By Mikita Brottman
Ideally, we should wait until we’ve got a sense of a dog’s personality before picking out a name, but puppy-owners, like would-be parents, often have a name in mind long before they lay eyes on their new arrival.
Grisby is the first and only dog I’ve ever owned, and I had his name picked out before he was even born. One evening, my partner David and I watched a French movie from 1954 called Touchez Pas au Grisbi (translation: Don’t Touch the Loot). The film was about a band of world-weary French gangsters who sit around in a bar planning a heist and mumbling about le grisbi (old-fashioned French criminal slang whose equivalent is something like “loot” or “booty”).
As I recall, we both thought it would be an appropriate name for the dog we were planning to acquire not only because it was French (though we’ve Anglicized the spelling), but also because it’s a tough, macho way of saying “treasure,” perfect for a little French bulldog.
There’s less and less difference between pet names and baby names.
The most popular puppy names of 2013, according to the website Vetstreet, include a lot of names trendy for babies: Bella, Daisy, and Sadie for females; Max, Cooper, and Jack for males. Kitten names are also trending increasingly toward the human: Chloe and Nala, Oliver and Charlie.
All kinds of pets from hamsters to goldfish are more likely to be called by baby names these days than by a moniker like Fluffy or Fido.
A question over in the forums about naming vehicles inspired this week’s Question of the Week: What’s the most unusual thing you’ve ever named?
A car or a cabin?
A dog or a cat….or maybe a pet rat, snake, or lizard? Or maybe you named the squirrels who regularly raid your bird feeder, or the little orange lizards you used to catch and race when you were a kid.
A doll or a stuffed animal? A fictional character, or a body part?
Dog names have become indistinguishable from baby names, with virtually all the most popular and stylish dog names coming from the human lexicon.
Cities like New York and Seattle as well as smaller towns such as Wellesley, Massachusetts and several dog-oriented websites publish yearly tallies of most popular dog names. Top choices these days include Bella and Max, Molly and Jack, Sadie and Cooper.
One detailed rundown of the most popular dog names in New York City includes a really cool map of the top dog names in different neighborhoods. Residents of the tony Upper East Side, for instance, prefer Lucy, while denizens of the bohemian East Village like Lulu and dog-owners in a tough section of Queens favor Rocky.
Noted dog expert Stanley Coren has even written for Psychology Today about the art and science of naming dogs. A dog’s name is vitally important, Coren says, since it’s one of the few words he understands.
What about the human psychology of choosing dog names? You don’t have to be Freud to surmise that the current taste for human names is evidence that our dogs have become our babies, deserving of the same consideration and treatment as little boys and girls.
When I chose the name Claire for one of the protagonists of my new novel, The Obituary Writer, I thought I’d found the perfect name for a woman living in 1961. To me, Claire sounded sophisticated without seeming snobby; feminine but not girlish; and although not unusual a name, it was also not common.
So imagine my surprise when I started to read another novel partially set in the early 1960s, Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, and found a protagonist named Claire. The feeling was similar to the day I showed up at a Mommy group with my baby son Sam and every other boy there was also named Sam.
After I got over discovering this other literary Claire, I wondered if Jess Walter and I were somehow tapping into a hot new name trend. But no. Claire has been solidly in the Top 100 girl names for a decade, and among the U.S. Top 1000 since they started keeping records in 1880.
Lots of parents seem to have been influenced by the romantic hero of Nicholas Sparks’ novel-turned-blockbuster-movie The Notebook to name their sons Noah. In the 1980s—two decades before The Notebook—Noah’s popularity held steady in the 200s and only made a big leap upward in the late 1990s when the book was first published, jumping again in 2004 after the movie came out. By 2011, Noah had moved all way up to the fifth most popular boys’ name.