The art of naming your dog.

Whenever I think about the importance of naming a pet, I recall a story from about 30 years ago. My children went to school with the boy next door. Eric was a funny kid. There were times I wasn’t at all certain he was a good influence on my own son, but those are stories for another time.

On one particular occasion I accompanied Eric’s mother to the Kindergarten pet show where Eric would be sharing the family German Shepherd, Sandy. Eric paraded Sandy in front of the class, the noble Shepherd adorned with a red plaid bandana, and when the teacher encouraged Eric to introduce his dog, he boldly spoke up and said, “This is my dog Duke!”

Duke? Marie and I tried to hide our astonishment, but when we collapsed in laughter I think it was clear to others that Eric considered the name Sandy inferior to one of his own particular choosing.

A pet’s name is important. Alexandra Horowitz, Ph.D., author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, suggests choosing names with a pleasant sound. She reminds the new dog owner to choose a harmonious name, suitable for snuggling up to your dog for the next two decades.

We somehow failed to consult a specialist before naming our family dogs.

Our first dog was a small terrier mix acquired while on a neighborhood walk. Jay and I were pushing Aimee in the stroller when a cheerful gentleman, perhaps a little too cheerful for mid-morning if you know what I mean, approached us, leash in hand, and asked us if we wanted a dog. Ordinarily the answer would appropriately have been “no,” but I suppose we assessed the situation as “dog-in peril” and “Truckee,” the name by which we were introduced, became our first family dog.

I couldn’t imagine living with a dog deliberately named after his place of birth, Truckee, California, so he became Norman. I have absolutely no memory about the choosing of that name, but he was a great little dog with an out-of-control over-bite and Jay’s mother, with whom we were living, adored him. Marian convinced herself that Norman was a Lhasa Apso. She loved the idea that he had been bred as a sentinel to protect the monks in Buddhist monasteries. In truth, I think Norman was part Wookiee.

Our next dog was chosen, as a puppy, in response to a friend’s constant jabber about her own wire-haired fox terrier. Winston B. Louie–we named him after a work associate– came into our lives when the children were still quite small, and we probably had no business opening our home to a truly rambunctious dog with the habit of bolting every time the door was opened.

The one story that remains a favorite is the time he somehow followed us to church. I taught three-year olds in a Sunday School class in a room adjoining an interior courtyard and the same friend responsible for our decision to choose Winston in the first place came to tell me, “Your dog is in the courtyard.” What? “Your dog is in the courtyard.”

Somehow I summoned Jay from wherever he was at the time and he chased Winston down and got him home. We never did figure out how Winston found us. And how does a busy mother have time to chase after dogs that think they are Mary’s lamb?

It took me a few years to get beyond the drama that always followed a day with Winston, but years later another neighbor talked me into adopting a much older dog–a small gray “old lady terrier” named Foggy.  Foggy was without a permanent home, displaced after her companion entered a convalescent facility. I didn’t need a dog then either, but she looked like she needed me us. I loved that little old dog–but I wasn’t crazy about her name.

And now we’ve brought another dog into our lives. Our son and his fiancée brought Zena into their home as a rescue. She was not in a healthy circumstance and was badly stressed, and they knew they’d need to find her a permanent home. Their Vizsla, Obi, wasn’t going to share mommy and daddy forever.

She came for a visit and seemed to love our home. We invited her to stay.

It’s unfortunate, however, that once again we have a dog with a name not of our own choosing–and the misspelling of her name seems a bit lazy to me. But this sweet, yet very thin retriever mix with hints of Border Collie, isn’t quite up to the Xena Warrior Princess title anyway. Maybe when she gains a little weight I’ll have the spelling changed.

Maybe Zena’s herding instincts will help keep Darwin from straying. I see many interesting encounters in our future. We didn’t need this dog either–I didn’t think–but she needs us. I’m a sucker for the stories.

76 thoughts on “The art of naming your dog.

  1. Kmac

    She looks like a sweet dog. Just rename her whatever you’d like. Use the name consistently and she will learn it. I promise she won’t mind. 😉

    Reply
  2. PigLove

    Like you said, naming a pet is very important and you want it to be something you can snuggle up to. Well, I think I fit my name perfectly. Who wouldn’t want to snuggle up to some bacon? XOXO – Bacon

    Reply
  3. bulldog

    She looks like she is happy where she is now… and that says a lot… I’m sure if you changed her name she would soon pick up on it… we have done that a few times and the dog soon took to the new name… I think it’s in the way one says it… any dog that is loved will come when called… irrespective of the name… I love this post…

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I am so happy that Zina settled in so quickly. She’s very comfortable! She has such a sweet disposition and I think we are very fortunate to have her live with us. She’s very good company–she and Darwin are even getting along. Whew!

      Reply
  4. Cathy

    She looks so sweet, and I think the name suits her! Hope she settles in really quickly – look forward to hearing how she and Darwin get along together! One of our dogs came from a rescue home and was named (Gina) in a hurry in the car home! Somehow it suits her too, but I would never have chosen it had I been given a moment to think!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Zina is really happy and relaxed, which pleases me. She whimpered at first after my son left her…that was hard to hear. I do tend to give my animals very human characteristics, so I was sure she was very sad. She settled in quickly, though. I’m glad you have a rescue pet, too, Cathy. There are so many animals that need a good home. And they do give a lot of love in return, don’t they?

      Reply
      1. Cathy

        Oh absolutely – our little treasure was quite traumatised when we got her, but our wolfhound radiates such calm and reassurance that she settled in very quickly. And she’s our little ray of sunshine now!

        Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Thank you, Mary. I think she’s a very pretty dog. She needs a little meat on her bones, but she’s been under stress–tonight as she sleeps right at my feet she seems very comfortable. I’m so glad she’s settling in!

      Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Oh she is curious, Marie. She is inspecting every nook and cranny of our yard, and wants to be with at least one of us at all times. Then periodically she goes to check on Darwin. That’s been so funny. I was a bit worried that if she was too insistent he might snap at her, but so far, they seem to be quite tolerant of each other. She’s a very good dog. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Julia Jackson (aka Helva)

    What a lovely girl, and the name (spelt properly!) suits her. We adopted two silver-grey miniature poodle litter mates when they were 5, called Smokey and the Bandit, and have kept the names – the film of that name is one of my favourites, and Bandit certainly lives up to his name (he’s a very intelligent rogue!). They’re a great pair, and we love them to bits. Dogs do manage to wind themselves around your heart, don’t they.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Oh I love Smokey and the Bandit! What great names. I’ll bet you get lots of smiles from others when they hear the names called out, Helva! We’ve only had Zina in our home 48 hours! And already I’m just crazy about her. What is that power? 🙂

      Reply
  6. Laurie Buchanan

    Oh what a beautiful companion animal!

    Years ago when my husband and I were first married, we got a dog and named him Timber. Imagine what the neighbors thought every time we called him in! Timberrrrrrrr!

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Timber is a really great name, Laurie. But yes, I’m sure heard from off in the distance it might be a big question. 🙂 And I love that you referred to Zena as a companion animal. That is exactly what she is. We didn’t have any thought that she’d be such good company so quickly.

      Reply
  7. Multifarious meanderings

    What a beautiful dog! We’ve been a lot more careful about naming our pets since our cat “Calamity” (as in Calamity Jane) had a fight with a car, and lost. We thought we’d maybe tempted the devil and have chosen safer names since 🙂

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      We are really enjoying Zina. She has settled in very nicely in only 48 hours. She whimpered the first night after my son left her…it broke my heart. But she’s happy now, and so are we. 🙂

      Reply
  8. Dee Ready

    Dear Debra, this is a lovely posting, but then I always like to learn about animal companions who enrich our lives and love us unconditionally. Fortunately, all the cats with whom I’ve lived over the course of the 47 years since I left the convent have given me the name by which they want to become a friend: Dulcy, Bartleby, Tybalt, Eliza Doolittle, Noah, Jeremiah, Laz, Ellie, Raissa, Matthew, and Maggie.

    It is truly only Ellie whom I rescued because had I not taken her home from the animal shelter, the personnel there would have euthanized her the next day. We’ve lived together almost four years now and she still doesn’t lie on my lap or let me pick her up. She holds on, I believe, to the memories she has of the first human with whom she lived–an older man who had to go into a nursing home.

    And I respect her deep love for him. I’ve told her that he loves her so much but that he wants her to have a home with me and the other cats now. Slowly, she’s comes to where she’ll nudge my arm. And I think she now accepts me as someone from whom she can rent a home. I’m her landlady.

    Those pictures of Zena and Darwin are a treasure. Peace.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I just love your relationship with your sweet cats, Dee. They have been, and continue to be such a part of you. I love each of the names they chose. Tybalt, Rz and Raissa are particularly interesting and beautiful. I hope Ellie continues to relax into the love you have to offer her. I am sure she really needs the sense of touch, and it makes me feel badly for her to be so reluctant to snuggle!

      Zena is a sweetie and we are going to enjoy her company. These pets do enrich our lives, don’t they? ox

      Reply
  9. munchow

    Zena – I actually like the name with the misspelling – looks like a lovely and cute dog. Naming anything or anyone is always a difficult decision because one is trying to impose an idea – or a connection between a name and the idea – of what it or they will become in the future. As you say it will stick with the person, the dog, the cat or whatever for a long time.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Zena is a very gentle dog, and I think we’ll stick with the name Zena. It’s clear she knows her name. If I spell it differently at some point, I’m fairly sure she won’t mind. 🙂

      Reply
  10. Helen Devries

    We had friends with a distinctly disobedient little terrier called Vicar.
    Certainly startled U.K. suburbia with cries of
    Vicar, leave that bitch alone.

    Our dogs have all arrived without names – that we know of. They quickly answer to the name that comes to mind once we’ve lived with them for a while.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Thank you for that very funny picture, Helen! “Vicar, leave that bitch alone” would certainly create a stir. LOL! I’m laughing just thinking of it. Somehow I think Zena may be growing into her name, too. I can’t really imagine changing it now. I will probably mostly call her “Sweetie.” 🙂

      Reply
  11. Andra Watkins

    I hope the name Truckee didn’t come from what I know happened close by a number of years ago……….I’m glad we’ll never know whether Truckee ate one of his own.

    On some level, maybe this is fitting. I always stress so over getting the right name. If it’s already decided, it is one less thing to worry about. (Though I do agree with you. Xena. Not Zena.) I look forward to hearing more about this beautiful new member of your family, Debra. It looks like she and Darwin are bonding already.

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Ha! You do know California, Andra. Your Truckee reference is very “inside” the state…in fact, I’m sure a good number of Californians wouldn’t know what we’re talking about. LOL! I must get up that way one of these days and do a post…it’s been years since we passed through. Zena is such a sweet dog, I might just go ahead and keep the name. My niece named her dog, Demetrius. Then her family decided he looked like a Kodiak bear, so everyone calls him Kody. Names sometimes don’t stick! Zena is a very sweet dog, and I think she’s happy she chose to stay. 🙂

      Reply
  12. stuffitellmysister

    We have a “sugar” and “baby” that came pre-named. 🙂 Great post. I heard someone recently say you should choose your pet’s name carefully as you will forever have to remember it as a “security” question on accounts. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Oh that’s true! Although sometimes the security question asks about my first pet. I never know if I’ve previously answered with my first dog, or if I need to be very literal about “first”…there were goldfish and turtles that came first! 🙂

      Reply
  13. ChgoJohn

    What’s in a name? Max got his name because The Fates threw obstacle upon obstacle in my path to adoption. In fact, I went to pick up his sister, as he had been promised to another. When I got there, I was offered both and, in an exceedingly rare exhibition of Common Sense, I took home only Max and, since it was a one-in-a-million chance that I’d get him, he was named Max-a-Million. A friend had a rescue dog that he named “Trouble.” Once, while he was away on business, he left the dog under the care of a friend. Late that Saturday night, the friend wanted a burger and, dressed in his robe and slippers, took Trouble and drove to a burger joint. When he rolled down his window to place his order in the drive-thru, Trouble jumped over him and out of the car. Did I mention that the burger joint was on one of our major thoroughfares, right across from a police precinct? Well, there the friend was, in a robe and slippers, yelling for Trouble, right in front of a police station.
    Do take care when you name your gorgeous girl, Debra. She’ll make a great pet because rescues know what you’ve done for them. 🙂

    Reply
  14. rommel

    Then and now, i’m not a pet owepner at all. In my honest opinion, sorry, those are awful names. Ooops. Zena is fine one though. I name my vehicles Alyssa and Cassy, but thise are after my two neices.

    Reply
        1. Three Well Beings Post author

          Yes, Carla. We tease the children that our “estate” is tied to Darwin’s care. LOL! He can easily live to 100 years old. You can imagine the comments I get from my children. I hope he doesn’t end up in a zoo or sanctuary, but he’s interesting enough I think someone will always be willing to care for him. That’s what I tell myself, anyway!

          Reply
  15. dadirri7

    Such a whimsical overview of your pets Debra, how each one found you when they needed a home … and now lovely Z(X)ena, who looks as though she will help keep you fit and active for years to come … what a blessing! Our very few pets were sometimes named by the children, such as Noonie the cat, but I did suggest Jaala for our standard poodle (it means ‘wild she-goat in the desert’) … she was actually very timid and had to learn to be brave and wild, but her name always sounded just right 🙂

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      I love the name Jaala, Christine. What a beautiful name and filled with great meaning. Maybe Jaala aspired to live up to that name. 🙂 Dear little Zena is so gentle and has such a sweet nature I’ll probably not change her spelling. She just doesn’t seem to be a Xena after all. Ha!

      Reply
  16. lifeonthecutoff

    I loved this, Debra; each dog with a chapter of his or her own. Zena is quite the herder, isn’t she? Her border collie genes coming out as she tends to the ever wandering Darwin.

    Pet names are fascinating.
    Our first pet together was a bridal shower gift. A calico kitten, that we named Zoe. Zoe means life and she entered ours as we started our life together. Honestly, we are a sappy duo. Years later, we got kittens. Parsley and Sage. We didn’t get Sage “taken care of” soon enough, and, well, Rosemary, Thyme, Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were born a few weeks before Christmas. (can you tell we are Simon and Garfunkel fans?) Jennifer could only say Frankinsentence.
    You really don’t want to know about the prairie dog called Timone (from the Lion King) who barked every time I sneezed.

    Then, there were the birds . . .

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Ha! We are kindred spirits, Penny! We’ve had quite an assortment of pets through the years, too. I had cats Hermione and Tallulah, after Hermione Gingold and Tallulah Bankhead. I’m really showing my age now, aren’t I? I absolutely love the names of the kittens, in particular as you move from Rosemary and Thyme into Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh. Such clever names! A Prairie Dog? LOL! I think it’s time for a pet post, my friend! 🙂

      Reply
  17. Barbara Bamber | justasmidgen

    Oh.. I love your new dog!! Zena is adorable, especially those ears and her happy little face! She must just be reveling in her new-found home and the love of her new family. I always think rescue dogs are the way to go.. what a joy she will bring to your family.. and your Darwin I think! xx

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      We are enjoying Zena, Barbara. She’s a sweetie. And she likes Darwin quite a bit. I think she may able to help us keep track of him. When he’s on the run, she keeps a close eye! I hope you enjoy your weekend. We are going to be close to home and quiet…a welcome change. 🙂

      Reply
  18. Karen Wan

    Zena is adorable! We have often adopted dogs who already had a name, and I often wasn’t fond of the names they had been given. One dog we all loved dearly was a black lab mix that we saved from the local pound, named Hershey. She had a trite name but we still consider her our “best” dog because she was so loving and sweet. We were able to name our Lhasa Apso Ginger and she’s amazingly still hanging in there after last year’s near death issues. We rescued our other dog, a collie named Sonny. The rescue organization had given him the name Sonny while his sister was given the name Cher. Sonny is a handful, and we tend to refer to him as a “special” dog. Whatever their names, all our dogs are near to our hearts. Thank you for this fun and thoughtful post! Karen

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      You’ve been active in rescue organizations, Karen. I know they need support! There are just too many animals abandoned or severely neglected. It’s heart breaking. And I do remember how Ginger was so critically ill last year. How great to hear that she’s doing well. I think we were very fortunate to find that Zina is very low key and gentle. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a dog and I think we might not have been ready for a “special” dog like your Sonny! They all need a lot of attention, though, and we’re enjoying her companionship. I’m glad I could share our new little girl with you. 🙂

      Reply
  19. Deb Wilden

    I just Love this one! Well we have had Rosie that was our wiener dog,, Samson our Rat Terrier, and Deliahla our Corgie- Cocker mix. they all have seemed to just go with the given names perfectly. Yours is so beautiful and love the Zena!
    Deb

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      You’d like Zena, Deb. She’s very sweet and gentle. I think she’s becoming very attached to us, as we are to her. I definitely remember Samson and Delilah! Do you have any dogs right now? They are such good companions. ox

      Reply
  20. Pingback: I’m a statistic–But you should see the other guy? | breathelighter

    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      That’s true, Martin. Budgies need appropriate names, too, don’t they? Zena is growing into her name somehow. I guess she won’t care if I occasionally change the spelling. 🙂 And we have fish in our pond, but I don’t think I can tell them apart enough to give them names. It’s probably best I don’t. Naming them gives them more personality, I think, and I become too attached. These poor fish end up being a raccoon’s meal far too often!

      Reply
      1. 2e0mca

        It’s saddening to hear about your disappearing fish – over here they usually fall prey to Herons. I can fully understnd you not wishing to name them.

        Budgies are notoriously difficult to ‘sex’ so in our previous pair, Plato was female bird and a very formidible one too – my best mate used to joke about her sitting on the cage looking real ‘ard 😉

        Sadly Budgies tend to die suddenly – usually overnight – so you rarely get the chance to say a final goodbye 😦

        Reply
  21. Perpetua

    Zena looks like a real sweetie, Debra, and I think she’s been very lucky to find you and Jay. DH and I aren’t dog people, but over the years have had many cats, all of which had to be named too, so I know plenty about the trials and pitfalls of pet naming. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      Zena has been a very good companion, Perpetua. She’s a very loving little dog. I took a bad fall the other day and she’s stayed so close beside me. She seems to be glad I’m taking it easy and I’m not as busy. Pet names can be so amusing to me. I have had friends really choose some outrageous names, in my opinion, but they always make me laugh. And the pets themselves don’t seem to mind. LOL! Hope you’re enjoying your time home in Wales. You must be settling in nicely by now. ox

      Reply
  22. Tom McCubbin

    Great story. It is interesting what names people come up with for their pets. I know of a cat named Einstein. Myself, I just feed the wild birds and let them be themselves.

    Reply
  23. Promenade Claire

    a story of how dogs come into your lives, brilliant. And a great title too! I met a dog called Lady recently who was rescued in bad circumstances, a real gentle loving thing, but her owner really dislikes calling her when in the park – you know the scenario a big strapping guy calling Laydeee, laydeeee……. he didn’t know when he got her he could have renamed her something that sounded similar 🙂

    Reply
    1. Three Well Beings Post author

      That’s so funny! After much review and consideration, we’re letting Zena remain Zena! She’s the most insecure, but terribly sweet dog. We are afraid we’ll hurt her feelings if we change her name, and I don’t think she could handle it! LOL!

      Reply

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