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Didi McElroy

What’s In A (Pet’s) Name?


DEAR DIDI: My husband and I recently adopted the most amazing dog from Pets N Pals in Lathrop, CA. We absolutely adore him but we are not fond of the name he came with. He is three years old so we worry about changing his name. What, exactly, are the repercussions if we do? New Doggy Mommy in Stockton


DEAR NEW DOGGY MOMMY: Humans are such an amazing and complicated species! Our language allows us to be precise in our descriptions while our emotional sides attach feelings to those words. Names are sure to invoke strong emotions. Our past relationships frequently enhance or undermine how we feel about certain names. Our own name is very personal and directly linked to our sense of self-worth. Canines don’t have a verbal language so they don’t experience those issues. They can, and will, learn to associate some things with a name when it is consistently used. If the name is always used to scold the dog with an angry tone of voice then it will teach the dog to worry or be nervous when the name is said. A dog’s name is not much different than any other command he might learn. It is perfectly okay to change a dog’s name! As a matter of fact, I frequently recommend it when a dog is having a dramatic change of environment.

I recommend that my clients start their training by teaching their dog that his name means, “look at me for a second.” This will help you get your dog’s attention before asking for a more important behavior such as “come.” So how does one pick a name for their new best friend? Some people like traditionally human names and others prefer traditional dog names such as, Rover. You could honor a favorite movie star, author, or political figure by bestowing their name upon your canine. Perhaps a descriptive name such as “Brownie” for a Chocolate Lab. I have two or three baby name books and pet name books in my personal library and they offer thousands of suggestions. Categories include Cartoon Characters, Religious Names, Foods, Greek Mythology, Terms of Endearment, and much more.

Studies show that dogs respond best to commands that are one to two syllables and have hard consonant sounds. I have always found that this concept also applies to a dog’s name. So, although Frankenstein is a fantastic name for some quirky dogs it is quite a mouthful and will frequently get shortened to Frankie. Many registered purebred dogs have fancy, impractical names for their registration papers. My daughter’s black Pug is registered as Black Velvet Valentine but his call name is “Wilton.” Cake decorating enthusiasts will recognize the brand name. Market research shows that the top five names for boy dogs are: 1) Max, 2) Buddy, 3) Jake, 4) Rocky, and 5) Harley. Don’t want to be in the most common list? Have a sense of humor? Try Nacho, Mr. Magoo, or Lego. A dog’s name can be a wonderful conversation starter!

In the end, your dog’s name doesn’t really matter to him, but it does to you. Go ahead and find the perfect name that you can be proud to say, that reflects his personality, and marks his new start in life. Thank you for adopting a dog and I wish you many years of happiness together!



Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Email your questions or inquire about dog behavior presentations at