Human names for pets

NICK BARNETT
Last updated 13:16 27/02/2013

Pet names were simple in the monochrome decades when I grew up. Usually it was the children of the family who'd name the pet - which is why most names were easy descriptors like Blackie, Spot, Fluffy or Ginger.  Television-watching kids would choose screen heroes' names such as Lassie, Bill and Ben, or Buffy and Jody.  Adventurous book-reading kids might pick Pippi or Paddington.

Lassie
  Nowadays, would Lassie be named Madison?
At home, we had a Fluffy, then a Chip 'n' Dale. Later, my parents had a cat that took on the name Heidi, so dubbed by my young niece because she thought the cat was, well, hidey, in the sense that it hid from her.

Kids always want to choose a name, and though it might be plain or obvious, then at least be grateful it doesn't have the kind of crazy inappropriateness  that so easily pops from a child's mind, as in Auntie Janet, Baby Jesus, or Mrs Jobbie Wee Wee.

The world still has Blackies, Smokeys and Fluffies, but those plain old names are not as common as they once were, as I found when digging out some lists and commentary about what people are calling their pets these days.

A survey of some English-speaking countries found that the most popular names for dogs a year ago were Max for males and Molly for females, followed respectively by Jake and Bella, Buddy and Daisy, and in fourth place Jack and Maggie. Also in the top 50 were classics such as Lady, Rusty, Sandy, Princess and Honey.

What's interesting is the number of human-type names on that top 50. Toby, Jake, Sophie, Lucy, Holly, Chloe, Sally, Sam, Ruby, Oliver, Jackson, Chelsea and Madison - sounds like a junior school attendance register.

On the other hand, there's a lot of examples of a particular type of name that people seem to love giving their pets. My theory is that there are certain names that seem a little old-fashioned, unpretentious, comical, warm and endearing - the kind of names you imagine barmaids and bus drivers to have - and these just lend themselves to four-legged companions. In this category I'd put Molly, Bella, Daisy, Sadie, Annie, Missy, Meg, Lily, Tess, Gracie, Millie, Jessie and Katie among the females; and Charlie, Barney, Monty, Harry, Alfie and Gus among the males.

There seems to be a trend toward human names for both cats and dogs. A British cats and dogs home says the most popular name for both species is Charlie, with Max, Jack, Alfie, Bella, Molly, Lily and Daisy near the top of the list.

It's a big responsibility, I suppose, choosing a name that doesn't pall over time, or embarrass you to repeat (and repeat and repeat), and somehow captures the dog's character - or perhaps the character you'd like it to have. Somehow, my dogs have become - or always were - suited to their names, Phoebe and Connor. How those names came to catch our imagination, I'm not quite sure.

How do you feel about human names for pets? Does anyone have a Blackie or a Spot? Or an Oliver or a Madison?

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