What’s in a name?

in Contributors/Pets by

By Tracie Korol

The first three dogs I met when I moved to South Carolina were all named Rebel.

I thought it was one of those arcane state laws I had heard about. Then I met two Dixies and four Beaus in a row. Years and many more Beaus, Rebels and Dixies later, I concede it’s a regional thing.

People choose names for all sorts of reasons. Some want to honor their heritage, hence the preponderance of Southern-related dog names locally. Some choose to honor a favorite celebrity — Reba, Tupac, Harpo (that’s Oprah backwards). Others choose names that spotlight a particular physical or character trait. For example, I had a Cardigan corgi friend at kennel, black with a white spot on his forehead, whose name was Domino, Dom for short.

Many dogs have three names. The first is their official name, which is the name that is registered with the kennel club and appears on their pedigree certificate. These are usually marvelously pompous and/or meaningless, such as Temujin Persia’s Pride, my first registered cocker spaniel. The American Kennel Club gives you 28 letters to come up with this formal title.

The dog’s second name is their “call name.” After all, you really don’t want to be standing out in your backyard yelling, Remasia Vindebon of Torwood, come! The dog’s call name becomes its own unique and solely owned name and which is the one that we actually use when we talk to them.  Temujin’s call name was Khan. (Temujin was Genghis Khan’s given name.)

All of my dogs also have had a group name, which for me is “Doggies”. This is their alternate name, thus when I yell “Doggies come!” I expect all of my dogs within earshot to appear at a run. A neighbor, who only has female dogs, uses the word “Girls,” while another with male dogs uses the group name, “Troops”.

Then there are the nicknames, the names that seem to grow naturally from affection or convenience. My Lab came with the name Tucker; I never thought it suited him. He felt more like a Rooney to me.  Then, due to his overall sense of calm, he became Buddha Dog which later was shortened to Boo. He answered to all four with equal enthusiasm. I always ask for nicknames for my boarding guests as it can immediately warm up a new relationship.

In choosing a name, try to pick something that comes easily to your lips. Choose a name that will honor your Best Friend as all words have power and meaning. If you have a sense of humor, try to pick a name that will not embarrass you, let alone your dog. Hooter is a good dog name in theory, but embarrassing if you have to roam the neighborhood calling for him post-escape. Allow children name in-put within reason; 11-year old boys can curse a dog for life with what they think is a riotously funny scatological moniker or conversely, a precious 3-year-old can sentence a dog to terminal cuteness. I know a strapping 100-pound male chocolate lab named Fluffy.

Try to select a name that is not easily confused with a command. Such as Beau and No, Stay and Ray, Kitt and Sit. Dogs cue on one syllable. That’s why commands are sort and delivered deliberately.  While names like Costello, Washington and Trismegistus are very cool, know that the dog is only hearing the sound with the hard consonant — Tell…, Ton… and Triz…. Some names are very popular, like all the Southern affectations, but it can cause confusion if you are in a park or place where there are multiple dogs with the same name. Choose something unique to your Friend’s temperament, appearance or personality, or the opposite; Hoover, the dog dedicated to floor food, is one of my favorites.

If you rescue or take on an older dog, there is no problem in changing his name. Often, changing a dog’s name will help separate his association with a dark early life and the new, happy life in his forever home. He will quickly learn to respond to it if used in the correct way.

But whatever name you select make sure you can say it with a smile  — it should reflect the relationship you have with your dog and be a special communication between you and your Best Friend. A name should be enjoyed.

Next week: How to use a name correctly.