In my world, thinking about names for a dog who doesn't even exist yet is perfectly reasonable behavior.
Over the years, I’ve come to realize that what passes as perfectly reasonable in my world causes other people’s hair to stand on end, but I’m relatively sure if you’re reading this blog, you’re nodding your head in agreement and your hair is lying down properly.
The names we choose for our dogs are important. There is magic in a name. Choosing the perfect name is serious business. It’s a word that’s going to get used thousands of times in the next 15 years. Gone are the childhood days when naming a dog was as easy as Hershey for a brown dog or Snowball for a white dog. When the Farmer and I got married, our closest neighbors were an retired farmer and his wife who had two farm dogs named Blackie and Whitey. They were, predictably, black and white, respectively.
My very first dog was named after a character in a book. I was 3 years old when I named my beagle Pokey, after the main character in the Little Golden Book “The Poky Little Puppy.”
My mother, who probably suggested this scholastically brilliant achievement, had no idea the precedent this was going to set. With the exception of my first terv, all my dogs have been named with a literary theme of some kind. Happily, I have advanced beyond Little Golden Books.
My first tervuren, Gypsy, missed the intentional book theme. She was registered as Liberte’s Gypsy Rose. I just liked the way it sounded. (I was 13.) Googling “Gypsy Rose” for deeper insight revealed that Gypsy Rose Lee was an American burlesque entertainer famous for her striptease act. She was also an actress, author, and playwright. She penned “The G-String Murders,” a 1941 detective novel. Set in a burlesque theater, Lee casts herself as the detective who solves a set of homicides in which strippers in her troupe are found strangled with their own G-strings. So maybe the literary connection is there after all. I’m sure my parents would have been delighted to know I’d named my first “expensive” dog after a stripper, never mind that she did write a book.
My first sheltie, Jesse, was Hanson’s Third Edition. He was my third dog. I had just graduated from college and embarked on a career in print journalism. Pretty damn original, huh?
My second sheltie, Connor, was named after the immortal Connor McCleod of “The Highlander” (books and television) series fame, although his registered name - Sunazie’s Black Diamond - didn’t reflect any literary aspirations. Although I think he ate a book once as a puppy.
Belgian tervuren Jamie’s namesake was James Alexander Malcom Mackenzie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series. His litter theme was “Escape” and his registered name was Ariel’s Escape Through Time. “Outlander” groupies will get it.
Belgian malinois Phoenix was named for Fawkes the phoenix in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. His registered name, which incorporates the litter theme “Wild,” is Carousel’s Call of the Wild, from one of my favorite childhood books, Jack London’s “Call of the Wild.” If Phoenix had been presented with a copy of the London classic, I'm pretty sure he would have eaten it.
I named Phoenix in the women’s rest room at the Minneapolis airport. I had a short list of names to consider when I flew to Oregon to pick him up but hadn’t decided on one even as we made the return trip. Unlike Jesse, Connor and Jamie, I hadn’t picked him up with a name firmly in mind. Due to the weather, we were destined to spend a lot of time (let me repeat, A LOT OF TIME) in the Minneapolis airport on that trip and after the 50th person exclaimed, “Cute puppy! What’s his name?” and I stuttered, “Um, well, I dunno, he doesn’t have one yet” I finally decided to make a decision already and when the 51st person said, “Cute puppy! What’s his name?” I answered, “Phoenix.” And that was that.
Theme litters can be fun and challenge your creativity to come up with something that is personal but stays within the parameters of the breeder’s theme. I also like being turned loose with a blank canvas to come up with my own name.
I am an avid reader (and have survived 25 years in print media) and want to stick with a literary theme for my next dog. The possibilities are dizzying. Actual book titles, characters, settings, genres of writing . . . where to start!
There’s no immediate need to pick a new name so I’ve been having fun playing with the possibilities. I have a running list where I write down anything that catches my fancy. Yeah, old school. I could put the list on my phone or my laptop but I like the act of writing it down on paper. When the time comes, I won’t be caught flat flooted. If anything, I’ll have too many choices.
I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s “Game Of Thrones” series and it’s absolutely jam-packed with potential dog names. The only problem is that Martin kills off characters like he’s swatting flies and I would hate to choose a name for a dog only to find out the character dies a gruesome death in the next book. Or on the next page.
I’m also a huge fan of the TV show “Grimm,” which is based on the Grimm brothers’ collection of fairy tales, many of which came from Germany in the 1800s. Lots of potential there but a friend has told me it would not be a good idea to name my next dog “Wesen.” She’s probably right.
There’s a protocol to choosing a name. It’s generally considered taboo to pick a name if someone in your close training circle already has a dog with that name. Once that dog passes, there seems to be an unwritten statute that says you can’t use the name until a suitable period of time has gone by. I’m not exactly sure how long that is but a friend got a sheltie pup this spring and named him Jesse and I’m totally fine with it. My Jesse has been gone for 10 years.
If you run agility, choosing a name that is clever but hard to pronounce is a recipe for frustration since gate stewards will inevitably never get it right. An agility associate of mine used to run a sleek doberman bitch named Toddi. Gate stewards in five states consistently yelled for “Toadie.” This did not go over well.
When Phoenix and I were still running agility, a handler in the area ran a German shepherd named Arizona. Since we were both in the 24” division, gate stewards often caught themselves yelling, “Phoenix, Arizona!” That always made me laugh. Maybe you had to be there.
Some people choose names from a different language, use words that reflect the predominant sport the dog will participate in or follow an on-going kennel theme. The late Joanne Johnson probably said it best with her spectacular sheltie, Jo’s Expensif Hobi O’Redfield.
Every individual has his or her criteria for what constitutes the perfect name. No matter what word you choose, my friends agree a name should pass the “back porch test.” Can you stand on the back porch and holler the name without sounding like a complete idiot? I haven’t progressed to that point with my list yet.