Names You Can Hug
Take a look at these two sets of names:
Four names -- Max, Molly, Charlie and Sophie -- occur on both lists. The similarities, though, run even deeper. Both lists are dominated by traditional nicknames, particularly the old-time nicknames found in the "Guys & Dolls" section of the Baby Name Wizard book.
List A shows my past tally of the names most over-represented in children's picture books. When I first published the list, I noted that the picture-book character names hewed closely to a proven formula for "likeability." The authors who chose them, I suggested, were "crafting characters to be fun and approachable, to draw young readers into an imaginary world that's suspended in time and space, and typically a shade cuddlier than reality."
Some readers, though, felt that I was over-reaching. The explanation could be much simpler: the authors just chose names that were easy for budding readers to spell and pronounce.
List B is VPI Pet Insurance's new ranking of the most popular dog names in America. (See more at RealSimple.com.) It's a major change from past generations, when non-human names dominated the pet scene.
The resemblance to the picture book names is unmistakable. Pet owners seem to value the same qualities in a name that picture book authors do...and I feel safe in saying that allowing schnauzers to spell their own names is NOT the driving factor. So what do names like Charlie and Molly represent?
The throwback style, the familiarity and the informality all speak to warmth and connection. These names are a fast-track to affectionate bonding, whether between child and character or between animal and human. Give 'em a hug.
They also speak to friendliness. Molly is a name for a family companion, not a guard dog. (Imagine you meet an acquaintance who's walking a large dog, and they introduce the dog as Charlie. Now imagine the same scene, but the dog is called Tank. Do you approach the dog the same way?)
Finally, the dominance of diminutive forms and sounds represents childhood. The names we give pets reflect the roles we expect them to play in our lives. Based on the current name trends, the phrase "my dog is my baby" has deep roots. We're naming our pets as children who, like picture-book stars, will never grow up.