Boy Baby Names: Gone to the Dogs?

Is their favorite name best reserved for pets?

a Name Sage post by: Abby View all Name Sage posts

They have a favorite name picked out for their son, but some have dismissed it as a dog name. What does that mean, exactly, in 2017? Should they choose another name, or stick with their first choice?

Monica writes:

We are expecting our first baby boy in just a couple weeks and still haven’t decided on his name.

We have a 2 year old named Betsy Ray, both inspired by family. We love the country casual vibe of her name, and really want to match that style for baby boy.

Hipster baby names are big where we live. I love most of them, and prefer “old man” names for the most part.

The middle name will be John, another family name. Our last name starts with a T and sounds like tunes, so names ending in a T don’t work well, and I tend to think names ending in S don’t sound very good, either.

Our current frontrunner is Murphy. My husband is a surfer, so the meaning – sea warrior – is perfect. Plus, there was a comic strip from the 1960s about a little surfer dude named Murphy, drawn by one of my husband’s favorite artists.

We’ve also considered Louie, Stanley, Victor, Fletcher, and Otis, but none of them have the same meaning.

I’m not sure about Betsy and Murphy together. Are they too matchy? When I look online, I see mentions of Murphy’s Law, Murphy Brown, and Murphy beds.

Also, lots of people call it a “dog name.” Which I’m really sick of on the whole. I always seem to like all those so-called dog names. Who cares if people named their dog a GOOD name? Does that mean we should just turn the name over to the dogs indefinitely?

Thanks for any advice you have. I want to just fall in love with Murphy, but I can’t shake this feeling that I’m not all the way done looking yet!

The Name Sage replies:

I am so glad you brought up the dog name question!

You’re absolutely right – dog names are people names, and people names are dog names. Gone are the days of Fluffy and Fido. Now Gracie could be the name of the family’s golden retriever – or their new baby.

The next time you hear someone dismiss Murphy – or Dexter or Coco or Bailey – as a dog name, know that she’s saying something different. Imagine she said, “Hmmm … that’s not really a name I can imagine on my child.”

People do choose great names for their pets, as they should. And you’re right! It doesn’t mean that those names should be off-limits for people.

Now, back to Murphy.

Murphy is an upbeat name, friendly and familiar without being common. Fewer than 150 boys were given the name last year. That puts it very much in the same column as Betsy, comfortably outside of the current US Top 1000. Style-wise, they go together very well.

Do they match a little too much? I don’t think so. If you were considering Margot and Milo or Lola and Louie, I might answer differently. But Betsy and Murphy only share an ending sound, and seem distinctly different. Siblings answer to combinations like Henry and Mary, Lucy and Charlie, Aubrey and Riley. Betsy and Murphy work every bit as well.

It also sounds like there’s some magic to Murphy.

Your connection to the name’s meaning, and the fictional Murphy from the comic strip, sets it far ahead of Stanley and Victor. If we were talking about style alone, I might rate Otis or Fletcher more “country casual” than Murphy. But this decision seems to be about story, rather than style. And in this regard, Murphy seems tough to beat.

Still, since it seems like a few more suggestions might help you decide, I’ll offer some ideas:

Arthur – Maybe more mainstream than you’d like, but Arthur and Betsy were both more popular one hundred years ago than they are today. It definitely fits in the “old man” category.

Garner – An overlooked surname name option.

Harvey – Yet another retro choice, though it shares the same –y ending that gives you pause with Murphy.

RoscoeRoscoe comes from an English surname, but works with the country casual vibe. The ‘o’ ending is stylish and old-fashioned.

Russell – From the 1890s through the 1970s, Russell ranked in the US Top 100 most years. Now it’s sliding, but the surname name might make a surprising choice.

Wylie – A surname name much fresher than Riley, Wylie is also spelled Wiley. As with Harvey, the ending sound duplicates your daughter’s name.

I think any of these names, or any of the choices on your shortlist, would wear nicely. But I’m rooting for Murphy this time. I think the meaning and significance for your family far outweighs the possibility that your son might someday share his name with a neighbor’s dog.

Readers, I’d love to your take on a name for Betsy Ray‘s brother, but also on the dog name/kid name conundrum!

Do you avoid "dog names" for your kids?

  1. ANo. My favorite names for kids aren’t that different than my favorite dog names.
  2. BYes. I have rules about which names work for people, and which are reserved for dogs.
  3. CIt depends. Some names work for both, but others seem like a dog-only or baby-only choice.
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About the author


Abby Sandel is nameberry's Senior Editor and resident Name Sage. Look for her baby name news round-ups every Monday, and her Name Sage columns on Wednesdays. Abby is the creator of the baby name blog Appellation Mountain and mom to Alex and Clio.
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26 Responses to “Boy Baby Names: Gone to the Dogs?”

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Mads Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 1:43 am

I have had two dogs in my life one was Sophie and the other was Murphy, both great people names! I’m currently pregnant and one of my top boys names is my brothers cats name and another is a good friends dogs name

I think people just use great people names for pets these days and I am not going to let it put me off! Murphy is an awesome name , good luck!!

Pam Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 1:49 am

Great question AND great answer. I don’t think of Murphy as a dog name — Abby ranks higher as a dog name than Murphy! — but I have one more possibility to throw out there. It has the old man vibe and the sea-related meaning and it’s more unusual/less obviously cool, and so less likely to be used for your neighborhood pittie The name is Murray.

If I were naming my own son, I think I’d pick Murphy over Murray because it sounds maybe friendlier and more easily likeable. But I love Murray too!

IslandMoon Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 2:56 am

Once people know a child with the name, they tend to no longer think of it as a dogs name. I used to think of Poppy as a dog’s name, because almost every female dog I’d met was named Poppy. But I now know two baby girls named Poppy, so it no longer seems like a dog’s name.

In your situation, Murphy seems like the right name, so I think you should use it no matter what people say.

bw Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 5:56 am

My friend named her 6th child Murphy last year and I thought it was so refreshing and lovely. My name is Betsy and I think Murphy is a wonderful pick to go along with it!

marisarose Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 9:59 am

I love Pam’s suggestion of Murray, but I also think Murphy is awesome and way underused!

As far as pet/child names, my pets all have “people” names, as well as having middle names:

Bentley Wyatt
Noah Rhys
Rhea Nymeria
Lucy Celeste

paulapuddephatt Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 10:45 am

If you tend to like decent names for pets anyway, the pets and human names distinction is less important. I had a dog named Amber. For our birds, name choices have included Amos, Arrow, Emerald (Emmy), Donna, Jimi, Eric, etc. Our current cockatiels are Ed, Dignity and Johnny. We’ve used Sparkey for a budgie, but most of our names are suitable for people. Many honour musicians and other people.

emilypcs Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 12:08 pm

I was in a similar boat as this reader when we were naming our first child. The boy name we had picked out was Toby, and lots of people told me that Toby is now officially a “dog name.” I found these comments annoying and unhelpful because surely once people get to know a child with a “dog name,” the dog association will fade. (We ended up having a girl.)

On the other hand, my sister’s name is Molly and it greatly bothered her as a child and teenager when people would tell her their dog / horse / cow was named Molly.

For me, I guess the lines of animal and people names are blurred since I grew up with cats named Jane, Cora, Clara, and Dylan, among others. As an adult, I much prefer word names for my pets. I think some names are too far in the dog category — Fido, maybe — but to me, classic human names can never be fully co-opted by animals.

danirose01 Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 1:00 pm

I definitely see Murphy more as a people name than a dog name, and I know both people and dogs who bear it. I think the reason why some think of it as a name for a pet is because a lot of us bestow our animals with the names we aren’t ballsy enough/ can’t use on a human child. Murphy is a pretty rare name that I happen to love, and I would use it on a baby, but I also know a lot of people who prefer to play on the safe side, and that’s how it ends up on their dogs instead! Like, my dog is named Franz, which is a name I happen to love as well, but I don’t have the German heritage (or the balls) to back that up on my kid. My previous dog was Gidget, which I find adorably vintage, but ultimately I couldn’t help but use it for the dog because I loved saying it.

By the way, my brother is named Max- just Max- (the most common dog name of all time maybe?) and he always loved it growing up. It fits his persona perfectly, AND he loved meeting dogs who shared his name. I could see a little girl maybe being more sensitive about that. It doesn’t seem like something worth worrying about, since the name Murphy is a GREAT fit based on what you’re looking for.

mflannery Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 2:16 pm

I don’t see Murphy as a “dog name”, but even if it was I really don’t think it’s a problem. My name is Maggie and almost every single person had a dog, or their grandparents had a dog etc. who was named Maggie when I was young, and it didn’t bother me or make me hate my name so I say don’t worry about it.

Bobcat108 Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 2:39 pm

For the last almost 30 years all of our cats have had people names…Samantha Marie (the middle name was in honor of my mom because she and Samantha had some very similar personality traits), Theo, Oliver nn Ollie, JennyAnyDots (from TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats), Priscilla nn Prissy, Isis (named less than a month before ISIS exploded onto the world’s consciousness), & now Finn. W/the exception of Isis, I’d use any of these names on a human as well.

mill1020 Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 4:16 pm

Stick with Murphy. Not too matchy with Betsy at all.

a_r Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 4:20 pm

If someone called for Patch, Lucky, Bones, Fluffy, Scruffy, Spot, Wags, Deefer, Socks or Fido in a park, I’d probably guess they were calling a dog. If I met someone with one of those names, I’d probably assume it was a nickname (Fido for Fidel, maybe. Deefer Daniel, perhaps).

Rover and Rex – if called out, I might assume a dog. If I met someone with the name, I wouldn’t necessarily assume it was a nickname. After a second or two, I wouldn’t think about it.

Max etc – “dogness” wouldn’t occur to me unless it was the name of a dog I’d owned. Just like the names of my family members will always trigger that association, so will the names of my pets. But I think of that particular pet, not dogs (or pets) in general. If the dog was nasty, it might make me react to the name, but no more than if it were the name of a nasty human I knew. And the animal association fades once I’ve attached the name to a human too. I think of horses when I hear “Misty”, for instance, but I don’t think about them when I read or hear about Misty Copeland.

And, for what it’s worth, I’ve never met (or even heard of) a single dog named Murphy.

eveyalecia Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 6:40 pm

To agree with many other commenters– I don’t think of Murphy as a dog name, and if you name your son Murphy soon no one around you will either. I happen to really adore Murphy (it’s clunky-cool and has great history, and clearly is very meaningful to you and your husband) and I don’t think it’s too matchy with Betsy at all.

Tipper12 Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 7:24 pm

I agree with the prior readers. Murphy is a fantastic name and the ties you have to its meaning won’t be easily replicated elsewhere. I wouldn’t let the possibility of meeting a canine Murphy deter you anymore than the possibility of meeting another human with the name. That being said my immediate thought when you mentioned the vibe you were going for just happened to be another warrior name and so I thought I’d share. Gunther, which means “bold warrior”.

mymel0dy Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 7:33 pm

In my life I have had three dogs, Primo, Chelsea, and Licorice. I have also known girls named Chelsea. I have had cats named Tasha and Sacha, oh and ones named Cerri, Onnie, and Mao. I currently have a cat named Ish and my neighbor goes by the name Ish, so in response to that name is a pet name, I say no that is a name that someone happened to name a pet. As for Murphy it is a long standing favorite name of mine. Murphy John is brilliant and perfect and sounds great with Betsy Ray, which I think is utterly adorable. The names sound great together but not matchy matchy, like you are trying to match them.

lesliemarion Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 8:17 pm

Dog names and people names, all the same thing, I agree. Of course my dogs have been Bonnie, Sophie, Abbey, Venus, and such.

Murphy is fine, but I like your other old man choices very much.

Murray is cute too.

And seeing the photo of the baby and dog in bed makes me wish human beings could give birth to dogs. SO CUTE!

Jo Jo Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 8:24 pm

Murphy is a great name for Betsy’s brother. But if, ultimately, Monica and her husband can’t commit to Murphy, what about Campbell?

amie1la Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 10:02 pm

Murphy is great! I’ve loved it since watching Interstellar. ?

SparkleNinja18 Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 10:28 pm

I agree with other readers. The dogs I’ve had in my life were named Kelly, Ezra, and Maisie. All names that fit them perfectly as animals, and would work great for humans (although I’ve only met human Kellys. I guess there was Ezra Fitz on Pretty Little Liars who wore the name well too but I’ve never met him, sadly). I love Murphy, and it sounds great with Betsy. I say go for it.

jtucker Says:

February 15th, 2017 at 11:03 pm

I say stick with Murphy. It seems like it’s the name that you both love and have a connection with. 🙂

And for the record I don’t think of Murphy as a dog name at all. Murphy and Betsy sound lovely together.

Myn Says:

February 16th, 2017 at 2:34 am

My rule is I don’t use people names for dogs. My last dog was Cynder (which could be linked to the Lunar Chronicles, but had more to do with colour)
Others: Mischief (Missy), and Scooter

It weirds me out when dogs have human names
But some dog names like Cynder could be names or nicknames for humans

silkypumpkin Says:

February 16th, 2017 at 12:06 pm

Murphy is not a “dog name”, it was first and foremost a human surname. Unless you’re aiming to name your kid Muffin or Socks I think you’re fine. I know dogs named Charlie, Marley, Oakley, Sophie, Bear, and Elizabeth, all names I consider people names. I personally chose non-people names for dogs for this reason, and I was counselled you don’t want to be screaming “Bob!” out your back door if you’re calling your dog not your child (i wanted to name my childhood dog Bob, we went with Ranger).

AmeliaWilliams Says:

February 16th, 2017 at 3:33 pm

I think Murphy is lovely, and it sounds like the meaning plus the comic connection make it extra special! I know a dog named Murphy, but I don’t think of it as a dog name at all.

As far as dog names go…I dislike that people use human names on dogs. I have an aunt that named her dog my name…not before I was born, we’re talking like…5-6 years ago, randomly “forgot” she had a niece with my name and named her dog after me. To add insult to injury, rather than referring to me as “human AmeliaWilliams” and the dog as “dog AmeliaWilliams”, we are “big AmeliaWilliams” and “little AmeliaWilliams”. Thanks, Auntie. Thanks a lot.

I also think naming pets gives us free reign to give our pets the absurd names we all love but would never use on an actual human for fear of scarring our children for life. My pet names list is so much more whimsical and free than my baby names list!

emily_h Says:

February 19th, 2017 at 10:31 pm

I *love* the name Murphy and don’t think it’s a dog name at all. It’s not like it’s Fido or something, geez. People say the strangest things! I hope you stick with it and love it!

Jmoneyhan Says:

April 7th, 2017 at 2:45 pm

I have an almost 2 year old son named Murphy. I love the name. When I was pregnant and I would tell people what his name was going to be, I always was told it was a dog name. I simply would say something like if it’s good enough for a dog it’s good enough for a baby; or since my dogs (Charlie and Sally) have people names then my kid needs a dog name.

To me it didn’t matter what people thought, only that my husband and I liked it. Now that he’s here I couldn’t picture him as anything other than a Murphy. Now when I introduce him to people, I get the response that it’s a cool name; not a dog’s name.

Monicatoombs Says:

June 19th, 2017 at 4:44 am

Murphy John was born March 4 2017, he is a sweet smiley baby and sister Betsy adores him!! Thanks much for all the help and reassurance. 🙂

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