The names of our dogs

Keith Sutton

A company called Veterinary Pet Insurance of Brea, Calif., recently analyzed its 450,000 insured clients and came up with lists of the top 10 dog names. In fact, they even broke it down by gender. According to VPI, the top 10 male dog names, starting with number one, are Max, Buddy, Rocky, Bailey, Jake, Charlie, Jack, Toby, Cody and Buster. The top 10 female dog names are Bella, Molly, Lucy, Maggie, Daisy, Sophie, Sadie, Chloe, Bailey and Lola.

I don't know about you, but when I read these lists, I don't see any real dog names. Sounds more like a teacher taking attendance at preschool. In fact, some of the top 10 names, or close variations, appear on the Social Security Administration's list of most common baby names. For example, Jacob (Jake) is the top name for boys, while Isabella (Bella) is number four for girls.

Whatever happened to good old-fashioned dog names  names that weren't people names? For centuries, giving your favorite canine a human title was totally unheard of.

Consider this list of hunting hound names translated from a Greek manuscript centuries old: Lance, Sentinel, Ecstasy, Blueskin, Crafty, Hasty, Vigorous, Impetus, Counsellor, Bustler (dog) and Hasty. The writer says, "The names are significant of the color, strength, spirit, sagacity or behavior of the hounds."

Another ancient list of dog names contains some monickers that are even more interesting and unforgettable: "Black-foot, Trail-follower, Voracious, Gazelle, Mountain-ranger, Fawn-killer, Hurricane, Hunter, Seizer, Catcher, Runner, Gnasher, Spot, Tigress, Might, White, Soot, Spartan, Whirlwind, Swift, Cyprian, Wolf, Grasper, Black, Shag, Fury, White-tooth, Barker, Black-hair, Beast-killer, Mountaineer." Not a human name in the mix, but we do get one of the earliest mentions of another name now gone by the wayside: Spot. Yes, plain old Spot.

William Shakespeare mentioned dogs in several of his works, and none of the names he used are reminiscent of human titles. In "The Taming of the Shrew" we find Clowder, Merriman, Silver, Echo and Belman. "The Tempest" dogs were Mountain, Silver (again), Fury and Tyrant. And in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona," we find Proteus' servant Launce dragging his cruel-hearted and infamous dog Crab, who he complains is the surliest dog that ever lived.

In more recent history, we find a prevalence of "real" dog names as well. Consider the frontiersman Davy Crockett whose hunting dogs were Old Rattler, Soundwell and Tiger. George Washington, our first president and an avid hunter, kept a pack of fox hounds, and there wasn't a Max or Molly in the bunch. His canine companions included Mopsey, Pilot, Tartar, Jupiter, Trueman, Tipler, Truelove, Juno, Dutchess, Ragman, Countess, Lady, Searcher, Rover, Sweetlips, Vulcan, Singer, Must, Tiyal and Forrester.

The good news, perhaps, is that Veterinary Pet Insurance's lists of names are probably not representative of the true scope of dog names currently being used. The company's lists include many dog names that are also the names of people because these are the names of dogs that are insured. No doubt, lap dogs and house dogs make up most of this group  dogs considered by their owners to be real family members and thus deserving of human names.

Chances are good that few hunting dogs are among the insured. After all, who wants to indemnify an animal that makes its living in the wilds, plunging into icy waters to retrieve waterfowl or spending hours chasing critters such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes and even bears and mountain lions. And those who own hunting dogs seldom treat them like members of the family. Hunting dogs are loved and treasured, but seldom thought of as children or human equals like many other canine pets.

We can rest assured then that for every dog named Max, Cody, Lucy and Lola, there's another dog with a real dog name like Scrapper, Ranger or just plain old Rover.

For many of us, knowing that is a big relief.