How Did You Decide on Your Pet's Name? (AKA an Excuse for You to Post Pictures of Your Animal Companions)

Does anyone name their dog Fido anymore?
Publish date:
January 15, 2016
pets, cats, names, dogs, pet names, dog names, Cat Names

Yesterday, the internet was all a-buzz with the "news" that Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi had adopted a puppy. Almost every headline I saw about this announcement included the fact that the couple named the dog Kid, which more or less saved me from having to click through because whenever someone gets a new pet, the first question I have is "What did you name it?"

Naming animal companions, to me, is as meaningful as it is fun. DeGenerossi (the couple portmanteau I've been using for Ellen and Portia since a few seconds ago when I typed it) seem to be of a similar mindset; Ellen said she named the puppy Kid because, "There've been rumors forever — 'When are you and Portia going to have a kid?' — and so now I can say we have a Kid."

When I was a child, I loved baby-name books; I enjoyed looking up the meanings of names and imagining what I might name future kids. But now that I'm an adult who doesn't want children, the only thing I can really look forward to when it comes to naming is future pets. (OK, and maybe fictional characters if I ever write a novel. Big if.) My boyfriend and I are thinking of adopting a shelter cat after we get a place together this spring, and I'm already thinking of names for this mystery kitty.

Jane and Amber both have dogs with interesting names — Jane's dogs are named Balloon and Lemon, and Amber's dog is named Spondee — so I asked them how they landed on those.

"Charlotte made up a story when she was about three in which she had a fluffy white dog named Balloon," Jane said. "When she was seven and I finally said we could get a dog, we went to the shelter and Balloon was there and was fluffy and white and named 'Fluffball.' The people at the shelter asked what she wanted to name him, and she said Balloon, even though she had no recollection of having told me that story many years before. Everyone there said they didn't like the name and that it 'didn't exactly roll off the tongue' and encouraged us to name him 'Teddy' instead, but no."

Jane also said, "xoJane readers helped name Lemon, though Pancake was, I think, the first choice and also good."

"Spondee's dad and I met in poetry class," Amber explained, "and since a corgi is a long little dog with two sets of very little legs, we settled on Spondee," which, according to Wikipedia, is "a metrical foot consisting of two long syllables, as determined by syllable weight in classical meters, or two stressed syllables, as determined by stress in modern meters."

"Trochee was a close second, but not as applicable," she said.

Looking back at my own pet history, some names have definitely been more inspired than others.

My first pet was already in our home before I was born. An employee at the golf course my father played at said a cat living on the course had had kittens, so my father took one home, and my parents, for reasons they can't even remember, called him Knish — as in the fried Jewish dumpling.

Before I was even a year old, my mother had brought home a dog. She noticed two teenagers in the A&P parking lot trying to find homes for puppies, so in addition to groceries, she brought home a little white fluffball with black ears.

My parents named her Latke — a Jewish potato pancake — so, apparently, a theme was established.

I got it in my head when I was 10 that I wanted a bird, and my parents kindly let me get a cockatiel and said I could be the one to name it — my first opportunity to name a family pet.

I have a distinct memory of lying awake in bed, coming up with what I thought was a fantastic name, and knocking on my parents' bedroom door long after they'd gone to sleep; they groggily asked me what was wrong, and I said, "Nothing, but I came up with a name for the bird: Pecker." My mother, devoid of the energy to explain to a child why that wasn't appropriate, told me to pick another name and go to bed.

Keeping with the established theme, I went with Bagel.

Knish, Latke and Bagel all died when I was 12, so as my parents decided how they wanted proceed with a new pet, they let me get a small fish tank. I had a few different kinds of fish, but I remember naming only one — the big, orange goldfish with the bulbous eyes. The Jewish-food name streak ended with Pumpkin. (I'm not proud of that one. So boring.)

When I was in eighth grade, after my parents did some research on the kind of dog they wanted, they located a nearby labrador retriever breeder. The puppy we selected had a little diamond-shaped patch of white fur on his chest, so we decided to name him Diamante and call him Monte for short. (We kept the name even though those white hairs had fallen out before we brought him home.)

In addition to Monte, I had a hamster in high school, and for the life of me, I cannot remember why I named him Drugi — pronounced droo-gee with a hard G. I also had a betta fish in college and named it Dear Jojo based on a name mentioned fleetingly in a Rufus Wainwright song.

Sydney, the cat I adopted with a boyfriend in 2001, was the first pre-named pet I'd ever had. The boyfriend and I broke up, and after I got engaged to a very cat-allergic dude the next year and the former boyfriend's new cat roommates would not welcome a new member into their coven, we hand-picked a new owner for Sydney, who happened to be a guy named Sidney.

The fiancé was not allergic to dogs, so in 2002, we picked out a two-year-old mutt from the Humane Society. He was already named Max, and I was reluctant to keep that name; in addition to Max being a super-common dog name, it's also the name of one of my late grandfathers. But Max responded to the name, and my dad wasn't upset with the dog having his father's name, so it stuck.

I vowed that if I got another pet while Max was in my life that I'd name him after my other late grandfather, not only for the theme (my family loves a damn theme), but because he, too, had a pretty common dog name: Rufus.

So, pet owners present and past: how did you decide on your creatures' names? (And no, there is no excuse to not post accompanying photos of the pets that go with these names.)