How Did You Come Up With Your Dog’s Name?

Some people deliberate over names, and some (like me) just slap on the first thing that strikes their fancy. What did you do?


I know a puppy who has been nameless for the two weeks since his people adopted him. His owners have been painstakingly trying to decide on a name. They’ve pored over lists of pet names, and ransacked a book of baby names. Still nothing.

Their pup is an adorable mutt, mostly terrier with a smattering of Beagle. The wife wants to name him something dignified. She would even be happy with Charles. Not Charlie; Charles. “To us he’s like a little person, and his name shouldn’t be too doglike. He’s not a Fido or a Ralph,” she told me. (I didn’t tell her that Ralph is a person’s name, too.)

The husband would prefer something cooler, not common, and “really awesome.” Problem is, he can’t even come up with a name he likes, much less one they agree on. “It’s not something to be rushed into, but I had no idea it would take this long,” he said as his nameless pup slept in his lap.

So this scruffy little fellow remains nameless. Actually, I think he may be starting to think his name is “Off.” I noticed this when the wife lovingly but firmly told him “off” when he was gnawing on the corner of a throw pillow. He came running to her, tail wagging. She told him, “Good Off!” and that really made him wag.

It seems Off is not alone in mistaking his name. In an entertaining column in Psychology Today, esteemed canine psychogist and author Stanley Coren wrote about a dog named Polar who really thought his name was “No.” “On the basis of what he had experienced during his life, the sound that he had heard most frequently associated with consequences for him personally was ‘No.’ In Polar’s mind, then, ‘No!’ was his name!” wrote Coren.

It’s estimated that over the course of your dog’s lifetime, you’ll use his or her name 35,000 times. So it’s understandable that some people would get a bit bogged down.

Lack of being able to make a decision has never been my problem, so when I got my Airedale 21 years ago, I named him Joe as soon as I saw him. At the time, I had no human children. My dad, also a Joe, had just died, and he always had joked about being sure to name all my children “Joe.” That was a no-brainer, and I’m sure my dad had a good chuckle from beyond.

After Joe died in 2002, we decided to foster a dog. This nameless six-month-old Lab walked into our home with his rescuer. He looked and acted a lot like the dog my young human daughter had always drawn to accompany Joe in her cartoons. She’d named the dog Jake. This pup, who would go on to make us a failed foster family, embodied everything Jake. There was no choice in the matter. (Never mind that Jake is one of the most common dog names out there, and when I call him in a place where there are lots of other dogs, he’s not the only one who comes running.)

Clearly, I’m not one to identify with the people who own Off in their nomenclature hell. But because of them, dog names are on my mind a lot this week.

So I ask: What’s your dog’s name, and how did you come up with it (if your dog wasn’t already named when you got him)? Did it take you a while or was it a pretty quick decision? I’m also curious about this: If you adopted a dog with a name, did you keep the name or change it? Let’s talk!

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