Vet Talk

What's in a Name?

What animals' names say about their owners

March 30, 2015 (published)

Photo by Karen James

Most veterinarians will warn you to never name a pet “Lucky.” For some reason, most Luckys are anything but. The canine versions have a knack for sniffing out porcupines and car bumpers; the equine variants wind up the losers in tangles with fences or their own intestines; feline Luckys...well, when has a cat ever done anything it’s supposed to?

My own critters' names have ranged from the self-explanatorily uninspired – Goldie, a palomino horse; Spotz, a Dalmatian – to the obscurely random: Bandersnatch, a cat named for a monster in the poem “The Jabberwocky;” Mystic, a tortoiseshell cat named not for my love of fantasy novels but for the movie Mystic Pizza (her face looked pizza-like); Spud, a horse, although he was not shaped like a potato. We also had a couple of stops on the road to normality with Jasmine, a German Shepherd we named for the flower because of her sweet, shy personality; and Sophie, a black lab named in desperation (we were focused on baby names at that time and didn’t have the bandwidth for puppy monikers).

I’m probably not alone among my colleagues in having better recall for animal names than those of their owners. I’m story-oriented, and animal names tend to have stories behind them.

Our own ER criticalist Dr. Tony Johnson has cats named after their medical traumas. Although Sterno was the first runner up, the name Crispy won out for his burned cat. Cupid was not a chubby cherub but shot with an arrow. Tony talks about troglodytes when discussing their names.

We purchased Spud from one of my favorite clients who had an amazing skill for coming up with simple but memorable names for his horses. Spud was from Idaho, where spuds grow.

Spuds' owner also had a mare named H.B. She was his only mare and had something of an attitude. H.B. stood for Hell Rhymes-with-witch. I admit it: I took a lot of pleasure in writing that mare’s full name on official paperwork.

I find it disconcerting when animals have people names. On more than one occasion I’ve mixed up the names of patient and owner. That can be upsetting when you’re explaining to the family to watch Jane’s manure over the next few days and it turns out that Jane is not the name of the HORSE.

I may not always remember the owners’ names, but I tend to remember what their animals’ names say about them. Our English-major editor Phyllis has a cat named Dickens, and had a dog called the Artful Dodger. Tony's pets’ names speak volumes. My history of animal naming speaks to both my convoluted brain and tendency to go with the simplest possible thing when stuck.

Incomprehensible pseudo-phonetic spellings of common names tend, at least in the horse world, to accompany owners standards. In those circumstances, I tried to match the color of leg bandages to the stable blanket.

On the other hand, simple, straightforward names tend to accompany straightforward people.

My award for best animal name goes to the client from whom I bought Spud.

“Why’s he named Poodle?”

“When I bought him, they were all in a stock trailer, comin’ back from Arizona. And one of the other colts chewed off his tail, and with the heat it all frizzed up. So when I saw him, I said, he looks like a goddamn poodle.”

Good enough for me.

1 Comment

Shanna Compton, DVM 
March 31, 2015

My own cats are named Rasputin (he's black, so the black monk seemed appropriate), Jareth (he had two-toned eyes like David Bowie in the movie Labyrinth) and Buffy (brown tabby).  Buffy was 11 when I took her from being an outdoors-only declawed cat whose owner had moved and left her behind.  I prefer to think of her as the vampire slayer rather than due to her buff coloration


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