Tuesday, March 18, 2014

A rose by any other name

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.


  1. Great post! I seem to have a musical theme for my more recent dogs. I named Annie after Annie Lennox, specifically the song "Right By Your Side" which I thought was an awesome name for a performance dog. The song was playing when I made a stop on the way home from Minnesota with her. Thank goodness because previous choice was "Siouxsie" after Siouxsie Souix of Souxsie and the Banshees. I can only imagine how the gate stewards would be driven nuts by a name with a silent X....

  2. Great post! I'm in the same "naming a dog that doesn't exist yet" situation.

    Layla is named musically, both her call name and her registered name "Owyhee's Spirit in the Night" with Spirit in the Night being my favorite Bruce Springsteen song. Obviously two girls from Jersey need to like Springsteen :)

    I love music - I love reading too, but haven't loved a lot of characters enough to name a dog after them. Other than saying, "Hannibal Lecter, tunnel! Hannibal Lecter, front!" In my case, I have a lot more musical possibilities. One that I had been considering for years was registered name "Kiss the Sky", call name Jimi. Except I found out that another malamute kennel had the same exact thing, same registered name and call name. My dog will have a different kennel prefix, but still.

    Plus, you have to worry about what people are going to think of the name, which I think is somewhat ridiculous. Pat and I were talking about names and I said "Spook would be cute", like ghost. But he said people would think I was being racist. Unbelievable. It's an adorable name that can't be used because people MIGHT get the wrong idea.

    And the hardest thing is, the more dog friends you have, the less possibilities of names you can choose from because of that "rule" about naming dogs belonging to your friends. Or not even friends, just people that you see at trials frequently. Maybe I'll just take a lesson from your neighbor and name the dog Blacky or Whitey... or would that be misconstrued as racist too?

    The absolute WORST dog names I've seen were on the running order for USDAA Agility Nationals. Bar none, the worst names ever. I think people just picked adjectives and nouns at random and put it on their registration papers.

  3. I love this post! We went through such a process with our puppy (who is now 5 months). All the debates and votes and the "no. so-and-so has a dog named that"

    She just was a Gnome. Tempest's Not Your Garden Variety.

    I really wanted Tempest's Wrinkle in Time. Meg.
    Arya was also high up on the list but we like 2-syllable names...which of course, non dog sport people asked many times why that would matter. Such a process!

  4. We used to have such great plans for names, but, over the years, we have come to believe that the dog already has a name and we just have to figure out what it is.

    You see, Rusty (yes, we know, what a common name) was supposed to be Boris (because we already had Natasha, of course). But it just never fit his goofy character and we kept referring to him as that Rusty colored dog while we were trying to get his name right. Little did we know the name was already there.

    And Cheoah was foretold by a Native American who said she foresaw us getting another dog named Cheoah, the Cherokee word for spirit. So, when this dog was found abandoned behind a foreclosed house, we named her Cheoah to make the prophesy come true. Too bad we didn't go next door to the Cherokee Reservation first and find out that the name really means Otter in Cherokee. So, yes, we have a dog named Otter.

    Qannik came to us named Snowflake, so we kept his name and just changed languages. Ty, who left a path of destruction everywhere he went, simply became Typhoon.

    And so on.

  5. Wondering how the Back Porch Test works for a FB friend who has a Terv (related to Taz) named Timber. "Timberrrrr..." Hope she doesn't live in a heavily wooded area.

    1. I have a Timber. The breeder's daughter named the call names of a litter of Papillons after wolves. Timber wolf, Artic wolf, etc. Gate stewards have fun with, "Timberrrrr!" Now there is a song by Kesha called "Timber."

  6. I recall the commentary on The Belgian ListServ when Mary Alice Theriot settled on "ROWDY" for her Terv - the one she snagged at the border of Canada and didn't stop until they reached Kentucky - or something like that -

    Everyone commented how dogs will often live up to their names -

    When I got the Siberian now known as Khyra, she was 'Whitney' -

    Sorry - not a Sibe name - I've often said it is a nice name for a little girl - and even a Sheltie (yes, I truly do say that) - but NOT for a Siberian!

    Love your stories -

    And since my sister lives in Phoenix, Arizona, I did laugh!



    Oh wait - he is a Sibe living in Des Moines - but born <20 miles from here -

    And with any luck, we'll get to see them again next weekend in Harrisburg after the AKC Nationals!

    Khyra's Mom

  7. Love name stories! We have a country music theme going in here for registered names. And I have three more names picked out! I'm getting behind in dogs I guess!

  8. Picking names for not yet born dogs is abnormal? ;-) I'm also superstitious with names; they cannot reflect any kind of negativity or foreshadowing. A dog named Crash may knock bars. A dog named Sassy may never shut up. A dog named Friendly may play to the crowd too much.

    Oh! And I also have to try it with various commands AND do the rhyming game to see what potential nicknames may develop.

    I also keep potential names close and only good and trusted friends know what I'm considering; I've had two potential names "stolen" from me. Just as well since I ultimately ended up changing my mind. But still...