Pawsome names – Exploring dognaming traditions & practical tips

Words by:
Matt Limb OBE
Featured in:
July 2023

Matt Limb OBE considers how best to name your dog and how getting it wrong can label the poor hound for life and even lead to danger.

The scene is easy to imagine, as it often happens. Just hours after bringing home a new puppy, the family gathers around the dinner table as the youngest child comes up with a name for the new adorable addition. If challenged, this innocent act results in tears and even some screaming. However, explaining to a child why their chosen name isn’t suitable for the new dog can be quite difficult.

It is a subject that often gets people excited; do we go with tradition or a highfalutin name, or maybe something that is in vogue? How about traditional but unique? Choosing a name for your dog can be a challenging task. But what is the protocol? What are the sensible options? After all, the name you choose will stick for the next decade. Is naming a dog an art or a science, and why do some dog owners seem to get it right?

Over the years, film and television have given us iconic dog names like Rover, Lassie and Fido. How many dogs did you know called Marley soon after the highly popular film Marley & Me? Are these still popular names? A quick search would suggest not – Cooper, Max and Charlie are listed as popular names for dogs in a recent study, with Bella, Lucy and Luna for bitches. I guess, like so many things in life, popular names will follow a trend, in much the same way the dog breeds themselves do.
But are these modern choices good and sensible names for a dog?

In a dog’s life it is not uncommon to have two names. The first is a ‘puppy name’ or ‘litter name’, given soon after birth. This is often based on a description of the pup’s appearance and markings. For example, our eldest Springer was called Spot after the large dark spot on her back. Others I can remember include Butterfly, again after a marking that resembled a butterfly, and of course Fleck, a young Springer puppy we had, who had a little fleck of white on his otherwise dark coloured head.

I’ve noticed a current trend of puppies wearing a loose-fitting collar with a distinctive colour, resulting in them being named after their collar colour. This happened to us recently when we took on a new young Springer; his vaccination and docking certificates had the word ‘blue’ pencilled at the top, as he wore a blue collar for his visit to the vet and he was known as Blue by his breeder. But soon after arriving with us he received his permanent name: Harris.

This initial puppy, or litter, name allows the breeder to easily identity each pup in the litter as they grow and is never intended to be a lifelong name. As all dogs now require a microchip by the time they are eight weeks old, it is a name that will help during the procedure – and if the puppy is intended to be a working dog, it can be used for the docking process. Additionally, it serves as a useful reference for breeders when administering worming or other required medications for the growing puppy.

When considering the name that a dog will be given for the rest of its life, some people follow a particular theme, for example Teal, Mallard and Widgeon. I named our last litter of Springer puppies Somme, Poppie and Harry, reflecting my passion for World War One history. Harry’s puppy name was Patch, inspired by a distinctive dark area on his lower back. Later he became Harry, after Harry Patch, the last surviving World War One soldier to fight in the trenches.

Currently we have Islay, Jura, and the recent addition of Harris, all working English Springer Spaniels reflecting a Scottish Islands theme and often collectively known as ‘The Whisky Hounds’.

Another consideration, if required, is the kennel name, an exclusive and totally unique registered name that is associated with a breeder and their dogs.

The kennel name will show the established pedigree and breeding line and is often regarded as a breeder’s signature; the kennel prefix will certainly set you and your dog aside from another. But, like a puppy name or a litter name, it is not a name to be used when out walking your dog or for day-to-day life, it is intended to be a name on the pedigree – and if a show dog, a winner’s certificate and trophy.

So, from popular names to litter and puppy names and kennel names, what do we really need to consider when naming our dogs? I have heard from some that you should avoid using a highly popular name, as the dog will answer and go to anyone, which could be a security risk, leading to the dog being stolen.

However, I’m not entirely convinced by this theory. The tone and delivery of the name, rather than the name itself, make it distinctive to your dog as it listens for your call. What is required is a simple, short, sharp name that can be snapped out quickly as a command, maybe with your dog whistle still in your mouth; or said softly and slowly when giving the dog praise during training.

The key here is the number of syllables in the dog’s name. To refresh our memory from school English lessons, a syllable is the individual sound, or basic building block from which words or names are put together. For example, the word ‘dog’ consists of a single syllable whereas ‘kennel’ contains two syllables, ‘ken’ and ‘nel’.

The ideal, most practical and sensible dog’s name is one that uses the minimum of syllables. A single syllable name would be perfect, such as Bee, Dee, or Gee, but it is limited and does not make for the most imaginative and warming of dog’s names. The popular answer is to use two syllables, where the second syllable rolls cleanly from the first. Just visualise the situation when your dog is running towards a busy road and you’re desperately shouting and calling their name to make them come back. You are less likely to get your dog’s attention with a longer, highfalutin double-barrelled name, than with a snappy name of just a couple of syllables.

Of course, there are always exceptions to anything, life is never black and white. I have seen a young pup arrive and react to some random name or phrase, becoming christened for life. But whatever or however you decide to choose your dog’s name, remember, it will be around for a decade or more.

Will Tiny really suit him when he is fully grown and can place his paws on your shoulders? And how quickly will that dog’s name from a TV show or film be outdated? For me the sensible option is to think functional and practical, rather than chasing trends and fashion.

Keep in mind that shouting the name quickly, clearly and projecting over a distance might save the dog’s life one day. Moreover, it will make training classes much easier. In those moments, you will be thankful that you have decided on a short, sharp, sensible name that is easy to shout and quick for your dog to recognise and understand.

Photographs: Matt Limb OBE

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