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 Petfinder.com
According to Betsy Saul of Petfinder.com, “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:
Birds and Exotics
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