Say my name: When kids get to dub the family pet


File photo. File photo.

This was his first visit after being adopted from the SPCA over the weekend. He was a bit pudgy at 40 pounds—a middle-aged Beagle mix with a lazy demeanor and drooping ears. He was adorable, but with his squat legs and lumbering gait, I could never describe him as dynamic. I glanced at his chart, and swallowed my laugh before turning to the owner.

“Batman, huh?”

She replied with only a smirk before rolling her eyes toward the corner bench where an 8-year-old boy smiled broadly.

I love pet names. Sometimes, they speak volumes about the animal. Other times, they paint a clearer picture of the owner. But in every case, they give families the opportunity to stretch their creative muscles a bit. Sure, celebrities can get away with giving their kids names like Blanket and Moon Unit. But the rest of us can’t venture too far from center when naming children lest we doom them to complicated lives. Pets, on the other hand, don’t have to worry about schoolyard taunting or incredulous stares, so have at it!

For convenience and utility, it’s often recommended that names be fairly short and punchy so that animals can discern them easily. That may be worth some consideration, but I wouldn’t worry too much about it. I’ve known a lot of animals, and I’ve never met one that couldn’t understand his or her name. And let’s be honest, most pets are responding to a dozen alternate nicknames by the time they’re a year old. Relax and let inspiration do its work.

There’s no limit to what can make a great pet name, and people mine countless sources to find them. Literary characters, rock stars, scientists, favorite cities…even common household objects get their chance to shine. I recently met a charming little dog named Lunchbox, and I can’t begin to imagine what would suit him better.

When I was a veterinary student, my classmates and I would discuss the pitfalls of naming pets, and the use of human names came up. We all agreed that some “people names” were great for animals, but that others just seemed incongruous. We couldn’t come up with an all-encompassing rule, but when presented with specific names we almost always agreed on which were which. Toby, Maggie, Jack, and Annie all got instant unanimous approval. Then someone said “Darryl,” and every nose in the room scrunched up in contention. I guess some names are just too human?

Meanwhile, other names are apparently unfit for man and beast. Despite being the boilerplate choice across thousands of stories, in 10 years of practice I have yet to meet a dog named Fido.

I suppose I can’t end this without explaining my own dog’s name. He is named Link, after the brave little hero of the Legend of Zelda games I’ve played since childhood. Odd that he turned out to be such a cowering bundle of anxiety. I guess, like Batman, he’ll have to wear his moniker with irony instead of aptness. It’s O.K. Somewhere, 8-year-old me is smiling.

Mike is a small animal veterinarian at Georgetown Veterinary Hospital. He received his veterinary degree from Cornell University in 2003 and has lived in Charlottesville since.