Pet names: sentinels for what people really think about their pets
Whether it’s the twenty-something who comes in with the pet named FUBAR (if you don’t know what it stands for—Google it, I can’t say that on a family blog) or the newlywed couple that registers their first pet as Mabel, vets usually get the picture. We know that what you name your pet speaks volumes about what your pet means to you.
Sure, it’s different for every generation, ethnicity and subculture but it’s not hard to extrapolate based on these differences. It’s a fun exercise we sometimes engage in when things get too heavy at the hospital. A bit of comic relief and lighthearted voyeurism is always a welcome thing.
Human names are usually reserved for personal companions or child-pets. I get a little concerned when people start naming pets Stephen, Jacob or Charles; Mary, Kaitlin or Susan. But otherwise, the people names are my favorites. Oscar, Bruno and Max are popular in our hospital, as are Maggie, Brandy and Morgan.
The same trends in people names seem to occur in pet names, especially for dogs. One year the Star Wars names are hot (Luke, Darth, Leia), next year it’s the soap stars (Phillippe, Gabriella, Luz Clarita).
People always seem to go with the most dramatic versions of pop names for their pets. Often they’re the names they’re unwilling or unable to name their children due (perhaps) to the tease-factor. Thankfully, our pets are immune to what anybody thinks about them outside their households.
I always worry when I see a pet named something rude, demeaning or devised to please the owner’s dry wit. S---head, Infidel, Puta, Landmine, Saddam, Scumbag, Fidel, and Stalin are all names I’ve seen come out of the label machine. What does that say about your relationship to your animal? I guess that all depends on how you feel about the subject in question but still….!
For my part I worry these people will abscond without paying their bills, at the very least. But you never know…After all, little Fidelita was owned by a couple of Cuban exiles who adored her implicitly. I never asked for the back-story on her name as I hate to mix inflammatory politics into my practice.
Cats tend to get the most whimsical names and seem less likely to get named after humans. Pyewacket (Georg, that’s yours), Manzanilla, Zoom. If they do get people-named, it’s often after some histrionic personage: Prospero, Beelzebub, Persephone, Calliope, Cassandra…you get the picture.
What does this say about dogs vs. cats? I’m open to your suggestions but my take is that cats, as close as we get to them, always seem a little other-worldy or beyond us in some way. Dogs get more tangible monikers—a word you can really hold onto.
Maybe it’s also because cats don’t need their names as much as dogs do. Dogs’ names get used so often during the course of normal life: “Fido,sit!” “Fido come!” “Fido no!” Cats just have to hear the sound of the correct cabinet opening or your car pulling up in the drive and—voilá, they’re there (or not there, depending on your cat, in which case no name-calling is going to make a difference anyway).
At the vet hospital names mean everything…to the owner. The pet could care less—he’s likely to be equally pleased or freaked out regardless of what you call him. However, if the vet gets the name wrong in front of the owner, all bets are off. You might as well have called him a her. Consider your trust level ratcheted down a couple of notches should that occur (hopefully restored by the end of the appointment but not necessarily).
People are funny about that. I mean, I’d be a bit concerned if my pediatrician took one look at my son and said, “Hi, Ryan!” (not his name). I might even be a little offended. (You’ve only known him since he was born. How can you forget this child whom you’ve treated for chicken pox and asthma…and whom you’ve circumcised!?)
So I don’t begrudge people their moment of indignation should I see them in the supermarket and ask them how their “little one” is doing. I can’t possibly remember everyone’s names, now, can I?
Still, I have one tech who always manages to screw up every pet’s name and people adore her, nonetheless. Instead of Blackie she’ll call them Blinkie. In place of Sebastian she’ll say Stefano. Today she called little Pooh by her owner’s first name, instead. The workings of the human brain will always be a mystery to me. As to what screw might be loose in my tech’s head I can at least hazard a guess. But when it comes to naming a submissive cat after a totalitarian dictator—that one’s up for grabs.