover, Patch and Prince, but that no longer matches reality. The hottest names today are cozy antiques like Lucy, Bella, Max and Sam, and preppy surnames like Bailey and Spencer. In other words, we now name our pets a lot like babies. 

It's a dramatic change from generations past. Bow Wow Meow, an Australia-based pet tag maker that tracks names of its animal customers, reports a huge shift toward human-style dog names over the past 20 years. Max has become the #1 canine name in the U.S. and England as well as Australia. Names like Lucy, Jake and Sam are similarly hot across the English-speaking world.

Now put the two findings together. Human-style names reflect a more human-style role for pets...and the use of human-style pet names is soaring. Does this point to a shift in the relationship between humans and their animals?

When was the last time you met a cat whose primary role was to patrol outbuildings for mice, or a dog trained to herd sheep? The typical American no longer encounters working animals on a regular basis. Even breeds traditionally bred for jobs like hunting, shepherding and guarding are increasingly likely to live as companion animals. My neighborhood is rife with golden retrievers, none of which are asked to do any retrieving.

I retraced the steps of the "parrots & chickens" researcher informally, looking at dog names in the same internet database. Human-styled names seem to be at least as common for the traditional working breeds as for any others. (Styles vary, of course. Bloodhounds are more likely to be called Maynard or Jethro, Dobermans Winston or Shelby. More to come on this!)

This naming shift may subtly affect our attitudes as well as reflect them. Have you noticed that if you bestow a human-style name on an inanimate object, you can't help but treat it more considerately? Now, how much more powerful must that impulse be when applied to a living, breathing creature?

Comments

1
By BetsyinBham (not verified)
March 23, 2011 2:16 PM

One of my favorite quotes, from Flannery O'Connor, on pet names:
"I always thought that if [my mother] had a dog she'd name him Spot - without irony. If I had a dog, I'd name him Spot, with irony. But for all practical purposes nobody would know the difference."

2
By I don't remember my name (not verified)
March 23, 2011 2:24 PM

I know of wonderful people without children with pets. They say that their pet is their child. Maybe this name shift is a reflection of that mindset. Granted, there are many families with both children and pets who also say that the pet is very much family, too.

3
By justagirl (not verified)
March 23, 2011 2:32 PM

It also seems like names "come back" for animals before they do for human babies. I knew lots of doggy Max and Sams before I knew any babies. Example, not statistic, I know, but it's held true in my circle of friends over a couple of waves of popular names -- always meaning that people choosing an up-and-coming trendy baby name have frequently had to decide whether they cared that it was also the name of their friend's cat or dog.

4
By JennieNLI (not verified)
March 23, 2011 2:43 PM

The Name Lady has addressed dog names vs. baby names a couple of times:
Can I Name My Baby After the Dog?
http://www.namecandy.com/name-lady/2010/05/17/can-i-name-my-baby-after-the-dog

Does the Dig Have Dibs on Grandma's Name?
http://www.namecandy.com/name-lady/2010/07/05/does-the-dog-have-dibs-on-my-grandmas-name

5
By Allison (not verified)
March 23, 2011 2:46 PM

We had animals before children. Our dogs (both Chihuahuas) are Marcel & Oscar. They were our first babies and got names to reflect that.
However, we have since added four (outdoor) cats - who happily bring us mice to the doorstep - named Henry, Sasha, Delilah & Luna.

All our animals have distinct personalities and their names reflect that. Sasha is our friendly cat and her informal name reflects that. Henry is our regal cat, hence the royal name.

We've also had two snakes (pre children) named Solomon and Vashti. Biblical Royalty - placing the snakes on a pedestal. A sign to look but don't touch.

6
By Jillc (not verified)
March 23, 2011 2:54 PM

justagirl, I agree -- people I know seem to choose pet names that they consider a little too "out there" for a child. Then, 5 years later, that name is "in".

I read recently about a veterinary clinic that has a check box on their forms:
I am this dog's...
1. owner
2. mother
(or something to that effect)

What do NEs name their pets? We have a dog named Surly (after both the bicycle brand and his temperament).

7
March 23, 2011 3:18 PM

We have a Saint Bernard called EverlyBrothers, usually that is shortened to Everly. I get many a taken a back look at the park from Mums with newborn Everlys or moms "that maybe possibly were thinking of that name", I always say I knew alot more dogs named Max then kids when I was little,and look at Max now, dog names are where awsomeness is found and accepted.

8
By AlsoZR (not verified)
March 23, 2011 3:27 PM

I remeber how much fun it was to help hyz name her chickens. Maybe she can chime in here.

I have 2 hermit crabs. Now of course I have no idea what gender they are but they are named after there characteristic shells and given the gender of the children that own them. The crabs names are Rocky (granite colored shell)and Luna (white shiny shell).

9
By 4boyzmd (not verified)
March 23, 2011 3:29 PM

How funny--I was just wondering the other day if you'd ever looked at trends in pet names! Our dog's name is Snickers--definitely not a name I'd give to a child. We picked the name not because he looks like the candy bar, but because it just seemed to "fit" him.

10
By AlsoZR (not verified)
March 23, 2011 3:39 PM

Here's the link to the "positive" vs "negative" initials article that follows the one Laura references above. We had brought this up a few threads ago but no one could find the reference.
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2010/08/09/ncbi-rofl-whats-in-a-name-part-i-ugh-youre-going-to-die/

11
By Dog Lover (not verified)
March 23, 2011 4:38 PM

My entire life we have named our pets human names. For instance, we had two American Eskimos growing up named A.J. and Tessy and a cat named Callie. Now, I have two dogs, a papillon and sheltie, whose names are Frankie and Jesse respectively.

12
March 23, 2011 5:09 PM

I find this interesting but I think there are logical reasons. Some human names are just so out of style that if you love them you might as well use it on an animal, because dogs don't tease each other based on names. Some of us also name our pets based on pop-culture references. I'll bet a lot of tween girls with new female pets named them Bella.

Here is a list of the names I considered for my dog when I got him 2 years ago. He is a silky terrier and I wanted something rugged and playful. This dog was MY dog but we've had family pets that I didn't get to know.

Hector (reference to an episode of House M.D.)
Indiana -Indie for short(We named the dog Indiana!)
Apollo (I'm an astronomy nut)
Fonzie
Rowlf (The Muppets of course!)
Wicket (The name of an Ewok in Star Wars)
Yoda
Obi Kenobi (Star Wars' Obi Wan Kenobi)
Paul Anka (Reference to Gilmore Girls)
Jethro (reference to NCIS)
Zaboo (Zaboomafoo was my favorite show as a kid)
Loki
Kirk (This one couldn't be more obvious)

Anyway, I ended up naming him Marty Doogie Howser McFly. It's a good icebreaker. My parents were especially amused at my list of names seeing as I wasn't born until the early 90's. I know more 80's trivia then I should.

I still don't know if in 8+ years when I'm having babies my choice will take Marty off the table...

My relationship with my dog would probably be seen as absurd by outsiders. He sits on my hip like a child and always has, he just prefers it. I also have a ridiculous habit of doing the 'mommy bounce' when I hold him. I'm gonna assume that it's because I've been a miniature mommy since I was 8.

------------
My brother got a orange tabby cat for his 6th birthday and named him Lightning because 'it was always his dream to have an orange cat named Lightning'. One of dogs was named Hershey but she was named 10 years before I was born. Archie (the cat) was named at the shelter (but I call him Archibald Oswald just for giggles). Our Collie was named before we got him as well and he answered to Rex.

13
By MW (not verified)
March 23, 2011 5:27 PM

I can definitely see the pet name then baby name trajectory.

I usually tell people that I named my cat for the Beatles' record label (and this isn't entire untrue — it's a wicked cool associated), but really, I just thought Apple was a really great name for a kid, but didn't think ever in my lifetime would I be able to name a baby Apple without getting a lot of flack. So I have a cat named Apple instead.

14
By GuestMissy (not verified)
March 23, 2011 6:35 PM

I see this all the time! We get to name furry babies before we have real babies so the names people love show up on the pets first. When women are waiting longer than ever to have children it makes sense that our maternal instincts are focused on pets. For the record I treated my non human named pets the same as the the human named ones. However I can't say giving my cars human names has helped them any.

15
March 23, 2011 7:02 PM

Coincidentally, I was thinking this over this morning when I was wondering what I'd name a dog. I find mundane human names on pets hilariously incongruous. My friend's cat is named Alan and it's just wonderful. Since my cat's name is Sophie (named in 1996) and that is now a trendy name, I decided that I'd like to name a dog something like Nevaeh or Rihanna.

16
By knwd (not verified)
March 23, 2011 7:07 PM

That's a great point! And I say this as someone who:
1. Named my cat Emma, just prior to the Friends-inspired comeback of that name.
2. Named my dog Bella, with no idea of the impending rise in Isabella / Annabelle / Ella names.

So in picking a baby name, I tried extra hard to avoid anything that seemed to be on the up-and-coming side of a trend! Only time will tell if it worked!

17
By TrixiesMom (not verified)
March 23, 2011 7:36 PM

I have had way more fur babies in my life than children, and love the hunt for a really great name! Though don't we all, that is why we are all here together. My 20-something next door neighbor just named her new dog Austin, and my 20-something friend just gave her son the same name. I have so thought about the blog post about using up a great name on a dog only to find you want to use it on a baby. I also agree we might chose way-out-there names only to find them come into fashion. I have a friends with bassets named Leia, Juno and Dashiell. Terrible names all in my opinion, and way ahead of their time it turns out :-) I had two black cats named Osiris and Tut, and loved those names very much. Now I have a Trixie and a Lulu. My daughter Josie is lucky I used up Tallulah on Lulu or that might be her name today.

18
March 23, 2011 8:32 PM

Oddly or not, we gave our male cats human names (Ricky, Homer, Edgar) and the female cats not-so-human names (Octopuss, Blossom, TashaBear). Our best favorite cat had the full name Edgar Morris Katz (he was adopted from the Morris Animal Shelter and Katz is, well, Katz).

My grand-dogs are Floyd Lamb (a sort of Bichon-ish little fluff), named for Floyd Lamb State Park (which occupies the land where the dude ranch that women stayed at while they were waiting for their quickie Nevada divorces back in the day) and because he is lamb-like in appearance and Bellicose Wolfe, called Bella, an Aussie-ish creature.

My grand-cats are Bogart and Bacall, who came into the family with my daughter-in-law, Dapple, already named when he was adopted and who is. well, dappled (and highly neurotic), and Otis who moved in on his own accord and seemed entirely willing to answer to that name.

If the thesis that fashions in animal names are precursors of fashion in baby names is correct, perhaps we should look for a revival of Homer, Floyd and Otis--or maybe not.

19
March 23, 2011 8:53 PM

reminds me of a recent article in Wired about the need for robots that don't look like humans, especially in military applications - apparently the operators of robots that look human were more likely to kill more civilians, because they start thinking of the robot as making some of the decisions and therefore bearing the moral responsibility

20
March 23, 2011 9:00 PM

Hey there! I haven't been on here in forever. I'm Becky, for those of you who don't know me (I used to comment here a lot), I have three little monsters: Judah Elias, Levi Samuel and Ruth Tziporah (aka Ruthie). Got some really surprising news just last week - Ethan and I are expecting again! We had some trouble getting pregnant with Ruthie, so this comes as a shock! I'm only about ten weeks along (due in mid-October). Ruthie will be one in May, so she and this little one will be about 17 months apart, which is exactly how far apart my younger sister and I am- so it seems fitting.

Obviously I'm starting the name hunt asap. Ethan doesn't even want to talk names until we find out the gender, but that won't be for at least another month or two, and I can't hold out that long! Which is why I'm back here. I figure I'll come up with some ideas to present when the conversation arrives.

I have a few names floating in my head but I'd love to hear some fresh, unbiased ideas from you guys. What would you pair with Judah, Levi and Ruthie? We like old testament/Hebrew/Yiddish/Israeli names, that have a vintage/off-beat vibe and aren't super popular.

I can't wait to hear what you guys come up with!

Ooh, and I have to contribute to the pet convo. When Ethan and I got married he had a miniature collie named Brighton and I had a tabby cat named Salinger. Salinger lives with my parents now, since Ethan has cat allergies. We now have two fish whose names change on a daily basis, a hamster named Stanley (credit goes to Judah, oddly enough) and a yorkie named Fritz- short for Mr. Beauregard Xavier Shnicklefritz- my doing of course :)

21
By Allison Margaret (not verified)
March 23, 2011 9:36 PM

I'm with Sparklenight -- I love those mundane human names on pets. I find that I think popular, non-cutesy names from Generation X and the Baby Boomer generation are the best -- "parent" names, basically. Kevin is my #1 pet name. It's hilarious. I also just though of Maude for a cat, though that's obviously an "older" name.

22
By HeidiHo (not verified)
March 23, 2011 9:45 PM

My name is Heidi and it always kind of bugged me when I encountered German shepherds with that name...which seemed to happen often. Maybe that's why I tend to like non-human names for pets better.

My pets as a kid were Red (dog) and Susie (cat).

23
By TM (not verified)
March 23, 2011 10:45 PM

Sometimes these posts hit close to home! If any of you recall from a few topics ago, I'm expecting and was trying to come up with a sibling name for Julia. (The whole Julia/Diana pairing was discussed!) My husband and I have been liking Lucy, but in the back of my mind I kept thinking, "But is it a dog's name?" Pair that with a bar/grill I recently ate at serving a burger called the Juicy Lucy and I just don't know if I can do it! Thoughts?

24
By Beth the original (not verified)
March 23, 2011 10:56 PM

sparklenight and Alison Margaret -- I totally agree. It's the outdated uber-ordinary 70s names on pets that crack me up -- Steve, Brian, and yes, Kevin and Alan. Especially on cats. My little brother named our cat John when he was 3. We had another one named Frank.

Our cats are Dulcie, quickly renamed "The Penguin," Nellie, and Olive. Olive is the most recent edition and is named for the little girl in Little Miss Sunshine. She is also fat and usually stuffed, like an olive.

When I was a toddler we had a cat named Suzanne La Plume. I never knew why. Then we had a series of dogs with people names: Heather, Harry, Fred, and Molly. The parade of cats and guinea pigs got what were then "old lady" names: Cornelia, Samantha, Sylvia, etc. Then I got pretentious as a teenager and named the cats Rose (a black rose, how exotic) and Daisy.

25
By izzy
March 23, 2011 11:26 PM

@becky: Congratulations!!

Here are some of the names I really like that I think fit with your other children and go with your specifications:
Ezra
Noah
Solomon
Benjamin
Jacob
Joshua
Isaac

Jezebel
Delilah - you could always go with Lilah (a fave!!)
Miriam
Hannah
Leah
Sara/Sarah
Rachael/Rachel

For Yiddish/Israeli/Hebrew names:
Chaya (this is a name I absolutely adore)
Chava/Chana (I love all these "ch" names!!)
Avigail (Avi?I think this would be a fresh alt. for all the abigails running around)

26
March 23, 2011 11:42 PM

Becky-WOW! Congrats! Your little Ruthie and the others I've had the pleasure of "indirectly" getting to know are getting big. I hope a few more of them check back in as you have because THAT's why the board is a lot lighter these days. Anyway, the only name that immediately jumped out at me was Sadie. I don't know if it would work on its own for you but it could always be a nn for Sarah as in older days. Izzy has mentioned a good group of boys names. Benjamin and Joshua are my favs.

27
By Jo Righetti (not verified)
March 24, 2011 12:48 AM

I love that you are now considering pet names. This subject also interests me and I love to hear how people named their pets. I wrote a blog article on this topic... http://petproblemsolved.com.au/blog/2010/11/how-did-you-name-your-pet/

28
March 24, 2011 1:47 AM

The last paragraph reminded me of an interesting study that was mentioned on a podcast I listen to (The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe), in which dairy cows that were given names by their farmers produced more milk. My guess would be that in most cases using names and presumably giving better care to the cows were both effects of a compassionate attitude that already existed within those farmers, but I'm sure the naming helped them become more attached to their animals over time.

I think so much of it has to do with seeing the animal as a unique creature with its own personality versus as a tool that was bred and trained to carry out a specific task, and it is interesting that in some cases the same animals (genetically speaking) have moved from the latter to the former, as you mentioned.

As far as naming pets in general, I (and I think other name enthusiasts) see it as a great opportunity to use guilty pleasure and pop culture names and other names that just happen to be out of step with current fashion and that you wouldn't seriously consider using on a human. And I do think that in some cases human-style names on pets are entertaining because of the irony. A chihuahua named Barnabas Ferdinand III, for example, probably would have been named more for comedic effect than as a reflection of how its owner would name a baby. (It would be interesting to see how NEs differ from the general population in naming pets, especially with respect to whether or not pets' names are pulled from the same lists that would be used for babies.)

My husband and I have a dog (a rat terrier/dachshund mix) and we do consider her a part of the family. Her name is Buffy, after the vampire slayer, and it's a perfect fit for her. I think it's a cute name and it's fun to say (and lends itself better than we ever could have dreamed to a slew of nicknames and modified song lyrics), but I wouldn't use it on a person.

29
By EmRo (not verified)
March 24, 2011 1:51 AM

I breed dogs but my two personal dogs both came with names that for one reason or another I couldn't change, at least completely. My boy is Champ and there is a big superstition in the working dog community that the dog grows to his name. So Champ he is - and it did work! But his "real" name is Kasper because I love it but would never use it on a child. My little girl came as Brylie and it just wasn't (isn't) my style. We decided to keep her first syllable (preferable for call name) and on her papers she got Briar Rose. Win-win!

30
March 24, 2011 3:48 AM

Becky,

One seldom used biblical name I like for girls is Shifra (her sidekick Pu'ah not so much). Also Yocheved, Batsheva, Batya/Basia, Noa, Yael, Avital, Miriam (I have found my name to work well through the various stages of life), Naomi, Sarai, Tamar, Hadassah/Hadas. Less common Biblical names for boys: Gershon/Gershom, Saul, Omri, Asa, Ezra, Isaiah, Gideon, Gilad, Hosea, Aaron. Jerah (I had a colleague named Jerah), Josiah, Simeon, Raphael, Abner.

Some post-biblical but traditional names:

Girls--Shoshana, Tovah

Boys--Hillel, Akiva, Meir, Kalman

Modern Hebrew names--

Girls--Gila, Talia, Vered/Varda (means 'rose' and I really like it), Adina, Ayelet, Aviva, Dafna, Dorit, Liora, Keren, Shira, Ziva, Kelila, Aliza

Boys--Zev, Dov, Gil, Ilan, Lev

Yiddish names--

Girls: Baila, Bluma, Leeba/Lieba (my sister's name), Raisa/Raisel, Sheina/various other spellings (also my sister's name)

Boys: Haskel, Hersh/Hershel, Selig, Sender, Wolf

Another possibility is Moss which is an old form of Moses.

31
By Kjersten (not verified)
March 24, 2011 4:12 AM

My son's name is Oscar and we'd had all the predictable considerations regarding obvious associations to the name before he was born. i.e. will people call him grouch? Will he be associated with Oscar Mayer etc. We decided the lot canceled each other out and named him the name we loved (and still love, love, love). Funny though, we rarely, if ever, have anyone comment on any of those associations. Instead, what's the one slightly negative comment we hear, if any, a couple times a year? "Oscar -- Oh I know a dog with that name!"

32
March 24, 2011 6:52 AM

Congratulations, Becky! No thoughts for you on names, but I'll chime in if I come up with anything.

I have no pets now, but my childhood pets were Mr. Lucky (dog), Orangey, Pumpkin, and Tuxedo (cats), and Rebecca and Josh (gerbils).

33
March 24, 2011 8:04 AM

HeidiHo- I feel our pain,for me its border collies named Jessi,jesse,jessy,jessie.Why Border collies? I have no idea but that always seems to be the case.

My Aunt got a puppy this year and named her Abby, 2 pregnant cousins hate her now..lol

34
By nmab
March 24, 2011 8:19 AM

Our dog's name is a mash-up of my children's names (They made it up). The resulting name sounds similar to one of the Disney princess' names. People often think we named the dog for the princess. Sometimes, I just let them think that.

35
By Amy3
March 24, 2011 8:32 AM

@Becky, congratulations! I liked a lot of Miriam's suggestions. Can't wait to see what you choose.

When I was a kid my family dog was called Agatha (nn Aggie). In the 70s that seemed the most impossibly outdated name there could ever be. My mom was *really* ahead of the curve!

In the early 90s I had cats called Sadie, Chloe, and Abner. Other names I considered were Tess, Linus, and Duncan.

Now I'd rather have a pet with a non-human name. I'm still waiting for the cat I'll call Artichoke!

36
By Beth the original (not verified)
March 24, 2011 11:11 AM

On border collies: real aficionados know that a border collie always has a one-syllable name, like Nell, Fly, Meg, Jack, and yes, Jess. This is so the shepherd or farmer can shout commands to the dog with maximum brevity, like "Come, Fly!" The female ones usually end up nicknamed if they're pets (Nellie, Jessie).

So there you go.

37
By Guest Too (not verified)
March 24, 2011 11:26 AM

Interesting to look at pet names that came before children vs. pet names that came after the children.

Here are the names from some of my friends families:
Pet First
Dog - Gus, Child - Quinten
Dog - Layla, Child - Emily / Jason
Dog - Arlo, Child - Kailyn / Claire
Dog - Eddie, Child - Giada
Dog - Baxter, Child - Cohen

Children First
Dog - Loki, Child - Heath / Geir
Dog - Daisy, Child - Graham
Dog - Tuco, Child - Paxton / Noah

38
By Guest Too (not verified)
March 24, 2011 11:29 AM

I remember being at the dog park a few years back and hearing a lady yelling for "Rocket Dog" at the top of her lungs. She turned around and said, "and that's why you never let your 4yr old name your family pet!"

39
By PJ
March 24, 2011 11:30 AM

I don't really love the practice of giving human names to pets. I think I read in a dog training book once ( the one written by monks) that it's better not to, but I can't remember why. I know a dog named Okra, and I love it. If I could have a dog, which I can't due to my partner's allegies, I would love to have a bulldog named Teapot.

40
By Amy3
March 24, 2011 11:48 AM

@Guest Too, Rocket Dog is also a shoe company! :)

41
By alr (not verified)
March 24, 2011 11:57 AM

I agree with PJ, common human names on dogs just feels off to me. My dogs are Hoss (male German Shephard/Lab mix) and Juneau (female Husky/Rott mix) ... boy would it be AWESOME though if Hoss was the next trendy boy's name.

Becky- Congrats! Love all the suggestions others have given. My favorite for a girl is Miriam. For a boy, I don't believe anyone has yet suggested (my son's awesome name) Ephraim. :)

42
By Yet Another Guest (not verified)
March 24, 2011 12:38 PM

@Becky

Congratulations!

Some great names have already been suggested. One Biblical name I quite like is Kezia(h). She was one of Job's daughter's and has the most, erm, transferable names. My husband's grandmother's middle name was Kezia and I rarely see it used.

I also really like Lillith, which was recently discussed on the board. It's strong and pretty and I love the story behind it.

As for boys, I have to suggest Avner, the name of my youngest son. I prefer it to the anglicized Abner. I'm also a huge fan of Solomon and Emmanuel.

Can't wait to hear what you've been thinking!

43
March 24, 2011 1:21 PM

I agree that the human names for pets make them seem more like part of the family. Once when I was younger I named a pet cricket George and got almost as attached as I had been to my dog and cat!

44
By hyz
March 24, 2011 2:16 PM

Congratulations, Becky! Very exciting! I want to come back and comment on the name suggestions for you after I've gotten some time to think about it.

This is a fun article. I've mentioned before, but for me, pet naming is a place to play with themes and also to use names I like but wouldn't put on a child. So, my dogs all have German human names, my rabbits had British surnames, and my chickens have herbal tea names. I think I can also shed a little more light on the parrot v. chicken comparison, from personal experience. I think it has more to do with the relationship you have with the animal than whether it lives in your house (although those two things are often concurrent). Parrots can be lifelong companions, they talk to you, they bond to you, most people only have one or two of them, etc. Even for pet chickens, most people only expect them to live 5-8 years, and they usually live outside the house in their own little social group and bond more to each other than they do to their humans. For me, the animals I have the closest relation to (dogs) do get the most human names. I had lists of cute noun names under consideration for my dogs, but in the end, I just couldn't commit to any of them because they seemed more like an impersonal label/descriptor (think Spot, Shadow, Bear, etc.--) than a *name* that the dog could grow into and make its own. Now for the rabbits, I just wanted something cute and maybe a bit funny (I liked the little floppy rabbits with the big distinguished names)--it didn't have to be something I had to call out regularly, or really relate to on a deep level. And the chickens are about the same, or maybe a half step behind the bunnies. Maybe also on some level I feel like a dog responds to and connects with its name, so it should be something pleasant and dignified, while a chicken or rabbit has no idea what its name is, so the names are there mostly for my convenience and amusement.

I realize now that I kind of pity dogs with silly or ironic names. I'm not a cat person, but the same might go for them. I recently saw a cat named Lunchbox on another site, and while it's got all kinds of cute hipster irony going for it, it also makes me wonder if the owner was more concerned with creating a hip impression on others than on giving a good name to a cherished pet. Or maybe I'm overthinking it.

I have known barn cats whose primary job is rodent patrol, and they were named things like Kitty, Cat 1, Cat 2, Blackie, etc., so I think the hypothesis holds there. I still think it has more to do with the relationship than the job or where they live, though, because those cats were half feral, and I've known plenty of working dogs and horses who have human (or at least more personal names). Max, Jack, Tilly, Oscar, Felix, Bailey, Daisy, Zoe, Sunny, Charlie, etc. all abound as horse names just like for dogs, and I guarantee you these horses don't live inside. ;)

45
By hyz
March 24, 2011 2:30 PM

p.s. I can't wait to see the next article on dog breeds and naming. I do think that focusing on the breed is a fun way to work a theme into pet names. My dogs are/were Germanic (Doberman and Bernese Mountain Dog), which led to my German name choices for them. I also noticed that some ridiculous percentage of male Berners seemed to be named Kody/Cody, because they reminded their owners of bears (Kodiak, specifically, I guess). And I've noticed that Huskies and Malamutes seem to be dispropotionately called Loki, Mischa, Nika, Sasha, etc.--I guess there's an impulse towards Nordic and Russian names there

46
March 24, 2011 3:50 PM

@Becky! Congrats! If I remember correctly your Ruth is just a few weeks younger than my Eleanor, and I can't imagine being pregnant again already! Yikes! :)

I like a lot of Miriam's suggestions--and I actually think Miriam would sound quite cute as a little sister to Ruth.

47
By JM (not verified)
March 24, 2011 4:10 PM

My DH and I planned and named our future pets well before we did so for children. And, in many ways, these "pets" names are those that we'd name our children if we could get away with it.

We've even know those dogs nicknames.

48
By EVie
March 24, 2011 4:30 PM

My cats have decidedly non-human names, and in the case of Mr. Wiggles, a very silly name. However, he is a very silly cat, so I think it's justified (he is currently climbing around under & on top of my desk and trying to get my attention, but every time I try to put him on my lap, he squirms away—hence the name. He also likes to try to stick his paws into our drinks when we aren't looking).

I think the cats would have ended up with more humanoid names if it weren't for my husband, who prefers non-people names for pets. My preference is for more literary/historical names—for instance, I would love a trio of girl cats named Lilith, Delilah and Jezebel (or if there were boys, too, they could be Lucifer and Beelzebub—Bub for short). I also love some of the no-longer-in-use Anglo-Saxon names for pets. A trio of boy cats could be Cuthbert, Wulfric and Æthelstan. (I say cats for all these because I'm allergic to dogs. But they would work for dogs, too). Some day, when we move into a bigger house instead of our tiny 1-br apartment, I'm going to foster kittens for the SPCA, and maybe they will let me name the litters for them.

I've never had fish, but ever since I took physics in high school and was amused by the fact that the handwritten letter alpha looks like a fish, I've wanted to name fish after the letters of the Greek alphabet—starting with Alpha, then Beta, Gamma, Delta, Epsilon and so on.

49
March 24, 2011 4:48 PM

I have two cats named Grover and Rubie (was "Ruby" until he, um, revealed his true gender to us, but the name stuck, so my reasoning was to change the -y to -ie, because somehow it's more masculine?)

One of the reasons I like using human names for animals, because like a few have already said, it leaves room for the animal to grow into the name and shape the relationship we have with said name. For example, I had a cat named Lucy growing up who lived to be 15. She was most likely abused before we got her, but she was incredibly loving and also tough and intimidating to ever other cat in our neighborhood, even in her old age. So I suppose where some people would interpret "Lucy" as a sweet girl from a quiet English country village, I see it as adventurous, fierce, and fiercely loyal. And that's not to say that these two visions are mutually exclusive, not at all, but without the context of the pet the name would probably seem too demure for me.

Another argument for the pro-people names for pets camps, it really helps those like me who aren't ready to have children go through the laborious yet engrossing task of choosing a name. I can't tell you how many lists I made when naming my cats, but I just really love the process so much, and it would make me sad to only get to go through it 2 or 3 times with actual babies.

Plus I really dislike descriptor names for animals, like Shadow, Mittens, Smoke, etc. They just seem so unimaginative and kind of unfair to the pet. Aren't they more than the color/pattern of their fur?

50
By Sarajane (not verified)
March 24, 2011 5:19 PM

My very pampered, spoiled, working cat is named for his job - Mr Kilmouski. He kills mousies. I remember in college I met a girl with a Yorkie named Sarah. I was very taken aback to find someone with a dog with MY name. At the time I was disturbed by this - now I remember it fondly. She went on to name her kids Jasper, Lacey and Jillian. Jasper and Lacey are former cat names in my family. The circle just keeps going round.