Dog Naming Trends Through the Ages
By Arika Okrent
2012: Bye Bye, Max. Hello, Bella!
According to the yearly roundup of popular pet names in the database of Veterinary Pet Insurance, the 10 most popular dog names for 2012 were Bella, Bailey, Max, Lucy, Molly, Buddy, Daisy, Maggie, Charlie, and Sophie. It was the third straight year Bella came in at number 1, after unseating Max in 2009. A company spokesman thought the ascendancy of Bella might have had to do with "the name of the heroine in a certain vampire book/film series that’s pretty popular these days."
2008: Sorry, Jake and Rocky—Here come Chloe and Sophie.
The year before Max lost the top spot, Jake and Rocky dropped of the top 10, replaced by newcomers Chloe and Sophie. Is there an "end of men" situation happening in the canine world too? Someone get the trend piece writers on that!
1985: Nipper is now George.
In 1985, New York Times columnist William Safire asked readers to submit stories of how they named their dogs, and in return got a list of over 12,000 dog names from all over the country. He noted a few trends. People tended to name their dogs after food (Cookie, Candy, Taffy, Peaches), disposition (Rascal, Bandit, Crab), color (Blackie, Amber, Midnight), and owner occupation ("Lawyers like Shyster and Escrow; doctors prefer Bones.") But the most noticeable trend was that people were using human names for their dogs more than they used to: "Instead of turning verbs and adjectives into proper nouns (for example, by calling a puppy that likes to nip your finger Nipper), we are using proper nouns directly, calling the little nipper George, Daisy or Charley."
1960s-1980s: Getting gender specific.
Anthropologist Stanley Brandes published a 2009 study of pet name trends as revealed by the gravestones at Hartsdale, America's first pet cemetery. He noticed the trend toward human names for pets develop slowly from the 1960s to the 1980s when names like Riko, Ginny, Francois, Samantha, Daniel and Venus started to pop up among names like Freckles, Snowy, Clover, Spaghetti, Champ, Happy, Rusty and Taka. One consequence of this shift was that names started to entail information about the sex of the animal. This was not merely a consequence of a switch to human naming, though. Even non-human names started to show sex distinctions. Note, for example, the graves of Cha Cha Man, Candy Girl, Mr. Cat, and Dot-Z-Girl.
1896-WWII: Hobo, Jaba, Boogles.
Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, just outside of New York City, was established in 1896. Brandes notes that in the earliest monuments, the names of the pets might not even appear at all. Many of the early graves leave it at "Pets" or "My Pet." The family name of the owner is sometimes the only identifier. A well-known dancer of the time, Irene Castle, buried five dogs and a pet monkey under a monument engraved simply "Castle." Most of the graves do show pet names, but before WWII, they are almost never human names. The first half century at Hartsdale is represented by the likes of Brownie, Laddie, Hobo, Trixie, Rags, Jaba, Bunty, Boogles, Teko, Dicksie, Snap, Punch, Bébé and Pippy.
1800s: Semper Fido.
Abraham Lincoln had a dog named Fido, and this is often cited as the reason the name became the quintessential dog's name, but Fido was popular before Lincoln even became president. A favorite children's book of 1845 was called "Fido or the Faithful Friend," and told of the quintessential adventures of the quintessential boy and his dog. It's rather too bad presidents' dogs aren't the source of lasting naming fashions. We could be calling our dogs Sweetlips, Scentwell, Vulcan, Drunkard, Taster, Tipler and Tipsy like George Washington did!
Medieval: Mopsus and Mopsulus
Kathleen Walker-Meikle's book Medieval Pets shows that people gave a wide range of creative names to their pets then, despite the general objection that indulging pets was "an extravagance and a distraction from one's duties and obligations, in particular charity to the poor." Just as in Safire's 1985 survey, dogs were named for characteristics (Sturdy, Whitefoot, Hardy) and owner occupation – Stosel (Pestle) for an apothecary, Hemmerli (Little Hammer) for a locksmith, Speichli (Little Spoke) for a wagoner. They could even have human names like Jakke and Parceval. However, the most popular human names given to dogs were not the same as the most popular names given to babies, as they are today. For dog owners looking to buck the trends (or for that matter, baby-havers looking to buck the trends), here's a list of awesome medieval dog names: Blawnche, Nosewise, Smylfeste, Bragge, Holdfast, Zaphyro, Zalbot, Mopsus and Mopsulus.