How To Name a Dog

You were right. Sally is the right name for our new foster.

It slips right off the tongue and just sounds right. Plus, every time I carry her down the stairs to pee outside I get to sing Robert Palmer (Am I right that only my British friends in their 40s got the reference? I love having a puppy with her own theme song.).

So how do you guarantee that every time you name a dog you’ll pick a winner?

Honey the Golden Retriever and Sally the Basset Hound foster puppy relax.

Honey: Why does everyone keep singing “Ebony and Ivory” to us?
Sally: I really blend into these cushions. I’m just glad I didn’t wear my muu muu today.


A Few Simple Rules for Naming a Dog

Don’t be cute.

Just a little advice from someone who named her first dogs Agatha and Christie. I swear I scarred Agatha for life just by giving her such a name.

If you insist on being cute, make sure everyone gets the joke.

A dachshund named Killer? Everyone gets it and most people laugh.

But Agatha and Christie rang few bells on my West Philadelphia block. For years, my dogs were commonly known as “Africa” and Christie.

Think about what the name will sound like when you call it out in public.

I’ve received some unwanted attention on the street after saying, “Oh Honey.” I’m just glad I didn’t go with my first name, “Sweetie Love Balls.”

Be sure it doesn’t sound too similar to important training cues.

That’s why Spit (sit), Kay (stay), Bum (come), and Jay Fred (play dead) are terrible names for a dog.

Choose a name that fits your dog’s personality.

Actually, we were thinking Honey might be a Stella. But once we met her, it was obvious she would never grow into the name. She was Honey all the way.

On second thought, forget all these rules.

After all, you’ll never call your dog by her name. Honey is also H-Boo, Sweetie, CutiePatootie, Lil Luv Pup, Best Dog Ever, and Fuzzy Butt.

Your Turn: How do you choose your dogs names? And have you ever made a mistake?

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  1. Nope, your way-over-40’s non-British pal in Florida got the reference right away…and now she’s got a new song stuck in her head today LOL!

    • Yeah, Beth! I knew you were one of the coolest. :)

      Most American think Robert Palmer didn’t exist before he fell in with those creepy looking models.

      As for the song running through your head–you could do worse.

  2. I have only had one dog, “Dakota” When we got him his name was “Tanner” which to me was just awful.
    I had always LOVED the name “Dakota” and looked up the meaning. In American Indian, (don’t ask me what tribe) it means “trusted friend.” Need I say more? It also works for both male and female dogs.
    Amy Shojai had a contest on her blog for naming a dog in her book “Lost & Found” I submitted Dakota and her readers voted on all of the submitted names.
    “Dakota” won and one of her dogs in her fabulous book is named Dakota and we are credited at the beginning of the book!
    How cool is THAT?!

    • I never knew what Dakota means. Thank you so much for sharing. I think it’s a lovely name and it certainly fits your Dakota very well.

      And yes, I remember that Amy used Dakota in her book. That is a wonderful honor.

    • Hi, Caren, we’ve corresponded before since we both have a “Dakota”…your Sheltie boy and my Corgi girl. Dakota came to me with her name already and I liked it so I kept it. I knew it’s Native American, but I didn’t know the meaning, “trusted friend”. She certainly is! Congratulations on your Dakota’s appearance in Amy Shojai’s book!

  3. I really love history, culture, and mythology. I had a dog named Achilles (nicknamed Killypuff) from Greek mythology. Later I named one of my dogs Persephone, also from Greek mythology. Persephone was her official name, but her common short name was Sephi. Maya was originally named Dixie. That name didn’t suit me or her at all so I named her Maya from Maya Devi in Hindu mythology. Then there is the newest addition to my family – Pierson. Pierson is named after Pierson Park, which is where I found him.

  4. Great article! It’s always a challenge to pick the right name for your dog. Here’s my blog post about how I named my dogs:

  5. We make a list and spend several days trying the names out. What sticks, wins! Yes, Hurley was almost Rutherford the Brave :)

  6. I’m laughing because when you mentioned naming a dog Stella, all I could think of was standing at the front door calling the dog in my best Marlon Brando imitation–STELLLLLLLL-AHHHHHHHHHHHH!

    • Well I must say that worries of my theatrical husband doing that every day he came home did play into my decision as well. :)

      • My cousin had a Shepherd named Stella. When Stella passed away at about 16 years old, my cousin buried her ashes in the garden and planted a daylily called “Stella D’Oro” over the grave. I thought that was a beautiful tribute.

  7. Cali is short for California (where I grew up) – I don’t remember the other names that we had considered, but Cali just always seemed to fit her sweet personality. I think Honey’s name suits her, and Sally is so cute!! Great post!

  8. Sue at The Golden Life says:

    Well, let’s see…
    When our 3rd poodle was an as-yet-unnamed puppy, Mom and I were enjoying a bottle of wine one night while watching tv. After we finished the bottle, Mom set it down on the floor next to her chair to get it out of her way temporarily. Next thing we knew, the bottle was rolling around the floor and the puppy’s tongue was in the neck of the bottle licking at the wine. Mom and I looked at each other and at the same time said “Boozer!” We both knew what the other was thinking: we couldn’t name her “Wino”, but at least we could shorten “Boozer” to “Boo”. So “Boo” it was for the rest of her life.
    I’ve had 4 dogs since then (3 of which I still have) and their names have all been “perfect” for them. Well, maybe not perfect, but at least appropriate. You might remember a few months ago when I tried to come up with a different name for Ducky but couldn’t. Now it seems to “fit” her like a glove. One of the folks at daycare calls her “DuckDuckGoose”.

  9. Aw, I loved Agatha and Christie! I like unusual names (clearly: named our dog Pyrrha, which no one can spell and few can pronounce)! I dislike uncreative names that are just flat physical descriptors (e.g., Brownie) and really overused names (Max, Duke, and King are WAY over-represented in the German shepherd community)! Sally looks like a good fit for your sweet foster.

  10. We agree , forget all the rules and go with what flows but remember you got to shout it at some point in time so butt names can get you in trouble. Have a super Saturday.
    Best wishes Molly

  11. I’ve only had two dogs, one growing up and one now. My sister named the first one, Pepe, after Pepe Le Moko. It is a French movie about a gangster. Never quite fit – he was a sweet miniature apricot Poodle.

    BJ is part Bichon, part Carin Terrier, and part(s) something taller. His full name is Binjamin Jacov Hebrew for Benjamin Jacob. BJ is the way my synagogue is known here and in Israel. Given the chance I would have chosen a different name. He’s 13 so I can’t change it. He also comes to Bajebees, and the words “treat”, “cookie’, “do you want dinner or breakfast or walk”. He will not come to “do you want a bath.” That takes bribing.

  12. I’ve only had two dogs, one growing up and one now. My sister named the first one, Pepe, after Pepe le Moko. It is a French movie about a gangster. Never quite fit – he was a sweet miniature apricot Poodle.
    BJ is part Bichon, part Carin Terrier, and part(s) something taller. His full name is Binjamin Jacov, Hebrew for Benjamin Jacob. BJ is the way my synagogue is known here and in Israel. Given the chance I would have chosen a different name. He’s 13 so I can’t change it. He also comes to Bajebees, and the words “treat”, “cookie’, “do you want dinner or breakfast or walk”. He will not come to “do you want a bath.” That takes bribing.

  13. I’d like to add: if you select a literary name for your dog, do not name him after the misanthropic villain. He might grow into it. (Says the owner of Silas Wegg, named after a really terrible person in Our Mutual Friend. I thought it was funny, because Silas Wegg spends most of the novel digging, looking for a lost will.)

  14. Let’s see…Kobi came with his name, and we never considered changing it because he came from family. Cricket was named after a beagle my husband’s father had, and it certainly suits her. When she lays with her back legs spread out behind her we call it “Cricket legs”. Moses was named after the first dog I ever loved (not my own, but a neighbor’s dog). And Sheba went along with that since I wanted a biblical name for her too (and no, I’m not really all that religious now, but I did go to a Christian college). In the bible it was actually the Queen of Sheba, but Sheba does like to live up to being the Queen. Our two dogs before that were Maggie (May) – also a song reference – and Shelby (named for the car). They all seemed to suit them fine….Maggie was a black lab mix and I’ve since seen two other black labs named Maggie, so there must have been something about that!

  15. I got my name cos it means beautiful blossom in Japanese. But I hardly ever get called it, or at least not properly. People tend to say Mis-arki (its really Mi-saki), and one guy in the park calls me Izzy – bizarre. Mummy refers to me as ‘the monster’ to friends, but she tends to call me baby or Zaki-baby. Daddy calls me ‘swamp donkey’! That is until I’m naughty and then its MISAKI!!!! Hehehehe:-)

  16. Great tips for choosing a name, especially the last one:-D I chose ‘Alfie’ because it suited the way he looked. I had about 4 names that I wanted and when we went to visit him we just narrowed it down.

  17. Kolchak had a name before we ever knew what kind of dog he would even be. (It was down to Kolchak or House, but I thought I’d sound like a moron out in the yard. “House, come in the house.”, “House! Don’t pee in the house!” Ugh, what a nightmare). I couldn’t imagine him called anything else, we knew the second we saw the picture of his little accidental litter that he was OUR Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Plus, it has the added bonus that we can immediately identify kindred spirits at the dog park because they get the reference.

  18. You had to put up a post where I couldn’t answer the question without blowing my blogging anonymity, didn’t you? :)

    Suffice to say I named Our Best Friend something too common, and have regretted it. My new rule: No human names for dogs, ’cause when you meet a person with your dog’s name, they tend to feel insulted.

  19. When I was a child, our first dog was Sniffer; the second was Sniffer Jr. HA.

    Oliver (“more, please”; Dickens fan here) was my first Beagle. Many have come, been adopted and left, some with name changes, notably from “Look Jane” (whose sister was “See Sally”) to “Coda,” since her new owner played piano.
    I had two Dachshund puppies, Pip and Squeak and then the two feral Beagle mixes, Chip and Monk. Chip went to a feral foster home in MN; Monk will be with me forever (his name not only is part of Chip but spelled for the TV show).
    My favorite change was Cora’s; she came to me first as a foster after her mom had a stroke. When it became clear she would not recover, I told our local humane society I would keep her. Never liked her name, kept saying she was “cute as a button” and “Button” replaced the name Cora with ease, even though she was a fully adult dog.
    Fun, fun entry – and loved reading the comments.

  20. Yes you are right, Jay Fred is a terrible name – and I’m only saying that because I don’t think you have any readers who’s name is actually Jay Fred. 😉

    We got it right with both dogs. Luna is a Spanish (my husband is fluent in Spanish) name which means moon (which is appropriate for Luna’s Gold color) and an old park in my hometown of Seattle.

    Penny was originally named Betty Jane, but I didn’t care for it as that was one of my nick names in high school. We thought Penny was an easy transition from Betty, and we thought ourselves to be ‘lucky’ finding this sweet little dachshund looking for a home.

  21. Love this entry! Especially when I’m thinking (ie. daydreaming) about adding a second dog. But staying in the present!

    My current girl, Indiana, was originally… Flo.

    And there was no way. Whenever I read it/saw it on her paperwork/kennel, all I could think about were my childhood Judy Blume books. The horror. Oddly enough, Indy wasn’t even on my list of names. I had a bunch of state-type names (and I still really want to name a dog Nevada), but Indiana had never struck my fancy. Had to call her something though, and she was from an Indiana shelter, so I started calling her my “Indiana girl”. It stuck?

    She’s also known as Squish, Little Squish, Squish-squish… The list goes on from there, but I’m sure you see the theme. Ha!

  22. If I had waited to see her personality, I would have named my Rosie “Lucy” because she was a crazy redhead. (Red headed tri-color Welsh Corgi)

  23. LOL! I know I am a little late to the party, but so glad I made it. You made me laugh out loud.

    After hearing someone call their dogs at the dog park – Waffle and Toast, I kind of thought I would go that round next time, but then I read Rule #1. Maybe not.

    I laughed at loud at Africa and Christie and the Honey ones. So funny!

    Jasper kind of got his name by default. I had already named his sister Jasmine when my friend suggested Jasper have a J name too. She picked Jasper and it stuck. Daisy came with hers and fits her better than you can imagine. Cupcake is my cute dog name, but I didn’t pick that one either. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever named any of my dogs! Damn! Now I want one I can name!

  24. I like Waffle, who doesn’t like waffles? I love nature names, like Daisy and Petunia. We named our yellow lab Hudson because we live near the Hudson River. Kelly came with her name and we decided not to change it, but I would probably not have picked that name on my own but it works for her. Brooks came with the name Parker and we decided to change it to Brooks and he didn’t mind at all! I really loved the name Brooks. One of my favorite dog names was Paul Anka, the dog on the Gilmore Girls. Always hysterical to hear her calling him by his “full name,” never just Paul. I think Bob Barker would be a good dog name.

  25. Aubrey says:

    My childhood dog, and first best friend, was a golden retriever mix named (Mustang) Sally (O’Malley). She was a faithful companion for 16.5 years and stayed true to our journey until I was halfway through college.
    Recently, after losing both of my 13 y.o. furkids, I adopted a 6 y.o. german shorthair pup from a local rescue group. For the first time with any dog, I had a real challenge settling on a name for my boy. He started out as Tonka (truck or native for bison) because he barrels through the house like a buffalo in a china shop. But he didn’t respond at all to that moniker, and increasingly was just bouncing and pouncing across the bedroom/kitchen/yard/park and so I thought I would name him Joey (kangaroo). He assumed I was telling him “NO” all the time and so I had to modify his name once again. I tried out several short names and when he heard “Cody”, he actually stopped chewing on his kong and looked at me… I guess when he heard something he liked, it was a winner. Now I have a Kodiak teddy bear and he has a name to go with his new home.