Pet names can be predictive, or not
Monday, February 24, 2014 3:28 AM
My "junk" reading this week has included a book about a man with cats, and the names of cats. While most people likely attempt to name their pets after some observed behavior, or trying to ascertain something about the animal's personality, this man thought that, given the right name, the cat would live up to it.
One example in the story was a woman's cat named Bootsie, who was particularly ill-behaved. As described, it sounded much like a bad-tempered child who is rude to guests and jealously demands his/her parents' attention. He claimed the cat was simply reflecting its "nothing" sort of name, and that it caused him to have self-doubt. He suggested the cat be re-named Brutus. Its owner took the suggestion and the cat started behaving like a noble Roman.
That reminded me of a dog we had once upon a time. It came from a pet shelter, and he was of dubious lineage, clearly a Heinz 57. So we gave him a grand name, hoping that he would live up to it. He became known as Aristotle.
Aristotle did indeed live up to his name in one grandiose way: he was unusually smart. He was also hyperactive and that is not such a good combination. When we were gone to work, he got into all kinds of trouble. We finally decided that anytime we were gone, he would have to spend his time in the basement. At first he got even with us by chewing up everything in sight. He even chewed all except the bottom of the plastic laundry basket, and swallowed all of it. Then later, after we came home, he promptly proceeded to vomit it all up. Actually, we were relieved that he was able to get rid of it that way. Who knows what all that plastic would have done to his innards if it had moved through his digestive system.
I was curious enough about pet names to do a little research, and found that the Veterinary Pet Insurance organization (yes, there evidently really is pet insurance!) has tabulated the most popular pet names in the U.S. Well, at least these are the most popular with people who buy medical insurance for their pets. As listed, the top five names for male dogs are Max, Buddy, Jake, Bailey and Rocky. For females they are Molly, Bella, Lucy, Maggie and Daisy.
For cats, the top male names are Max, Tigger, Tiger, Smokey, and Oliver. For female cats, the top are Chloe, Lucy, Molly, Bella and Sophie. I don't think these are very imaginative; nor could they be very predictive. I don't think they could possibly reflect some claimed observed personality. So I looked up some of the meanings: Max is derived from Latin and means "the greatest." Molly is an English word meaning "of the sea," or "bitter."
I know two people who have dogs named Molly but now I am wondering why they chose those names. It seems those people at the pet insurance association were also curious; they compiled a list of the most unique pet names. And for some of those unique or odd names, they found out why those particular monikers were chosen. While they did not include the reasoning behind any of the top five for dogs or cats, some of the reasons must be obvious, such as "Spark Plug" for a dog, or "Dumpster Kitty" for a cat.
The most interesting story I found for a unique name was from a couple who named their dog "Geez Louise." One of the pair was reluctant to acquire a pet, but the other got him to visit a dog breeder and take a look. As he was standing in the midst of a bunch of wiggly puppies crawling around his feet, he loudly exclaimed "Geez Louise!" One of the dogs, a cute female, stopped dead still and looked up. Of course they picked the one who already seemed to know her name. The dog has fit in really well, and if they decide to get another, they said it will likely be called "Good Gravy!"
The man in the book I was reading this week (Lilian Jackson Braun, "The Cat Who Tailed a Thief," 1997) also did some research on pet names, specifically those of cats. What started him on that was meeting someone's cats called Pinky and Quinky, short for their real names of Propinquity and Equanimity.
He acquired a list of what he considered "well-named cats." This included Toulouse, a black-and-white stray adopted by an artist, and Wrigley, a native of Chicago. There was Winston, who lived in the bookstore and resembled an elder statesman, and Agatha and Christie, two kittens abandoned in the parking lot of the library. Magnificat lived at the Old Stone Church, and Holy Terror, the pet of a retired pastor and his wife. Beethoven was a white cat born deaf.
He had a theory that Oriental breeds would behave better if given a name with an Eastern suggestion, such as Beau Thai, or Chairman Meow. He insisted that a cat who doesn't like his name may develop behavior problems which would go away if his name was changed, for instance, from Peanuts to Aristocat.
Aristotle, the dog from way back when in my life, eventually learned to open the door from the basement to let himself out when he was left alone. He could also get out of the back porch, both into the yard and into the house. If I had known about this theory of pet names back when he lived at our house, I think we would have given him a different name, one that might have not encouraged him to use his brain quite so much.