Naming Your Dog: What’s In A Name?

When we decided to adopt a puppy, we spent hours reviewing possible names. But we almost made the wrong choice.

What would have happened if we had named Honey Stella instead?

Honey the golden retriever with her Kurgo travel bowl.

Do I look like a Stella to you?

Choosing A Dog’s Name

When it comes to naming my dog, I’m tempted by sly references and word play.

No surprises, right? After all, I did name my blog Something Wagging This Way Comes (English majors get it right away).

You know those weird dog names you hear when you watch a dog show? Well they use the breeder’s last name followed by some string of silliness.

If we bred dogs, you might see a dog named “Webster’s Dances For Cookies.” Or “Webster’s Farts On The Couch.”

The dog’s “call name” is what her family calls her around the house.

Honey’s breeders have a last name related to art.

So I thought it would be clever to give our new pup a name with an art reference and I had just the thing: “[Breeder’s Name] Starry Nights.” And her call name would be “Stella” from the Latin word for star.

Cute, huh?

Except for one thing. It didn’t suit the dog we were getting.

My dogs, Agatha and Christie, post in the garden.

It doesn’t pay to be too cute. None of the children in our Philadelphia neighborhood knew who Agatha Christie was. So they called the dog on the left Africa and the dog on the right Christie.
Actually, Agatha probably preferred being called Africa.

Fit The Dog To The Name

I love the name Stella.

But it feels a little larger than life.

We had a choice of two dogs in Honey’s litter.

Honey the Golden Retriever's Sister

Honey’s sister. Now she looks like a Stella.

The breeder suggested we take the quieter, more mellow of the two pups. And with some reluctance I agreed with her advice (smartest thing I ever did).

And this quiet, sweet, tiny girl was no Stella.

What to call our new pup? And could my husband and I agree on a name before we were due to pick her up in two weeks?

For some reason we liked food names: Sugar, Peaches, Salami (just kidding about that last one).

It didn’t take long for us to come up with Honey.

Honey is registered with the AKC as [Breeder’s Name] Life’s Sweet Moments.

But to us, she’s our own sweet Honey.

Honey is a golden retriever puppy on the beach.

You could have called me Sandy.

How To Name A Dog

When I was in high school, I worked in an auto parts store.

One of the regulars used to come in and put his dachshund (always wearing a leather biker’s vest) on the counter to say hello to me.

The doxie’s name was “Killer.”

Even then I wondered why this customer named his dog ironically. And what it meant for their relationship (yeah, I was a weird kid who really did think about those things; explains why I wasn’t more popular, right?)

If I were the head of the dog naming bureau, I’d suggest people think about a few things before naming their dogs.

Names are attention-getters.

I keep reminding my husband that “Honey” does not mean “come.” It means “pay attention, I’m going to tell you something important.”

If the name you choose for your dog is too long or hard to say, will your dog ever learn his name?

Honey the golden retriever looks at a sandwich with love.

If you call Honey’s name, she immediately looks up at you.
Or, you could just eat a sandwich.

And you’d be amazed to realize how few dogs know their names. The next time you meet a stranger with a dog, try using the dog’s name and see if he looks at you. I bet that most of the time you’ll get nothing.

Oh, and two-syllable names are easiest to call out.

Dogs can confuse names and words.

Never name your dog something that sounds like another cue you frequently use. You’ll just confuse your poor pup.

Name your dog “Pitt” and then asking him to sit is just begging for confusion.

Names affect how other people treat your dog.

Everybody laughed to see the dachshund named Killer.

Name your pit mix that and you’re likely to see even more moms dragging their kids to the other side of the street.

Yes, it’s unfair that some types of dogs are maligned without any regard for their temperament or training. But it’s a fact of life.

And if you want people to learn how affectionate pitties are, don’t name yours Spike or Fang. Or Killer.

And if you want your search and rescue poodle to be taken seriously, don’t name her Fifi or Misses Fluffy.

Honey the golden retriever on the beach at Cape May.

What would you think of me if my name were Hurricane? Or Butcher?

Names say something about your relationship.

If you name your dog ironically, are you creating distance? Will naming your dog something baby-like make it harder for you to treat him like an adult?

And if you name your dog something ridiculous or jokey, will it make you less likely to use her name in public?

In the end, we have dogs to share relationships with creatures different from (and yet remarkably similar to) ourselves.

I guess the best name we can choose for our dogs are the ones that foster the best relationships.

Honey is a Honey

When a stranger asks me my dog’s name and I tell them she’s “Honey,” they’ll often reply, “Of course, what a perfect name.”

Honey the golden retriever tires to understand what I'm explaining to her.

I’m sweet and I’ll stick to you like, like, well, some kind of sticky substance I can’t think of right now.

It really suits her.

Yes, she’s honey colored. And she’s very sweet.

But she’s also natural and never spoiled (did you know honey never goes bad?).

So I think we made the right choice in naming her Honey instead of Stella.

Especially since I’d have had to divorce my husband after his third bad Marlon Brando impression.


Yep, good decision.

Your Turn: How do you choose names for your pets? Is it important to you that the name suit your dog’s personality?

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  1. Absolutely the name must fit. Jack was Jake for a few days…but that seemed a little too upscale for our down to earth, rough & tumble Jack. I wanted to name Maggie, Molly – and I think that would have suited her, but Maggie is good too.

  2. Ellen Haith says:

    We’re not very scientific about our dogs’ names. Our first was ‘Phelps’ for no good reason at all – he was a chocolate mini poodle with an attitude, who would as soon chase after an Afghan hound as take a nap. Next came Corgi brothers, Baggins and Brandy[buck] for the obvious presence of their short legs. Mariah was our first Standard Poodle, thus named because she really COULD run like the wind. Then Charley, a mini poodle who sported a mustache and a VERY active kissing routine! Annie, second Standard Poodle; my husband suggested this name several hours after we received the dog as a foster – it made the first time we had THREE dogs in the house – something I had always wanted – so I agreed without a sound and got my wish! Annie is still with us, though getting a little grey, and we have also Harry, a refugee from Staten Island, half Bichon, quarter mini poodle, quarter unknown. Harry fits him perfectly, and he still tries to be a bit of a brawler from The City.

  3. I just love this post, because I love dog names and the stories behind them. When you’re head of the dog naming bureau, will you hire me? I like to think I’m a skilled dog namer with years of experience.

    My previous dogs were named after goddesses. Lasya was very unusual (the Hindu goddess dance of happiness) and often mispronounced as Lassie. It fit her perfectly because she was joyful and a bit otherworldly in her wisdom. Freya is still somewhat uncommon, except in the world of Norwegian elkhounds – every other one is Odin, Loki or Freya, of course!

    I pride myself on unique names so it’s strange for me to now have a dog named Ruby since it is often in the top 25 of female dog names, but I console myself with the story behind it. While Lasya and Freya were both still alive and no other dog was on the horizon, I was reading Helter Skelter. There was a horse wrangler named Ruby Pearl who was a witness for the prosecution, and I thought “wow, Ruby Pearl would be a great name for a dog.” When I saw the split-faced red-and-white terrier mix on Petfinder, I knew that she was probably already mine and she already had a name.

    Boca’s name came about in a rather convoluted way. As you know, she was supposed to be a foster dog, and I knew the dangers of renaming her, but I just couldn’t bring myself to call her by her shelter name, Lydia. It reminded me of Winona Ryder’s character in Beetlejuice; while I love the movie and character, the mopey goth persona just did not fit with this goofy, grinning dog. I called her “potcake” and “sugar” in the interim, and came up with a whole list of possible names. The better the name went with Ruby, the more dangerous I felt it was. Opal (another stone) and Guava (another red thing) were out. I wasn’t keeping her, they couldn’t be a set. I wanted something tropical: Summer, Puka, Capri? None seemed just right. Maybe almost stuck, but by that time I partly still didn’t want it to match Ruby’s name so well, and partly knew she was already home and the names were *too* similar, apt to cause training confusion. Boca had that tropical ring, and also fit because she was so expressive with her underbite, funny smile, and air-snapping when she is especially happy. Boca it was. My grandmother to this day calls her Mocha, so I got a kick out of Agatha/Africa.

    • I would definitely hire you for chief dog namer if I was president of the world.

      I’ve always loved your penchant for goddesses. And I never thought of Ruby as a common name given your link to the Rubicon. Very clever.

  4. Oh, yes, what to name a pet is a very important decision. Duster, as a youngster, was quite the going concern, a whirling dervish of energy and trouble. So he was named after a duster of a storm. Zach, well, he was a quiet guy, kinda shy and reserved. A more sober name was needed for him. His name is a tribute to one of our favorite musical artists.

    I do prefer two-syllable names, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. And it’s not only English majors that get the ‘Something wagging…’ reference 😉

    We will be welcoming a feline into our home in a couple months and what to name it has been an on and off discussion. We’ve seen photos, the gender is still uncertain, so that kind of makes it difficult to settle on something. But we’ll work it out eventually.

    • Please promise me you’ll share a kitty picture–on my FB page or email me. I’m seriously tempted to get a boat kitty to keep Honey company and one cute pic might send me over the edge.

  5. I always have such a hard time picking names for my fur babies. I am SO pick when it comes to naming them LOL!
    ]ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!

  6. I love the idea of your dog naming bureau. I take dog naming very seriously indeed!

    It’s funny, before we adopted Nala, I had a long list of appropriate names for different sorts of dogs. For a warm, sweet sort of dog, Summer. For a quick footed, mischievous border collie type, Eris, the greek goddess of chaos (that one may be setting myself up for failure?). Kira, after a character in one of my favorite movies from my childhood, The Dark Crystal. None of them were quite sticking to Nala, who was too goofy to be named Kira, too sweet to be Eris, and not quite a Summer. Meanwhile, she loved the name she came with. And when she greeted us, she would bunt against our legs like a big, happy cat. So we kept Nala, because it fit her so well.

    Oh, and then I almost fostered a dog just because she was also a german shepherd named after a disney princess–they would have been a perfect set!– so there’s that. 😛

  7. Mom likes human names and ones that are short and easy to say. Emma was a bit British sounding, so I got that name, although my formal name is Debucher Baguette. Thank dog she doesn’t call me baguette as that would be sooo very embarrassing! She likes “K” names which is where Katie came from, and Bailie is just a name she liked and had on her list of names she keeps on her computer.

  8. Honey is the perfect moniker for her. And yes, Stella, cute as she looked, made me think of a little pill of a dog who’d probably grow up to be a big pill. 😉

  9. Honey is very fortunate she had adults name her. I brought home three pets (2 dogs and 1 cat) when my daughter was 10-12 years old. She wanted to name them. The negotiating went on for ever. Blacky, Dipstick, Mufasa, etc. Also a few that can not be mentioned. Why not? I heard so and so say that at school! Eventually names we could both pronounce were chosen. Can you imagine calling for Mufasa three times real fast? Me either.
    I usually go with simple human names. Easier to say (and remember).

    • Bwa ha ha. Yeah, kids come up with interesting names.

      I named my first dog (a male, wolf hybrid) Duchess. Why? Because I had just seen the Disney movie The Aristocats and that was the mama cat’s name.

  10. That’s funny, I’ve never heard of a breeder using their last name as part of the dog’s registered name. In my experience, the breeder registers a “kennel name” with the AKC, like for Jimmy, his kennel was Fine Creek….so he is Fine Creek’s Sharp Dressed Man for his tuxedo colored coat. Wilson’s kennel was Caduceus…….so he became Caduceus Castaway….Call name Wilson for the soccer ball in the Tom Hans movie……

    • Some kennels are probably so small the last name does fine.

      I love both your pup’s full names. Sharp Dressed Man certainly fits Jimmy. Though Greased Lightning would also work given his agility performances.

      And the Castaway/Wilson reference is cute. Not sure what his breeders were thinking when they came up with Caduceus. Was it for their snake-like tails? Or because as barky pups they’re good messengers?

  11. Oh and of course I immediately got your blog title…..I even had a post using the original way back in 2010…..

  12. I love this post!

    Nola is of course New Orleans, LA. I wanted something girly, short, and unique. I also tend to like the names of cities or countries (I had a cat named Italy as a kid).
    I picked (with the guidance of her breeder) the most rough and tumble, dramatic, hot tempered and feisty puppy. She has a certain flair about her, and is a little quirky, so it fits her perfect. I’ve met only a handful of people who get what Nola is for, though.
    Her registered name is (breeder’s last name) Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler.

    Pike is named after a book character. Again, I wanted something short and unique. The character he’s named after also has bright blue eyes, and I like the sharp, single syllable of his name. He can be a bit scatterbrained, so something short and direct works for him.
    His registered name is (breeder’s name) The Watchman, which is the title of the book he’s from.

    Olivia is also a book character. It’s longer than I usually go for, so it’s often shortened to Liv or Livvy. I wanted girly without being obnoxious, and while it’s a common human name, I’ve never met a dog named Olivia. It strangely fits her solemn little bearded self!
    She’s Turning Page Dizzy Up The Girl. It’s a Goo Goo Dolls album.

    Even the bird has a book character name, haha. Nola’s the odd one out.

    • I love the New Orleans reference. But I also think Nola looks like a Nola.

      And I confess when I read your blog, I start humming to myself, “Whatever Nola wants, Nola gets…” Yeah, I know. It’s weird. And considerably older than the Goo Goo Dolls. :)

  13. Honey absolutely looks like a Honey :)

    When I got my JRT x puppy it took us two weeks to name him. He was named “Marley” when I got him from the shelter, but I think Marley is a lab’s name, and it didn’t suit this tiny JRT puppy at all.

    Hubby and I went back and forth with names every day for about two weeks before one evening hubby said “Obi”. And it just clicked. There was no discussion, we both just knew it was the right name for him :)

    For two weeks we called him “puppy”, and he still responds to it :)

  14. Harley was always going to be a “Harley” because of my love for the motorcycle. Leo came to us already named, and to be quite honest – he looked like a Leo. Jaxson (for short I call him Jax or Jaxy) was the perfect name for him because he’s always on the go, can’t stay still and the name just fits. I agree – the right name ins super important.

  15. I’ve only named one dog, the dachshund I grew up with (who could have actually lived up to the name Killer when people came to the door!). We named him Johann and added “Rot Baron” for Red Baron since I loved Snoopy, so his full name was Johann Rot Baron. The two dogs I’ve adopted as an adult have come with names and actually knew them, so I kept them…Sam and Richie.

  16. I actually named my Australian Shepard…Salami. He has an S in his firm and Salami was the first thing that came to mind. It has been a great name, and other than all the strange looks at parks he seems to love it!