All About Names and Nicknames

Many years ago my husband and I began naming our pets using Star Trek names.

We both wanted to avoid the common pet names and there are so many unique names in Star Trek, of which we were fans, that it was easy to find a character name that suited that particular pet. My husband has since passed away but I’m continuing the tradition because it’s fun. And I’m still a Star Trek fan. Right now I share my home with Bones (registered name: Dr. McCoy) and Hero (registered name: A Star Trek Hero) both of whom are dogs. The cats are Kirk, Spock, and Scottie. For Star Trek fans, past pets were Bashir, Riker, Sisko, Kes, Archer, and Dax.

So, what goes into a name and nickname?

Registered Names vs Nicknames

Some pets (dogs or cats) also have registered names as Bones and Hero do. That name is listed with a particular registry that identifies that particular animal. Sometimes the name will contain a portion of a parent or ancestor’s name. For example, for horse fans, offspring of the famous thoroughbred race horse, Seattle Slew, often have a portion of his name in their registered name. Slew o’Gold, Chief Seattle, Seattle Song, and Captain Slew are just a few. Breeders and owners of purebred dogs and cats often follow similar traditions.

Nicknames are even more fun than either home or registered names. People seem to let loose and get silly with nicknames; I admit, mine are rather tame. Bones is Big Boy, not that he is size-wise but because he’s got a bigger attitude. My puppy, Hero, is simply Baby Boy, because, well, he is. All three of the cats are Kitten-Kitten. But when I asked about pet nicknames on social media my page went crazy. I got lots of responses and many nicknames with stories as to why the pet has that (or those) nicknames. Reading all the responses was great fun.

Let’s go back to the basics, though, and talk about your pet’s name and how to teach it. Then we’ll talk some more about nicknames.

©istockphoto/ylinek

©istockphoto/ylinek

Teaching Your Pet his Name

Inspiration

Choosing a dog’s name, his home name or common name, is a personal decision. You might have a theme as I do or one of the dog’s characteristics might influence you. Size, color, breed, or temperament might lead to a name. A few years ago I met a Rottweiler named Bubbles and when I asked what lead to that name, he simply said, “It was better than Killer.” Apparently his wife wanted a feminine name for their new dog.

Syllables

Most of the dog trainers I talked to about dog names prefer names with one or two syllables. They emphasized the need to say the name quickly and for it to carry well. I like to use the example, “If your dog is a football field away and need to call him, how does that name work?” With Bones, I divide his name into two syllables, “BO-onzz, come!” Hero’s is easier, “HE-ro, come!” A complicated name with multiple syllables could be difficult to say quickly or to call in a manner that will be heard a distance away.

Reinforcement

To teach your new puppy or newly adopted dog his new name, have some tasty treats at hand and as you say his new name in a happy tone of voice, give him a treat. “Bones!” Treat. Now, initially your dog will think his name (that word) means a good treat and that’s fine. It’s a great way to get his attention; both to you and to that new sound. Do this a few times a day for several days.

Then begin saying his name in that happy tone of voice as you feed him, when you throw a ball, or offer him a toy. Then, too, as you begin doing some training, you his name then, too. Keep his new name happy, upbeat, and associated with good things.

Why Do We Use Nicknames?

The practice of giving someone a nickname isn’t new; history is filled with incidences of nicknames. In fact, ‘nickname’ originated in the Middle English era. Today, nicknames are informal and when we’re talking about a person, they can be a little lazy. It’s easier to say Reggie, for example, than Reginald. Also, it takes away titles thereby making someone with a title more approachable. A nickname is also somewhat possessive. When talking to a person, if someone is called Sonny-boy, you’d assume a relationship there.

With our pets, I found that quite a few owners were making a play on words from their pet’s normal name. Some owners also used one of their pet’s characteristics as the nickname or part of the nickname. For example, lots of Australian Shepherds had the nickname Wigglebutt. There is also fondness and possessiveness, too.

©istockphoto/Kaotrin

©istockphoto/Kaotrin

One Nick Name Leads to Another

Reading all the posts on my social media page was great fun. I haven’t giggled so much in a long time. I’m going to share some of the posts here, but I can’t share them all so I will also apologize to those I couldn’t use. Thank you for sharing!

Let’s start with cats.

Lindsay F. has a one year old Domestic Shorthair cat, Waffles, who has two super hero nicknames. Captain Yogurt for when he’s well behaved and Evil Dr. Yogurt for when he isn’t. She says the ‘yogurt’ nicknames comes from the fact that when Waffles is tired of being held, he doesn’t wiggle to get down. Instead, he melts into a slippery boneless cat; much like a bag of yogurt.

Charlene P. has a cat who they originally tried to name Jasmine, but Baby Kitty stuck. Now, when they call their cat, they call, “Baaaabyyyy!” Charlene says she feels sorry for their neighbors.

Arwen, a Devon Rex owned by Leanne H., has three nicknames. Monkey is because he goes straight up a cat tree like a monkey. He’s also called Gargoyle and Demon Cat because, well, he’s a Rex with his own unique look.

Now on to dogs.

Lyn Q-B has an Australian Shepherd named Chantilly. This is a lovely name but apparently it’s easy to turn into a variety of nick names, which include Tilly, Till Till, Tilly Pickles, Tilly Pickle Pup, and Teeee Tee Pee. (I didn’t ask what the significance of this last nickname meant or why so many e’s.)

Kay M. has a 13 year old Chihuahua named Crusher. His nicknames include Tush-Tush, Wowie, Wizzie, and Wizzle.

Susan R. has an Australian Shepherd named Crispy who has the nick names Crispy Cream, Crippy, and Cripper.

Jill G.’s Golden Retriever, Henry, is also called Hank, Hanksta da Gangsta, Hankypanky, Henry Higglebottom, Blondy, Barkeybutt, Goombah, and Fuzzhead. His funny names aside, Henry is a handsome Golden.

One of the most interesting nicknames I came across was Snuffleflufagus. This is Chandler, an English Shepherd’s nickname because of his awesome scenting abilities.

©istockphoto/Wavetop

©istockphoto/Wavetop

The Best Reason for a Nickname

As I was reading through all of the nicknames that dog and cat owners shared with me, and as I was laughing, I was also wondering why so many nicknames. But one of the dog owners had a perfect reason why. Susan R., owner of Crispy, the Australian Shepherd, said, “She knows my tone of voice when I say those silly names. She melts.” I may need to make up some more nicknames for my pets because that is the best reason ever to have them.

Meet the Author: Liz Palika

Liz Palika is a Certified Dog Trainer, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and the co-owner of Kindred Spirits Dog Training in Vista, CA. Liz is also an award-winning author and writer specializing in pets. She writes about cats, cat behavior and health, dogs, dog behavior and health, living with pets, and pet nutrition. Liz’s works have been recognized with many awards, but her most recent book, “Idiot’s Guides: Dog Training” (Penguin Books, 2014) recently won the Best Nonfiction book category in the San Diego Book Writing competition. Liz shares her home with two dogs; Bashir, an Australian Shepherd, and Bones, an English Shepherd. Three cats, Spock, Scottie, and Kirk, provide motivation for her articles about cats. And yes, she is a Star Trek fan. For more information go to www.kindredspiritsk9.com.

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