At the risk of sounding like a minister standing in front of a couple at the altar, the act of naming a dog is not a commitment to be entered into lightly.
But seriously, naming a dog is like that! You can’t just grab any old name out of the ether and call it good. You’re going to spend the next 15 years yelling it in the back yard, calling it out in the show ring and typing it on hundreds of entry forms. If you reach the top of your chosen sport, it may be announced over a loudspeaker at a national venue. At the very least, you’re going to say it about a million times over your dog's lifespan. The pressure is on.
Ideas are endless. Colors. Literary icons. Sports teams. Movies. Wine, beer and spirits. Mythological creatures. Pop culture. TV characters. Music. Motor vehicles. Trees. States. Natural phenomena.
If you have kids, you get a free pass. You can name your dog any damn thing you—or they—want (which is your absolute right to do anyway) because when your adult friends raise their eyebrows at your black and white border collie named Oreo, you can shrug and say, “The kids named him.” And that’s absolutely fine and we’ll all go on with our lives because kids can get away with stuff that would just be dumb if adults did it.
Ditto for chocolate Labs named Hershey and Samoyeds named Snowflake but if you’re a grown-ass woman and can’t aspire to a higher aesthetic—well, whatever. It’s your dog. Name it what you want. Honestly, I don’t judge (well, maybe just a little) but naming each dog that has come into my life as an adult has meant obsessing to a degree of fanaticism that borders on lunacy.
It's not that dog people don't have anything better to do with our spare time - it's that THIS is what we do with our spare time. Normal people don't get it. When The Farmer and I got married, our elderly neighbors had two mixed breed farm dogs. One was black, one was white. They were named . . . wait for it . . . Blackie and Whitey. Oh, if only it was that simple.
But wait. Maybe it is. A college friend's grandparents had a succession of American Eskimos, each named Fluffy, followed by the appropriate number. Fluffy 4, Fluffy 5 and so on.
No. Just no.
My dog friends keep a running list of names that appeal to them. Some of them are so good at it, they could open a consulting business. In 1995, they were naming dogs they wouldn’t get until the new millennium.
This name game comes with unwritten rules. Let’s review a few of them.
Can you use the name of a friend’s dog? If the dog A) lives nearby and B) is still alive and being actively shown, no. There’s an unwritten rule there can only be one Cider or Rhett per 100 square miles. Occasionally, you run with your chosen name, only to find out later someone else in your showing circle just named their puppy the same thing. Then you grit your teeth and laugh and hope you don’t spend the next 10 years messing with stewards who perpetually confuse Phoenix the duck tolling retriever with Phoenix the Belgian Malinois.
Can you use the name if the dog passed? Maybe. Diplomacy is needed. How long has the dog been gone? Less than five years—no.
More than five years—maybe. If it's a close friend in your training circle, ask how she feels about it.
Does the name rhyme with another word? Proceed with caution. As God is my witness, I am not responsible enough to name a dog Tucker.
Is it the name of a family member, either living or dead? Um . . . I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say no . . . but that’s your call. Depends on your family’s sense of humor. Or lack thereof.
How about famous fictional dogs? Lassie? Snoopy? Buck? Again, if you have kids or grandkids, there’s something charming about it. Kids have absolute license to do transfer the mystique or grandeur of a fictional canine to the clumsy little puppy falling over its feet. More power to them.
Most adults would hesitate to borrow the mojo that accompanies the exploits of established canine personas. Plus, there’s that whole “I want my dog’s name to be sparklingly original but at the same time evoke both an element of whimsy, unlimited potential, mystery and untouchable power” vibe. Slapping an already established persona on them from the start seems to restrict them to a box of pre-determined expectations.
Okay, what about famous real dogs? For me, this is a big fat no. Dogs whose names are etched in the archives of a sport enjoy a degree of untouchable-ness for generations to come. You don’t see any other Man O’ War or Secretariats out there, do you? Same for the canine scene.
Use caution when using a high-energy descriptor as a name because the dog may A) live up to it or B) not live up to it. It’s not pretty to watch Racer doing a death march in on a recall and naming a dog Crash is just tempting fate.
Crafting the registered name is another quest guaranteed to bring sleepless nights and a great deal of soul searching which may or may not involve alcohol. You’re tasked with incorporating the breeder’s kennel name with your own need to express your dog’s incredible individuality as well as possibly honoring the sire and dam’s names and reflecting a litter theme on top of it all. No wonder so many of us are scribbling a list of names for puppies that haven’t even been conceived yet.
The final rule in call names, however, is this: can you stand on the back step and bellow it at the top of your lungs without sounding like a complete idiot? Partial idiocy is acceptable because without it, none of us would be dog owners anyway.