All in the Family: Pets
So you have a new pet. No matter, cat, dog, goat, pig, lama, whatever, we as humans give our pets names. I am southern, so in the south we all have at least 3 names and 70% of the time go by 2 names example my sister in laws are Linda Sue and Nina Lou. So that being said my cats have always had 2 names and a surname. Yes, I am the crazy cat woman. Now my female cat which recently passed (side not in the south nothing dies, everything passes) was names Butter Bean Houdini VonCannon. See how this is going?
A stranger is only a stranger until you know their name.
Names, that is personal names, are more than just an easy term of reference. Names endow a sense of individuality in the self, as well as commonality among the whole. That may be why when we learn a person’s name, even if really nothing else about them, we’ve a tendency to feel more connected, and more willing to invite them to feel the same — hence the exchange of names almost always leads our introductions.
In short, names are like passkeys which unlock our empathy, in a single moment capable of transforming a stranger into someone deserving of our decency. But, interestingly, the empathizing effect of knowing someone’s name still applies when its bearer isn’t human.
It was quite likely after our earliest interspecies bonding, with the domestication of dogs some 50,000 years ago, that we first began to bestow some form of personal names upon animals, too — and in so doing, elevated their distinction from a generalized animal, to an individualized companion. It’s not surprising then that, in that recognition, dogs soon gained access to affection and endearment we once reserved only for our own kind.
While these earliest of personal names for animals are unknown, by the 8th century BC in ancient Greece animals with names began to be recorded in literature. The most famous example perhaps is Odysseus’ faithful hound Argos, whose name means “swift foot”, in Homer’s Odyssey. Other classical texts reveal names of horses, bulls, cows, and even elephants owned by hellenistic kings.
In Ancient Rome, personal names for animals abound, given to trusty dogs, horses, and others, and were often chosen from mythology – suggesting that by then animals held a lofty place in the lives of their owners. These non-humans were no longer just animals. Indeed, they were our friends.
Frank Abbott, in his book Society & Politics in Ancient Rome, writes of ancient epitaphs found written in honor of pets. One dog, named Patricus, received this tribute from his grieving owner, revealing a rare early sentiment of love for an animal:
“My eyes were wet with tears, our little dog, when I bore thee (to the grave)… So, Patricus, never again shall thou give me a thousand kisses. Never canst thou be contentedly in my lap. In sadness have I buried thee, and thou deservist. In a resting place of marble, I have put thee for all time by the side of my shade. In thy qualities, sagacious thou wert like a human being. Ah, me! What a loved companion have we lost!”
This tradition of naming and loving animals, opening our hearts and homes to them, carries on well into today.
Throughout the Western World, it has become commonplace to give our animal companions distinctly humans names; In the U.S., the most popular pet names are Max, for males, and Molly, for females. These names have both been among the 100 most popular for human babies in recent years. In fact, 9 out of 10 Americans actually consider their pets a part of their family — a remarkable statistic for interspecies relations.
On With the Names
They’re the monikers of just a few well-known pooches who’ve made headlines in the past few weeks. But how exactly did these dogs get their names — and what psychological influences are at work when we decide what to call our pets? (Think: Which domestic diva would name her Best in Breed Chow Chow after a famous dictator?)
The Experts on their research found— to reveal not only the most popular puppy and kitten names of 2011, but some of the key cultural influences underlying our very personal choices.
The Twilight Effect
Pet names are definitely affected by pop-culture trends. Bella has topped the list of the most popular female dog and cat names for several years running, thanks to a heroine of the same name in the Twilight series.
When it comes to kittens, Simba became one of the top male cat names with the release of The Lion King, and all the hubbub surrounding Princess Kate’s comely younger sister whose royal wedding allowed the name Pippa to cat-apult into place as one of the hottest female names that year.
Pet names also reflect larger cultural trends. The 1960s counterculture led to popular names like Flower and Peace, but Steven May, editor of The Daily Growl, says we’re most interested in naming our four-legged friends after influential people today, from actors and musicians to sports figures and politicians. “Owners who name their pets after a public figure tend to want that constant reminder and connection,” he says.
In Los Angeles, where May lives, Kobe (as in Bryant, the L.A. Laker) is one hot dog name. On the East Coast, Perling says that New York Yankee Derek Jeter’s hitting streak coincided with an uptick in canines who share his last name.
And names influenced by pop culture can literally hit the charts overnight. “I expect we’ll be seeing a lot more Adeles and Whitneys,” May predicts.
People Who Need People Names
Another growing pet-naming trend is giving animals names normally reserved for your step-dad or sibling. In other words, we’re forgoing names like Fido and Bruiser and opting instead for common human monikers — due to a desire to make our pets even more a part of the family.
“Our top 10 most popular pet names have pretty much held steady over the past few years,” Perling says. “Max is the top name for male dogs and cats.” Also on the “it” list are common first names like Charlie and Jack. For the ladies, Daisy, Molly and Lucy all number in the top 10, with Sophie and Chloe climbing the charts for female cats.
“Human names are definitely trending,” she says, “especially the classic and retro ones.” We certainly found this to be true when compiling our list of the top 10 trendiest cat and dog names.
You can chalk this trend up to a cultural sea change: “In the last five to 20 years, we’ve seen a rise in the emotional bonding and connection with our pets, and that leads to giving them more human names,” Perling says. “With people deciding to have families later in life, they can use a puppy or kitten as a tryout. I think the names reflect that.”
Cute Pet Names Times Two
As for what’s next, in the same way that delaying families has led to an increase in twins, many pet parents are bringing home two furry bundles of joy at a time.
“We’re seeing a lot of fun pair names,” Perling says. “Laverne and Shirley, Goofus and Gallant — we have a whole big list.” That includes two names that can’t help but go great together: P.B. and Jelly.
All the President’s Pets
The Best Pet Name Book Ever, written by Wayne Bryant Eldrige, says that Rufus, for example, was the name of a poodle owned by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Maybe these politicians created trends in their heyday:
Blacky was President Calvin Coolidge’s black cat.
Lady was one of George Washington’s dogs.
Rover was Lydon Johnson’s first dog.
Ronald Regan’s Cocker Spaniel was named Rex.
Abraham Lincoln’s sons had a pup named Fido.
So Long, Spot
So what happened to Rover, Rufus and Lady? People are choosing human names to give their pets relevant places in their household. By making the name personal, or even a person’s name, they’re establishing their pet’s place as a genuine member of the family, too.
Some folks pick names for their pets like, Kallie and Emma, by flipping through a baby name book. Example is Betty, short for Queen Elizabeth, was picked when the cat returned home wearing a thick, queen-like collar to protect her boo-boo.
Naming is “Ruff”
If you’re still struggling to come up with something imaginative, go to bowwow.com to search thousands of names. They’ve put together various lists with suggestions from readers and regularly feature names of the month. (You can find the meaning of your pet’s name, too.)
Here are some quick naming tips:
Use breed heritage as an inspiration. Consider a French name for your Poodle, something German for a Shepherd, Schnauzer or Dashshund or Scottish for your Terrier.
Wait a few days after getting your pet to learn something about his behavior or appearance that might lead to a name.
Pick a name that will grow with your pet. The name Kitten, for example, might not be appropriate for a full grown cat.
Around the World and Other Places
Despite our history of naming animals and welcoming them into our inner circles, many other unnamed animals have been driven to extinction because they were beyond the boundaries of our empathy. Interestingly, conservationists haven’t failed noticed that we are more prone to cherish what we name and have begun using that fact to help preserve species with whom we would otherwise be strangers.
Environmentalists in Rwanda have adopted a novel approach to conserving one of our closest primate cousins, a dwindling population of Mountain Gorillas. As part of a tradition which started in 2003, every newborn gorilla discovered born in the wild is celebrated in a widely-attended naming party, known as Kwita Izina. And the nominal gesture has had measurable effect; Since the tradition began, Rwanda’s population of Mountain Gorillas has rebounded, increasing by 23 percent.
In some traditional Asian cultures, common pets like cats and dogs are not usually given human names as it is perceived as insulting to those people of the same name. Coincidently, consuming these animals often doesn’t carry the same taboo in the East as does in the West, and it’s likely that a family-like esteem for them, or the lack thereof, is equally perplexing to both.
In New Zealand, a species of flightless bird called Kakapo was nearly driven to the verge of extinction last century from introduced predators. By the 1970s, only 14 of these birds were known to exist. Not long after, a conservation plan was launched, which included finding and relocating all remaining kakapos to an island cleared of threats — giving each rare bird a name in the process. Today, the kakapo continue to recover, now numbering 124 individuals, all whom have a name.
Zoos, aquariums, and marine parks have also realized the powerful effect giving animals personal names can have on visitors, and now it’s common for zoos to hold events or contests to name newborn animals or to refer to them by name before their species. All this adds up to create an emotional experience, one that draws in the crowds more than a science-minded one. Animals individualized with names can become star attractions. “Shamu” sells tickets better than simply “orca” ever would. And it’s no wonder — we care more about animals we name.
But this effect designed to make visitors feel more connected to animals at their facilities presents a challenge for zoos, aquariums, and marine parks as well. Last week, the Copenhagen Zoo sparked outrage a healthy giraffe was needlessly euthanized — not just any giraffe though, a giraffe named Marius. By naming animals, giving them individualized identities, facilities keeping them captive create an untenable equation: once we care, we might not want them there.
Giving animals names, even those that are not our pets, ultimately means nothing for the animals themselves, but it does change the way we regard them. And at a time when countless creatures are imperiled by the callous or cruel side of human nature, it’s more important than ever to stop being strangers — even if the names we give them never leave our lips.
One last tip, I have always adopted stray, feral, shelter, etc. pets as they really need a name and someone to love and care for them.