The Name Game

We have all had the experience of choosing a kennel name, naming new puppies, and trying to figure out how to do all of this without sounding … well, what is the word? Silly. Yes, that would be it!

Most of us make the mistake of trying to overdo it on our first puppy. It might go something like this: A handsome Golden Retriever puppy of 10 weeks is christened “Sir Lancelot of Blarney Hill von Blinksalot.” Too many names, too long, too grand—and yes, too silly.

Selecting a kennel name is daunting enough. Kennel names are necessary simply to distinguish your puppies, and their litters, from others in the breed. Because a dog’s name needs to be added to it, a kennel name should not be long, but it should be distinctive and easy to remember. (The AKC has rules for kennel names, should you ever want to register yours. It is best to look up these rules before you begin your quest for the right one.)

Some excellent kennel names come to mind. Wistonia, the Keeshond kennel name of breeders Nan and Fred Greenwood, was elegant, short, easy to remember, and famous all over the world. It was always paired with a single dog name beginning with a W—as in Ch. Wrocky of Wistonia. This method created many elegant names, and alliteration reigned, but all the W’s made it hard to keep track of individual dogs and their relationships. Ruttkay was simply the last name of famous Keeshond breeder Virginia Ruttkay. This kennel name, also famous, has been passed along to its now third owner.

Some kennel names are combinations of their owners’ names, like the famous German Shepherd kennel Fran-Jo, while others refer to the owners’ other interests or their geographic location.

The next task is to decide what method you will use in naming your litters. A friend of mine used the alphabet method—she named each litter in sequence, starting with the letter A. While it does not seem inspired, it does have the advantage of keeping you organized and always knowing how many litters you have bred. It also allows others to readily identify littermates in the most consistent way.

The second common method is to use themes. This can be tricky because unless it is very simple, the theme may be hard to for others to identify. For example, you could name the puppies after the characters in a series of plays, but unless people know that play, they will not be able to identify littermates.

In some breeds simplicity is carried to an extreme. I am thinking of terriers, where you might find a well-known show dog named, Tug, Bounce, or Ruffly. In this case, without a kennel name you can simply run out of names.

Now you have the puppy, and the kennel name. What comes next is you will need inspiration for the pup’s individual name. If the breeder has given you a theme or a letter to use, you are in luck. At least your parameters have been set.

We recently had a litter where the theme was famous racehorses. My family has racehorses, and so we have spent many happy evenings puzzling out names. The tradition here is that you try to use something from the sire and dam—which is another popular way to go. So, if the stallion is Tapit and the mare is Ginger Lady, the resulting foal is what else, but Fred Astaire! At any rate our puppy buyers had a wonderful time doing their research and coming up with special names for their puppies. The Jockey Club publishes a list of names that have been taken, and that too can be a great source of names and ideas.

Your hobby can also supply you with a great resource of names. Do you like NASCAR? There are a lot of ideas for names there that could apply to your new litter. Do you love movies? Themes and names abound in the movie world.

The Internet is a great resource for creatively exploring themes and name ideas. There are some sites that specialize in dog names:

2,000 Dog Names organizes the names in alphabetical order.

Lovingyourpet.co.uk organizes names by gender and many categories.

Here are some words of caution in general. As a breeder you most likely want to register the puppy yourself, or at least have the final approval if the buyer is involved in naming the puppy. Naming the puppy is a fun part of being a new dog owner, but remember that there is always a possibility that you may someday get that puppy back—and also a possibility that the puppy may grow into a star. Do you really want to show and campaign a dog with a name something like Sir Poofingbear of Elm Creek? (Don’t laugh—it happened, and he was a good stud dog, too!)

If you want your name to be special, you might want to avoid Dexter and Luna, the top two rising dog names on the list, and also Bella and Max, the most common dog names in the U.S. for females and males, respectively.

Length of name is another consideration. The longer the name, the harder it is to remember. Even though the AKC now allows you purchase extra letters to lengthen the registered name, don’t be tempted. The puppy will be weighed down by a name that no one will remember. They will remember only that the name is long and confusing.

Finally, don’t name your puppy after another famous dog in your breed, for instance a Hall of Fame dog or a dog who is currently being campaigned toward such stature—neither call name nor registered name. Take the time to check the records. You may not be familiar with those names, but the oldtimers are, and they will not appreciate having these names used.

If the dog you are thinking of emulating with your name is the sire or grandsire or other relative of your puppy, consult with the breeder before you do this.

Every puppy is unique and deserves his own special registered name and call name. Don’t be lazy; take the time and effort to give your new puppy a unique and special name. That puppy deserves it. You will have fun, and your puppy and his name will be memorable.

—D.L. (March 2013), Keeshond Club of America