Name game: Fun or frustrating?

Posted: Sunday, December 21, 2003

Max, max, bo-bax, banana-ana, fo-fax, mi-my, mo-max ... Max.

Most of us are familiar with the name game, and it's just one of numerous things people will do to come up with a name for their new pet.

Coming up with a means of recognition for your furry (scaly, feathery, etc.) friend is an important task, but it doesn't have to involve racking your brain for hours on end. However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

Pick a name that doesn't sound like a standard command, like "no," "stay," "sit" or "come." It can be difficult for dogs to discern between two similar-sounding words like "no" and "Joe."

Also, pick a name that a pet can easily recognize. Long names are fine if shortened, but anything more than two syllables can confuse a pet.

For example, supercalafragalistic is cute and creative, if shortened down to supey. But in its full length it is less than ideal as a name for a puppy to learn.

Try to remember that a pet name will be the same for the duration of its life and some pets can live for close to 20 years. So in that regard, pick something that won't loose zest after a few years. Names like George W. or Osama can seem clever right now, but may not seem so funny in a few years.

Beyond these three rules, the sky's the limit for picking a pet name, but that leaves a lot of options. There are a few tips that can make choosing easier.

Pets can be named right away for their physical traits or features, such as Spot for a dog with spots. However, according to recent statistics, this simplistic attitude toward pet naming has really become passe.

Even when naming an animal for a physical feature, people are starting to be a lot more creative. For example, an all black cat may be named Onyx instead of Blackie.

Also, people are becoming much more inclined to wait a few days in order to study the pet's behavior and come up with a name based on a particular behavior or a personality quirk.

Rather than come up with something on their own, many people look for names that are tried and true.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recently compiled a list of the 30 most popular pet names based on veterinarians' surveys of thousands of pet names (see side bar for full list). Max was by far the most popular name used.

Others prefer uncommon names. Choosing a unique name can be made easier by splitting up possible choices into several categories.

For instance, these categories can be based on the pet's breed heritage, such as an Irish name (or word) for an Irish setter or wolf hound; German for a German shepherd, dachshund or schnauzer; French for poodles; Asian for Siamese or Burmese pets; and so forth.

Pet names also can be chosen from the hobbies or interests of their owners.

Someone who enjoys coffee may name a pet Mocha, Cocoa, Cappuccino, Mugs, Cinnamon, Nutmeg of Kahlua.

If flowers or gardening is the owner's interest, a name like Trillium, Rose, Fireweed, Lupine, Buttercup or Daisy may be appropriate.

Military personal may choose names they are familiar with, like Sergeant, Tank, Striker or Flyboy.

When it comes to food, there are almost too many names to count, but a few could include Pickles, Noodles, Sushi, Peanut or Chili.

The food category could be subdivided to be even more specific to the owner's palate. For example, sweet lovers may choose a name like Snickers, Cookie, Twinkie or Cadbury. Cheese lovers may go with something like Nacho, Cheddar, Colby, or Jack.

Science enthusiasts may like names like Einstein, Quark, Haley, or Comet, while science fiction buffs may go with names like Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, Boba, or Jango.

Names can come from geographical locations of interest, such as Dakota, Sydney, Yukon or Montana.

Along this line of thinking, but a little closer to home, names could include Aurora, McKinley, Denali or Kodiak. Something Alaska-themed but not as common could include Shaktoolik or Kasigluk, which could be shortened to Shak or Kassy.

Fans of various forms of art may think about names like Beethoven, Plato, Dante, Picasso or Elvis, for something a little more modern.

If mythology is the owner's interest, names like Zeus, Apollo, Hermes, Venus or Athena may be appealing.

Of course, there are always a few pets that are just little terrors, and names like Diablo, Cujo, Atilla or Savage may reflect these pets' personalities.

Sports fans may stick to what they know best by naming pets Ali, Jordan, Tyson or Gretzky.

Some pets are acquired in pairs, and as such their names may reflect famous couples or familiar pairs such as Ben and Jerry, Bert and Ernie, Thelma and Louise, Bonnie and Clyde or, for something a little more contemporary, Shock and Awe (which could also fit the little terrors category).

Basically, the process of naming a pet can be as simple or complex as the owner chooses to make it, but either way, it should be a fun process.

Most popular pet names

1. Max

2. Sam

3. Lady

4. Bear

5. Smokey

6. Shadow

7. Kitty

8. Molly

9. Buddy

10. Brandy

11. Ginger

12. Baby

13. Misty

14. Missy

15. Pepper

16. Jake

17. Bandit

18. Tiger

19. Samantha

20. Lucky

21. Muffin

22. Princess

23. Maggie

24. Charlie

25. Sheba

26. Rocky

27. Patches

28. Tigger

29. Rusty

30. Buster

Source: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society. He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at

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