That Dog Stole My Baby Name!

January 21, 2013 | By | Comments (15)

The other day, my dog and I met two adorable Yorkies: Diesel and Tank. When asked how these tiny terriers had come by their larger-than-life names, the man walking them said, “We wanted to be ironic.” It is Manhattan after all.

Which got me wondering: Why do people choose certain names for their pets?

Is the name based on an animal’s signature trait? (e.g., Scout). Or is the hope that the power of suggestion will work its magic and the kitten or puppy will grow up to be aptly described? (e.g., Snuggles) Is a scary or darkly-humorous name going to actually give your pet a bad name?

Charlie the Cat. Courtesy of Betsy Saul of

Charlie the Cat. Courtesy of Betsy Saul of

According to Betsy Saul of, “names are important because they communicate how you feel (or maybe what you expect) about your pet. Spot is a dog. Max is a friend. Charlie is good-natured. (Well, Charlie is different—he is a little man in a cat suit.) Taz is a nutter. Buttercup is a sweetie. When I go to the veterinarian, the groomer, or the pet sitter, or even introduce Harper to the neighbors, some portion of their first impression will be formed from his name.”

She added that names “make a big difference on Petfinder,” the adoption site. “People are a tiny bit more hesitant to fall in love with a Devil-dog than Buttercup, even if they are going to change their name later. My most recent adoption was named Sprinkles—we changed it to Pinto. But how could a guy named Sprinkles not be a good guy?” she asked rhetorically.

Baby naming expert Laura Wattenberg says that people allow themselves more flights of fancy when naming their pets as opposed to their children. “There’s a lot of diversity in pet names. Nobody’s too worried about a pet name being weird. People aren’t thinking, ‘I don’t want my Olivia to be one of four Spaniels in the class,'” she said. (While this made me chuckle, I made a mental note that it could be an issue in the dog run. But I digress.)

One of the continuing pet-naming trends of 2012 was to choose human names for our pets. (This used to be more true of dogs than cats, but the cats are closing in.) For families with children and pets, this can make the naming process even more challenging. “Every month, we get those questions,” said Wattenberg. “We had a dog and we named him Jasper, and now we wish we had waited to use the name.'” It also works in reverse.

But we don’t just give our pets human names, we give them—can you guess?—the pet form of human names! The name Molly, now an independent given name, was originally a pet form of Mary. Did Molly make it into the top 10 list of popular pets’ names for 2012? Yup! Did Mary? Nope! How about Maggie, now an independent name but originally a pet form of Magnolia and Margaret? Maggie was the 8th most popular dog name; neither Margaret nor Magnolia made the list.*

Here is the full list of top pets’ names of 2012, compiled by VPI Pet Insurance:


1. Bella
2. Bailey
3. Max
4. Lucy
5. Molly
6. Buddy
7. Daisy
8. Maggie
9. Charlie
10. Sophie


1. Bella
2. Max
3. Chloe
4. Oliver
5. Lucy
6. Smokey
7. Shadow
8. Tiger
9. Charlie
10. Tigger

Birds and Exotics

1. Charlie
2. Buddy
3. Bella
4. Max
5. Angel
6. Baby
7. Coco
8. Rocky
9. Bandit
10. Sunny

How about you? Did you indulge your baby naming fantasies when you named your pets? Did you opt for silly, scary, cute-and-cuddly or a traditional human name?

Want more on pet-naming trends? Check out: The Top Names for Pets in 2011 and Pet Names: From Fido and Fluffy to Molly and Chloe.

*References to the origin of names Molly and Maggie sourced from Teresa Norman’s A World of Baby Names


  1. KS

    With dogs you also need to consider the “bar call” factor — how will the name sound (and can your dog understand it) when you’re shouting it across the park or at the beach? My friend tells a story about passing by a man commanding his two dogs, “Hellfire! Damnation! Down!” Needless to say, this was in San Francisco. I am partial to two syllable names that end in a vowel (especially “y” or “ie”) since they’re easy to call.

    January 21, 2013 at 10:34 pm
  2. ellen

    I like the ” bar call” factor as a guide and I for one feel the pet’s name should have some significance to you ( if not to the pet who probably is too young to have much to call on . )

    January 21, 2013 at 11:12 pm
  3. Jennifer Mirsky

    KS, that’s something else — those yelled commands must have caused quite a stir! Two syllables are great for intonation, plus they’re less likely to sound indistinguishable from common commands. (E.G., “Kit” vs. “sit” or “Joe” vs. “no.”) I agree that it’s helpful to picture how the name will sound when yelled, given how often that can happen!

    January 21, 2013 at 11:46 pm
  4. Ashley

    I adopted my dog when he was 4 1/2 months old. His name was Cameo and we didn’t think it matched him. We kept saying different “C” names and every time we said Chandler, he would come to us or react. So the name stuck. Whenever someone asks about his name, they automatically think it’s because of “Friends” but really, he chose his name.

    January 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm
  5. Jennifer Mirsky

    Ashley, that’s priceless that he chose his own name. Just shows you why one should never make assumptions!

    January 22, 2013 at 3:32 pm
  6. sCW

    I picked out 5 names for my new black lab puppy, I put each name on a index card then tossed them in the air and told my 8 year old black lab to pick a index card. The first one she picked up was “Echo”. That’s have my pup got her name, her big sister picked it !!!!

    January 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm
  7. Rebecca Del Medico

    We had two dogs Elliott (because I dreamed I had a Golden who was named Elliott way before Elliott was born) and Ginger. Elliott went to the Rainbow Bridge and we were interested in another Golden since Elliott was the perfect dog. Originally we were suppose to receive a little girl from the rescue so we were at dinner with the neighbors thinking of girl names. Tom said what happens if you get a boy. I said as I sipped my Jack Daniels and ginger ale, that’s easy, we will name him Jack so we can have Jack and Ginger. Just then the phone rang and it was the rescue, we were getting a boy. So now we have Jack and Ginger.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:45 pm
  8. Mary Viglienzoni

    My husband was watching too much Orange County Choppers (early years when everyone was still talking and not suing each other)… He and a buddy who were always in the garage would refer to each other as Sr. and Jr…. so naturally when we got our Boxer… he should finish the trio with Vinnie. This is how Vinnie got his name and the funny thing is it fits him to a tee.

    Now before we got him and we were thinking about names… my mother-in-law asked where the Boxer originates from and when I said Germany, she said he should have a German name… the only name she could come up with was Carl! It is now a long running joke in the family.

    January 23, 2013 at 7:55 pm
  9. Jennifer Peel

    My two dogs have been named after families that are very good friends: Baxter and Kramer

    January 23, 2013 at 9:01 pm
  10. kaylene cohen

    My dogs name is TUCKER. Its a family name ( decendant of Thomas Tucker of Wagga Wagga NSW AUSTRALIA) and it is also Australian for food! Which my dog loves!! ie TUCKER BOX (LUNCH BOX) etc “Whats that in your TUCKER bag? (Waltzing Matilda) And Im an Aussie so it fits!

    January 23, 2013 at 9:13 pm
  11. Marion Shepard

    Marion Shepard
    My husband chose the name Bailey for our Golden Retriever puppy because he said his color reminded him of Bailey’s Irish Cream. I don’t think it’s that close to the color, actually, but I liked the name Bailey. However many people think he is a female because of the name!

    January 23, 2013 at 10:04 pm
  12. Marion Shepard

    Another thing I think is fun about animal names is all the nicknames some of them have. My beloved cat Boots (who died last summer at 17 years old) had many silly names I called him. I think he understood many of them, too. My dear friend’s father said “A well loved child has many names.” I think that applies to pets, too.

    January 23, 2013 at 10:10 pm
  13. Jennifer Mirsky

    Great backstories on your pets’ names! Rebecca, that’s a delicious drink inspiration. And Marion, I could not agree more with your friend’s father. Find me one besotted pet lover who doesn’t have at least one nickname beyond the “official name!”

    January 24, 2013 at 6:54 pm
  14. Agnes Shanahan

    My dogs name is Suzie. Suzie was named after the woman (Suzanne) who helped push her adoption through for us. We some times call her Suzie-Q. Suzie is a therapy dog. I think the name also has a “friendly” ring to it.

    January 25, 2013 at 9:11 pm
  15. Michele Howell

    I had bought a vintage train case a few years prior, and the monogram was “E. B. B.” I asked the woman who sold it who it had belonged to. She said her grandmother, who was Esther Belle. I thought it such a cute, old fashioned name, and named my cat after it. She now has her own monogrammed train case. Sometimes I just refer to her as EB. The best cat ever.

    January 30, 2013 at 12:53 pm

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