September 23, 2010
A little creativity goes a long way.
Thoroughbred racehorse owners are well-known for the unusual and clever names they have given their horses. Some favorites over the years have been Stage Door Johnny, the 1968 Belmont Stakes winner sired by Prince John out of Peroxide Blonde, Zamboni (Icecapade x Sweeping Beauty), Drunken Love (Whisky Wisdom x No Sugar Tonight) and Shotgun Wedding (Blushing Groom x Out Draw).
But dog owners have not been consigned to the back of the bus when it comes to great names, with a number of the best involving a play on words. While John Dryden detested puns, calling them the "lowest and most groveling kind of wit," William Shakespeare made frequent use of them, and his were often bawdy. However, many agree with the unknown author who said, "A pun is a short quip followed by a long groan."
Still, with special thanks to all the dog folks who responded to the request for great dog names, some of the best have involved such outrageous puns--and plays on famous people's names--such as the beagle or basset (can't remember which) named "Flea Bailey," an English springer spaniel called "Kirby Duckgett," a Rhodesian ridgeback with the name "Daisy Mahem," a Brittany named "Rule Britanya" and a curly-coated retriever named "Shampoodle."
A lemon-colored English setter received the name "Jack Lemon," a cocker with a nipping habit as a pup was called "Walter Cronbite," an Irish setter was named "Robert Redfurred," a fan of Ernest Evans and his greatest hit, "The Twist," called his beagle "Chubby Chaser" and a lover of old movies and the great Fannie Brice named her vermin-hunting Cairn terrier "FanEatsMice."
Politicians have also figured in dog names, including a Gordon setter named "Hairy Reid" that belongs to a Nevada hunter, a Basenji called "Congoleza Rice," a Brittany named "Dan Quail," a Labrador with the name of "Barquack Obama" and another black Labrador that for a time belonged to California political power Willie Brown, who named the dog "Eldredge Triever."
Some unusual dog names are "mondegreens," a term for mishearing a song lyric or a phrase in such a way that the misheard lyric acquires a different meaning altogether. The term comes from an essay by Sylvia Wright, "The Death of Lady Mondegreen," which was published in Harper's magazine in November 1954.
In the essay, Wright described how, as a young girl, she misheard the final line of the first stanza from the 17th century ballad "The Bonnie Earl O' Murray." She wrote: "When I was a child, my mother used to read aloud to me from Percy's Reliques and one of my favorite poems began as I remember: "Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands/Oh, where hae ye been?/They hae slain the Earl Amurray,/And Lady Mondegreen."
The actual fourth line is, "And laid him on the green."
One of the folks who responded to my request told how one of their English cockers came to be named "Mungleberry." He said he was a great fan of Frank Sinatra but despite Sinatra's superb enunciation, the dog's owner sometimes didn't quite hear the lyrics accurately. This happened with the great Sinatra hit "Young at Heart" when the cocker owner heard the last line as "If you are a mungleberry young at heart."
His wife kidded him so much that it became a family joke. When they had difficulty deciding on a name for one of their English cockers, his wife suggested the misheard lyric. As a result, Barry's formal name became "Mungleberry Young at Heart."
An encounter with a political correctness policewoman caused Chief's descendants to have call names such as "Duke," "Bob" and "Mike," although Duke (shown here) was also so named because he moved with the same sort of confident swagger as John Wayne.
Another respondent who is a music teacher said that their black lab Tar was registered as "Tarzan Strikes Forever" because that's what their five-year-old son thought was the title of the famous Sousa march.
While the above names have more than a touch of whimsy, naming a dog can be serious business, especially if the dog is going to be a hunting dog. "Chauncy" or "Strawberry" might be OK when all you have to do is get them out of the flower beds. But it's a lot easier and way more effective to be able to bellow "Duke" or "Bob" or "Coke" or "Fan" at decibel levels ordinarily reserved for Marine Corps drill instructors addressing particularly obtuse recruits when the dog is a hundred yards away pretending he can't hear you.
Lengthy names seem to have lost their clout by the time you get halfway to the final syllable, although one of my Chesapeakes went through life convinced that his full and complete name was "Rowdyyousonofabitchgetinhere"; and my late Nebraska upland bird hunting partner said his grand old Brittany was equally certain that her name was "Amydammit." Furthermore, it is never wise to name a dog something that is apt to be embarrassing when you have to call him/her in front of your hunting partners.
In many families, naming the dog is a collective effort. This is a grave error if you have children. Kids are really dangerous when it comes to dog names. When I judged hunt tests, I once marked the scorecard for a big, lolloping German shorthaired pointer named "Sweetums." I also judged a tough-as-nails black Labrador male with the name of "Snow White." In both cases, the owners sheepishly admitted that the dogs had been named by their children.
You could also find yourself in the same boat as a friend of mine who spent a half-hour sitting on the toy box in his five-year-old daughter's room where she had fled, sobbing, after her tactless older brother had rudely rejected her suggested name for their new golden retriever puppy. It was, her father gently explained to her, not appropriate for a male puppy to be named "Jewel Princess."
All of his reasons--"The puppy's going to be Daddy's hunting dog and he needs a short name so he can hear Daddy when we're hunting," etc., etc.-- were met with "Why?" and more sniffling until he luckily remembered that the girl loved the old Johnny Cash hit, "A Boy Named Sue."
When he reminded her of how "Sue" had to constantly fight because he had a girl's name and she surely wouldn't want the puppy to have to fight all the neighborhood dogs because they were making fun of his name, she finally turned off the waterworks. He said the episode taught him two things--toy boxes are really uncomfortable for sitting, and no one under the age of 30 should have any input into the dog-naming process.
Another dog owner nearly wound up in hot water with the hunt test committee when, on a windblown day, with his dog having what could only be classified as a bad trip, the judges thought he was using a particularly offensive four-letter word when picking his dog up from the field. In reality, the problem stemmed from the garbling effect the wind had on his speech and the fact that his 10-year-old hockey-playing son had named the dog. It was only when the test secretary verified that part of the dog's registered name contained the phrase "Puck on the Net" that the dog's owner was let off the hook.
The dog's registered name is important if you plan on running the dog in hunt tests or field trials, or if you are a breeder. It has to be something that's properly classy, just in case the dog should someday become a dual champion, but still lends itself to a concise call name. Some people use theme names.
Dual champion Gordon setter "E.T." has "Heaven Scent" in his registered name.
A friend who loves old television shows has over the years named her dogs "Life of Riley" ("Riley"), "Remington Steele ("Remy"), "Let's Make a Deal ("Monty") and her absolute favorite, "I Love Lucy" ("Lucy").
Going back several generations in my dog pack to a wonderful female named "Federal Case" because she was co-owned for a time with an FBI agent, all of her descendants' names have had a "legal" theme--"Chief Justice" ("Chief"), "Due Process" ("Duke"), "Probable Cause" ("Bobby"), "Judge Advocate" ("Cate"), and "JAG Officer" ("Genny"). There are some folks who devise registered names that lend themselves to clever call names--a dog named "Presidential Dreams" was called "Monica."
Along that same line was one called "Contested Election" whose call name was "Chad." A Gordon setter owner's dual champion has the words "Heaven Scent" as part of his registered name but his call name is "E.T." A pair of movie buffs named their dog "Academy Award" just so they could say they had an "Oscar."
An English major friend named one of her Chessies "Oliver Twist" whose call name was "Dickens." However, you may want to avoid names that are either lofty or have negative connotations. All too many dogs named "Nemesis" or "Tuff" or "Holy Terror" seem to have a way of living up to that name.
Lastly, when choosing a name for a dog, it is important to keep in mind that the "political correctness police" are everywhere. I discovered this hazard some years ago at an obedience trial with Chief. After I came out of the ring, having used his name several times during the exercises, I was collared by an exceedingly irate lady who proceeded to berate me for dishonoring Native Americans by naming a dog "Chief."
Unable to get in a word of explanation edgewise (or any otherwise) during her loud and lengthy tirade, I finally managed to collar a passerby with a catalog. Opening the catalog to the appropriate page, I held it in front of her eyes and pointed to the dog's registered name. Either that created a momentary halt in her invective or she temporarily ran out of breath and vitriol, as she spun on her heel and stalked off still in high dudgeon.
It was such an uncomfortable episode that I made sure I chose registered names for Chief's descendants that lent themselves to such prosaic call names as "Duke," "Bob" and "Mike." Although it is difficult to keep up with what is and what is not politically correct, you may want to give some consideration to doing the same. Either that or keep a copy of the dog's registration papers handy.
Epilogue: Three more notable names have surfaced since I first submitted this story. Two are "mondegreens." A friend of mine judged a pointer test a couple of years ago in which a German wirehair named "Surely Good Mrs. Murphy" earned a qualifying score. My friend was curious about the name and asked the owner, who said it came from the way their little girl said the final verse of the 23rd Psalm.
My friend also said that the owner told him about a vizsla that had been her dog's bracemate that was named "Pigeons to the Flag," based on how that owner's five-year-old son said the Pledge of Allegiance ("I led the pigeons to the flag...") Can you imagine the odds that two mondegreen-named dogs would run in the same brace?
Finally, my cousin said her brother-in-law had a pointer that at a young age had an abnormally long tail. (When the dog grew up, his tail was in perfect proportion to his body, incidentally.) Anyway, the dog's name was "Tail of Two Cities." All of which goes to prove there are some dog owners with a lively sense of humor.