Pet Name Trends: The Changing Names of Cats and Dogs

Mar 1st 2012


I was recently given the best kind of name-geek treat: a peek at a whole new data set. Vetstreet.com mined its records to find the dog and cat names that have risen and fallen the most in popularity over the past decade. (You can read Vetstreet's report on the rising and falling names, including comments from me, on their site.)

I've seen other lists of popular pet names, and even compiled some myself. It's clear that pet names are increasingly chosen from the world of human names, with Max and Lucy supplanting Spot and Fluffy. But looking at the specific names that are trending up and down is revealing -- about how we view our pets, and about how we view different kinds of names. Looking at the Vetstreet trends as a whole, here are some of the big themes I see:

Which Animals Are Most Human?

Both research and intuition suggest that giving an animal a human-style name generally points toward a more human-style role for the pet in the family. Based on names, then, dogs are treated as more human than cats. (Supporting this idea: the phrase "my dog is my baby" yields four times as many Google results as "my cat is my baby.")

That difference used to be a huge one, with descriptive names like Snowball and Patches and cat-specific names like Tigger and Tabby dominating the feline arena. Since the year 2000, though, the dog-cat gap has narrowed dramatically. If you look at the top 10 names for male and female cats today, 14 of the 20 are also common human names. For dogs, the number is 15 of 20. The fastest-falling cat name list is packed with names like Whiskers, Tiger and Miss Kitty, while the rising names include Henry, Stella and Zoey. Watch your backs, dogs, the cats are on the move.

Pet Sex Discrimination?

The narrowing cat-dog gap looks like a move toward pet equality, but a new gap is rising -- a gender gap. I was fascinated to see that female pet names are trending human much faster than male pet names. The numbers in the previous paragraph showed that 72.5% of the top pet names are common human names. That turns out to break down to 50% of male names, 95% of female.

What's more, single-sex pet names are soaring. The fast-falling names are full of unisex classics like Snowball, Lucky, Whiskers, Pepper and Shadow. The fast-rising names names are almost all sex-specific. In fact, for dogs even the hot non-human names are ultra-macho ones like Diesel, Tank and Thor. Apparently, we want to be secure in our dogs' masculinity.

Looking Past Looks

There's another way to read the movement from Snowball and Shadow toward Diesel and Thor. It's a movement away from physical descriptions of pets, toward names that indicate  personalities or roles. That's yet another sign that pets are viewed more and more as companions and individuals. It's telling, I think, that despite the powerful trend toward human names, Buddy is challenging Max for the #1 spot among dogs' names.

Following Human Name Trends

Here's a graph of the human popularity of the fastest-rising female dog names, made with the NameVoyager Expert Edition:

and the fastest-falling female dog names:

It makes sense that as pet names become more human, they'll increasingly reflect baby name trends. I predict an explosion of pet/baby name conflicts, as more and more couples give their favorite names to their dogs, only to wish for those names back when the time comes to name a child.

Which Names Are Most Animal?

Human names may be going to the dogs, but not all human names. (Have you ever heard "These are our dogs, Kenneth and Jeanette"?) The hottest pet names today are what I call the "Guys and Dolls" names in the Baby Name Wizard book. These are the fun-loving old timer names like Max, Charlie, Lucy and Molly. The Guys and Dolls are popular for human babies too, but a slew of them utterly dominate the pet name space. They're cozy and approachable, perfect for a relationship of simple, unconditional love.

Some of the most popular examples for pets are the choices that push to the style extreme. Among these are ultra-feminine and ultra-masculine names: Lola, Daisy, Lulu; Rocky, Hank, Bruno. To me, that suggest that parents have a major yen for that kind of name but worry about giving them to their children. Pets are the perfect outlet for your naming fantasies.

The other big human name style for pets is preppy surnames. Again, though, not all of them. Preferred surnames for pets end in -er (Tucker, Cooper, Piper) or -y (Bailey, Riley, Brody), but NOT the top human ending -n (Grayson, Landon, Ashton). For that, I have no easy explanation, though it intuitively feels right. Any thoughts, baby name nation?

Comments

51
By hyz nli (not verified)
March 5, 2012 4:38 PM

Thanks for the votes of confidence on our potential future alliteration. :) And PennyX, I tend to agree with you about F, but Farrah Fawcett pulls it off, so maybe it can be done...?

Re: Darlene on Roseanne, I think the name is both a bit anachronistic/uncool and perfect for the show. I think it would've been odd for the Conner kids to have stylish or fashion-forward names for the time. They were down at the heels in a dead-end town, with no major pretensions or aspirations, so it was in character for them to sound a bit outmoded. Plus, how perfect does "Darlene" sound in Roseanne's accent?

52
March 5, 2012 9:02 PM

No no, I totally agree that it worked in the context, it just bothered me to have a teenager named Darlene.

And it's funny because I also remembered something about DJ Tanner being named after her mother, but it seems not to be the case. Apparently her mother's name was Pam. And according to a Full House wiki site that has way more info about the show than I could ever want or need to know, D.J.'s parents wanted to name her 'Farrah' (after actress Farrah Fawcett), but Joey 'saved' her and stopped them, saying, "Hey, we can't name her after a hairstyle".

53
March 6, 2012 1:34 AM

I like people names for pets, though my name (Molly) is very much a dog name for many people. I've actually met more dogs with my name than people. Luckily, I like dogs, and when people tell me they used to or do have a dog with my name, they tend to warm up to me because the name evokes friendliness and warmth.

I think human names on pets allows more personality to flesh out, especially out of style or archaic names. I put a ton of though into naming my two cats, and I think that it helped me a lot for two reasons- 1, it felt like good practice runs for future children, with some fun leeway for more unconventional names, and 2, it broadened my understanding of names I could actually use on said unconceived babies. And it was really really fun.

Also, I'm not one of those people who considers herself a pet mom, or them as my babies. They're more like weird, adorable, shiftless roommates.

54
March 6, 2012 8:42 AM

"They're more like weird, adorable, shiftless roommates"

ilikemints-What a great way to describe the relationship. I feel similarly. Molly is a great name btw, for a pet OR a person.

55
By GRC (not verified)
March 6, 2012 12:05 PM

Hmmm. my Male dog had both a name ending in N and a uni-sex name... Sloan. I guess I buck the trend... Also with the long O it is fairly easy to call him Slooooooooooooooooooooan. Yet, he never comes.

My female cat is named Rudy- another unisex name

56
By mk
March 6, 2012 1:16 PM

I think people names on pets is fine. I give human names to pets because it's the only chance I'll get to use the names I love since I will never have children. I certainly don't think of myself as their "mother" though, that's weird.

I once met a cat with my name. I loved it.

57
By Rayne of Terror (not verified)
March 6, 2012 2:04 PM

Our cats names over the years are: Boyd, Maggie, Groucho, Abra, and Dilly Bar. Boyd was our first pet together and when we started having sons I was quite upset we'd already used that name.

Now we try to give our cats names that are descriptive. Groucho is black and white with a huge white mustache, Abra is short for "Abracadabra -- gonna reach out and grab ya" because she very insistent when she wants affection, and Dilly Bar came to us as Dylan but we changed it to to the ice cream treat because he is so sweet.

Ruby Jean was my grandmother's name and a name I really favored for any girls we might have until we got a 5 yr old dog from the shelter named Ruby. My grandmother hated the name Ruby and my mom theorized grandma had sent us a dog named Ruby from beyond the grave to keep us from bestowing that name upon a child.

59
By Buttercup (not verified)
March 7, 2012 4:20 AM

Growing up our family dog was 'Asta' after 'The Thin Man' movies. As an adult, my family has continued the tradtion. Our current mutt is 'Mr. Smith', another dog character the original Asta played in the 1937 screwball comedy 'The Awful Truth' with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne (although most of the time he is just Smithy).

I know it's a bit of an odd choice, but suits him perfectly. I couldn't imagine him as a fido or sparky, but generally I'm open to any type of name for animals. Of course we also have a cat called Tequila, so I'm kind of all over the place.

60
March 7, 2012 3:11 PM

Oh, Asta, the name that has helped me solve many a crossword puzzle :)

If (and that's a big if) I ever had a pet, I'd probably go the route of extreme human naming. (i.e., A name that I like but that I wouldn't ever use on a child or a name that sounds extremely formal.) Maybe something like what my friend did when she named the sweetest cat in the world Cosgrove. (She was told it was male, which turned out not to be the case, so now she has a female Cosgrove. Oops.)

And it's funny because, while she named her cat Cosgrove, she intentionally chose the absurd name of Pickles for her rabbit, illustrating how she perceived of her cat as being more human-like than her rabbit.

I could see going Greek god or something like that with a pet's name. Culturally, I wouldn't use a name like that because it wouldn't be my child's culture, but I think that the cultural specificity of pet names can be much more lax. It's not like the pet will be a Greek god going to Hebrew school or anything.

61
March 7, 2012 5:06 PM

Speaking of TV shows, is anyone watching the new show "Smash"? It's about putting on a Broadshow centered around Marilyn Monroe's life. The names of the main female characters are completely throwing me off! The 35 year old is "Ivy," while the 24 year old is "Karen." I keep getting those mixed up because I want the younger one to be Ivy.

62
By Lindie (not verified)
March 7, 2012 5:44 PM

My family pets growing up had some interesting names.

Some names of our (all female) cats: Hannibal (historical figure), Alexander the Great (nn Alex), and Bethlehem (nn Beth). My little sister named our current cat 'Lucy Lu' (not after the actress), which morphed into Goose.

Our dogs' names have been much less interesting, and unfortunately not-up-to-us as they were rescued: Budweiser (yes, after the beer), Snoopy, Misty, and Mya.

63
March 7, 2012 7:01 PM

Tirzah, YES.

Which is very odd to me because I look much more like the Karen than the Ivy, yet I feel like they both look more like the other's name.

64
By hyz nli (not verified)
March 7, 2012 11:42 PM

Tirzah--I haven't seen more than a few moments of the show, but I thought the same thing. Also, may just be a personal bias, but I feel like Ivy is more suited to a dark-haired person, not a platinum blonde like on the show.

65
By Nameless (not verified)
March 8, 2012 6:05 PM

For cats and dogs, I follow the trend and use human names but sometimes tend toward more fantastical names I would not use on children. My current cats are Leopold, Kira, Romeo (who had a litter-mate Juliet) and Calypso. Previous pets include June and Jessie, Annabel and Lena, and Oscar.

For my fish, in contrast, I always use themed or descriptive names, like my set of cherry barbs named Strawberry, Tomato, Cherry, Pepper and Raspberry.

66
By ilovewords - nli (not verified)
March 8, 2012 8:27 PM

Oh, TV name anachronism...I have the same issue with "Up All Night." The mom is named Reagan, her best friend is Ava and her baby is...Amy. I keep thinking they should be something like friends Amy and Michelle with baby Reagan (or Ava).

Also...I think pets deserve fabulous foreign names that my thoroughly-white-bread husband and I (along with our thoroughly-white-bread LN) could never pull off. I'm not put off by giving animals non-human names, I just like the chance to play!

67
March 9, 2012 12:11 AM

I feel exactly the same about Up All Night. Amy is very out of place for the baby name. I think if it were Amelia I wouldn't mind so much but my friends my age are Amy's and are the mums. Ava and Reagan as the grown ups just seems weird too. Plausible but just a bit offputting.

68
March 9, 2012 5:02 PM

And it drives me crazy every time the new character, Quinn, a female in her mid-thirties, is mentioned by name on How I Met Your Mother. I mean, yeah, fine, it's *possible* that her parents were totally avant-garde, but only 66 girls were named Quinn the year the actress was born. That's the same number as Ernestine, Kenneth, Nacole, Tommie, and Socorro.

69
March 10, 2012 12:13 AM

Oh yes that Quinn character name is annoying!!

I must say that the worst show of all for names must be Private Practice. The cast of 30-40 somethings sound like they should all be names currently on the playground. I don't mind one or two names that are uncommon for the era the character was born but when they pretty much all are it is very off-putting.

70
By Essy01 nli (not verified)
March 12, 2012 12:08 PM

Great convo going on about TV character names and their appropriateness. I personally don't mind non-historically accurate names on TV... I think that's the magic of TV, everything is hyperreal - names on TV for me, are less about age/era and more about the characters themselves - It's similar in writing I think, character names need to say more than what year they were born, they have to say something about who the character is - can't give a cool hip vibe to a 30 year old character with a name that was cool 30 years ago because it's not cool anymore, he/she needs a contemporary cool name. Unless it's a show like Mad Men which needs to be historically accurate but even then I would be forgiving if the names weren't historically accurate as long as they fit the characters.

But I agree Quinn is a bad name choice for that character on HIMYM - not just because it's not likely she'd actually be named that but because it doesn't suit the character and it is already so present on TV already with Quinn from Glee.

71
By KC (not verified)
March 12, 2012 3:36 PM

I haven't had many pets in my life, but I named a Betta fish I had about 5 years ago Oliver. I believe that I got it from a character on "The O.C.". I currently have a cat, who will be 5 years old this year, named Joe Mauer. He is named after the Minnesota Twins catcher. Everyone who meets him or learns of his name loves it and remembers it easily, so it was fun to name him that. I usually just call him Joe... unless he's in really big trouble. He's fun though and I am glad I named him what I did.

72
By Mom2Ryan (not verified)
March 12, 2012 9:06 PM

I have a Piper, and had a Teagan. Both girls names I would have EASILY given my daughter.

73
March 15, 2012 3:11 AM

Don't know if anyone is checking this post anymore (a tagging or direct reply system would be nice in situations like this), but yes, Essy01, I really think that it's the fact that HIMYM's Quinn doesn't feel like a Quinn that really bothers me. A different character of her age named Quinn could be a completely different story. If her name had been Ava or any number of names that are potentially more generationally inaccurate but that suited her better, it would have bugged me and then I would have (mostly) gotten over it. But every time I hear her called Quinn, I think that there is no way that this girl should be named Quinn and that the writers just jumped on the TV Quinn bandwagon.

74
By KatyP (not verified)
March 21, 2012 8:12 AM

Ugh, apparently I'm part of the trend. Our German Shepherd has a "preppy surname"...Harper. And she was named this before the name's popularity took off. Now, I feel a little odd having a dog with such a popular human name. On the other hand, our cat is Monster. Not a human name at all!

75
By stormygirl84 (not verified)
March 22, 2012 6:59 PM

I honestly prefer non-human names for animals. It's not that this makes them any less members of the family - my three kitties are my babies. I just feel that I can be more creative and imaginative (and get away with it!) in naming an animal. For example, I don't think I could get away with naming a child "Luna," simply because of the all-too-easy nicknames that can be made from it. (Lunatic, Loony Luna, etc.) But it's perfect for my little white and grey kitten. And her sister, who is all grey, is Blue Moon - certainly a better name for a cat than a child! And our older cat is a beautiful tortoiseshell, mostly black with a few silky ribbons of tannish-brown coloring. The very first name that popped into my head when I saw her was "Caramello." And it suits her perfectly!

76
By J.M. (not verified)
July 9, 2012 2:03 PM

I immediately thought of your post, Laura, when my DH sent me this short blogpost on the names of dogs in ancient Greece.

http://www.wondersandmarvels.com/2012/07/names-of-dogs-in-ancient-greece-3.html

Great list! Atalanta's famous hounds are included.

77
April 21, 2013 11:08 AM

I rescued my ShihTzu, Prince, a while back. Personally, I would never pick the name Prince, but since he wasn't a puppy and he already knew his name, we didn't change it. Now, some 5 years later, we have added to our family with a one year old Great Dane and two cute kitties. My Great Dane's name is Charming. So, my two dogs are Prince and Charming! Get it? And my cats are Cesar and Cleopatra. :) I love my fur-babies so much. 

78
December 13, 2013 4:05 PM

The family pets I've picked (parrots, reptiles, insects, and a rabbit)

Oz

Cora

Westley

Woodrow

Tango

Twaddle 

Nymphadora

Persephone

Mordecai 

 

79
November 18, 2014 11:55 PM

I've always seen naming my pets as an opportunity to use some of the surplus of baby names I like (since I don't plan on having hundreds of children, in fact, I don't have any yet). 

My current dogs are named Humphrey Sterling, Jean-Luc Sebastian, and Michaela Sabrina. I didn't actually name them, but I like their names. I can't shorten Michaela's name to Micky since I've already used it (though with the spelling variation Michi) so I actually call her Sissy a lot, even though I originally planned to call her Mac. It just didn't roll off the tongue as well.

They had siblings who we gave away named Marilyn (Mary) and Magdalena (Maggie). Their new owner kept their names which I was ecstatic about. They also had a brother named Alistair who sadly passed away. :( 

Alistair is probably one of my favorite names that I've ever bestowed on a pet.

 

My mom's dogs have more "eccentric" names. Mr. Bojangles (after the song), Noodles (it happened by accident, we were calling him 4 or 5 different things and Noodles just stuck much to my mom's chagrin, he he.). And her other dog is Damion. 

 

We've had a lot of pets (and rescues) over the years and naming them has always been a fun part of the process!

 

80
February 19, 2015 5:36 AM

My Miniature Poodle's name is Jeremy and his sister, Brigid, is a Miniature Pinscher; I get amused looks even at the vet's office.

81
May 8, 2015 11:59 AM

My elder cat has a human name - Poppie. My other cat has the more unusual name of Mister.

82
May 31, 2015 6:31 PM

I give my cats full human names. 
Trillian Louise, Perseus (Percy) Anthony, Tobie Lee, Aidelynn Shyanne, and my newest additions Ember Marie, and Azie Lynn. 
My dogs have dog names. 
Mister, Missy, Tank, and Loco.  

83
August 26, 2015 12:44 AM

When I was very young, my Mom had a cat named Humphrey, named after the namesake of the school she taught at. When I began naming my pets, I had a golden retriever named Jenny, and cats named Amos, Eleanor, Loomis, Maddy, "Skippers" (my 4 year old daughter's cat she named after her "favorite restaurant", and yes, she would correct anyone who dared to think she meant Skipper--hahaha), Jessamine (white cat with a green and a blue eye), Lily, Charley, Simone, Thomas, Carson, and Suki (part lilac point Siamese). Thomas's name had been Thomasina (ours was also big and orange), until we found out he was a male. We also took care of a stranger's cat after answering an ad in the paper re: a young man going away to school and needing a "cat sitter". He had named this big black Manx cat Eldridge. I don't know if cats tended to have human names or not back when I named the earlier ones, as some of these cats I had 40 years ago.

84
February 16, 2016 8:58 PM

I've definitely gone with human names for my pets, at least from my teenage years on!  Current cat is Mitzi (16 years old), named after actress Mitzi Kapture of "Silk Stalkings" fame.  Current dog is Lynndi (one year old, just got her three months ago), named after singer Lynn Anderson, who died just over six months ago.  I guess, looking at what I just typed, I'm going with human AND celebrity names, at least now!  

The dog I got when I was a freshman in high school was Mandy, and I named her that because I loved the name Amanda.  Lynndi is the first dog I've had since losing Mandy when I was a senior in college.

My very first cat, that I got right after starting first grade, was Puffy, named after his lookalike Puff in the "Dick and Jane" reading books that my school used.  He lived to be about 15, and the next cat was Julio, named after singer Julio Iglesias.  This was around the time of the Julio Iglesias-Willie Nelson duet.  I moved away after college and left Julio with my mother.  He lived to be 17 years old.

My first cat after moving was Ashley, so named because the friend who gave her to me was a big "Gone With The Wind" fan.  Additionally, we weren't sure at first if Ashley was male or female, and since the Ashley in GWTW was male but the name has since become very common for females, I figured it would work either way.  Cat #4 is the above-mentioned Mitzi, my current one.

First dog when I was about three was named by my parents, and his name was Stormy.  He was a German shepherd mix, and my father named him after the German storm troopers of WWII fame.  Stormy lived until I was about ten, and we got another dog whom I named Lucas after a teacher at my school whose last name was Lucas.  After Lucas, the next dog had a typical dog name, Tippy.  Next came the above-mentioned Mandy.

85
May 2, 2016 8:00 PM

I laughed when I read this because it reminded me of a conversation I had with my mother when I was a teenager.  She mentioned a woman in town whose name was Lassie, and my response was "Lassie's a DOG'S name!"  She immediately said no, it's a girl's name.  Maybe a dog's name to my generation, she added.  I had never heard of a human named Lassie before then!

86
September 6, 2016 3:21 PM

I wonder if there is also something to be said for people naming their pets from the various fandoms that exist today? A lot of people give those names to their pets instead of their kids.

We sorta fit the trend of naming our pets things you like but wouldn't name a human. My husband's family had a tradition of naming pets after composers, so they had cats named Haydn and Sebastian, and a dog named Wolfgang. When my husband and I married, we decided to stick with foreign names because of how we named our dog (Mia).

I had a student who had just come from Honduras and spoke no English. Her adoptive mother had found our dog and two other puppies in a box on the side of the road and taken them home, but she already had several other animals and couldn't keep them. So we went to look at the dogs after she put up a flier at my school. This student had become attached to one dog in particular, and brought us right over to the puppy, saying "Es mia perrita! Ella es mia perrita!" ("That's my puppy! This girl is my puppy!") in this excited, proud little voice. We decided to take that very puppy so that my student would still be able to visit and see photos. And so in her honor, we named the dog "Mia Perrita," or "Mia" for short.

Our two cats have foreign names: "Katya," or "Kat," which is short of Ekaterina, because she was this gorgeous, sleek black thing who we imagined would speak with a mysterious Russian accent, and "Lana," short for Aslana, which is the Turkish word for lion...because her face is so lion-like.

Recently, we acquired another dog that was abandoned near my school. We named her "Luna" for several reasons. First, she looked like a bat with her huge ears flopping around, so I immediately thought of the book Stellaluna (it's about bats and there's an adorable one on the front cover). Secondly, my daughter is a huge My Little Pony fan and I adore Harry Potter. There's a Luna in both (one is a princess who raises the moon and the other is an adorably strange and sweet girl who befriends Harry), so we got both our fandoms covered with "Luna." And the dog has proven to be both strange and kind of a princess, so I guess it worked out. 

87
September 6, 2016 3:19 PM

I forgot to say that my mom just named her new mini dachshund puppy Bowie, after David Bowie, but my brother was really pulling for Rufio (from the movie Hook with Robin Williams). Her other dogs are Rio and Leia, and my brother's dog's name is Brego. not sure where that one came from, to be honest. 

My sister's dogs are Nancy and Wallace, so she likes the older, less popular human names.  

My in-laws like traditional pet names. Lots of cats: Buster, Kit, Marbles, Baby, Dot, etc.  

Whereas my brother-in-law and his wife named their two pit bulls Tank and Dozer.  

88
March 8, 2017 1:26 AM

Our first Australian Shepherd's name was Houghton, named after my husband's mother's maiden name.  I guess he felt more human than most.  Our second Aussie is named Atticus Isidore.  I wanted to name him Izzy for my sweet daddy, but we both loved Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mocking Bird.  He certainly lives up to his name.

 

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