The Science of Dog Naming
For our family, choosing a name was neither simple nor swift. After all, it had taken my daughters a decade of whining and deliberating over breeds that wouldn’t aggravate the allergy-stricken (me), just to get to the point of agreeing to get a Havanese.
And because I am the family research queen, I found a way to make the process even more complicated. A little research elicited a lot of information.
I found lists of the most common dog names. A Web site with thousands of names, sorted into categories like “cool,” “cute” and “unusual.” And countless dos and don’ts from self-anointed dog-naming experts.
It was an art. A science. Serendipity. Intuition.
There were phonetics rules. And rules that ignored phonetics, instead placing a premium on achieving family harmony. And, of course, there was a simmering debate: Whose needs should the name serve, yours or the dog’s?
One of the most consistent pieces of advice I found was to stick to names of one or two syllables, which quickly catch a puppy’s attention.
People seem to drift in that direction anyway. At a recent puppy training class, I met Gracie, Nigel, Sasha and a schnauzer mix whose name was the perfect marriage of 21st-century preoccupations and ür-dogginess: Browser.
JoAnn Vela, the owner of Canine Cuties Dog Grooming, in Chicago Ridge, Ill., has four dogs: Moose, Bleu, Tyson and Coach. Moose, she explained, because their English mastiff was such a galumphing klutz. Bleu, because her daughter thought the dog looked so sad. Tyson, because her husband wanted the German shepherd to have a tough name. And Coach, because when her daughter gazed longingly at the Shetland sheepdog in a pet shop window, the dog gazed back longingly at her Coach purse.
The four-syllable Gentleman Jack, of Cedar Grove, N.J., defies this rule. When Lauren Meyer, a stay-at-home mother who owns a Labradoodle, first saw a picture of him, she wanted to call him Jack, because she thought he looked like a frisky rogue. But her son insisted on a name with a little more class. At the time, he was a student at the University of Virginia, whose guiding spirit is the gentleman-scholar Thomas Jefferson. Also, the dog is whiskey-colored, and Gentleman Jack, it should be noted, is a brand of Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
On occasion, the name expands to six syllables. “When he’s bad,” Mrs. Meyer said, “we call him Gentleman Jack Meyer.”
Another piece of advice: To help the puppy distinguish its name from ambient noise, choose something with a sibilant consonant or blend (an “s,” “sh” or “zh”) or, better still, a crisp, commanding consonant (a “k” or hard “c”).
Laura Waddell, a dog trainer and animal behaviorist in New Jersey, works with a bred-in-captivity wolf named Tacoma, and she named her own golden retriever-spitz mix Loki. “They can distinguish frequency ranges that we cannot, particularly dogs with pricked ears, which work almost like parabolic microphones,” she said. “The hard consonant is a relatively sharp sound that the dog can respond to quickly. I think sibilant sounds are more muddled for them.”
Mrs. Vela recalled grooming a beagle named Tank. Some customers apparently don’t look under the hood, so to speak. After the session, she informed the dog’s owners that Tank was a Tinker (as in Tinkerbelle). Acceptance was hard.
“The husband and wife still each call the dog by a different name,” Mrs. Vela said.
But at least they abide by the rule.
SOME EXPERTS ALSO ADVISE picking a name that ends in a long vowel or a short “a.”
“Simba?” I asked my daughters. “Lobo? I know, let’s call the puppy Orca!”
“Jovi,” they snickered, after Jon Bon.
Martin Deeley, a Florida trainer and executive director of the International Association of Canine Professionals, said he prefers names that end in a long “e,” like Benny or Dolly. “I think it gives a nickname a loving touch,” he said. “Sweet becomes Sweetie.”
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