Last month, Rover magazine released its round-up of the year’s most popular pooch names and there wasn’t a Rover, Fido or Lassie among them. Instead, the list was populated with names like Sophie, Bella, Oliver and Max. Since Rover (a pet-care services app) first started tracking top names in 2013, “human” names for dogs have been the trend that just won’t quit. That makes sense when you look at the larger state of person/pet relations.
We dress our dogs in human-style clothing, send them to spas, take them to work and pay for fancy dog food that is better (and more expensive) than what I ate for dinner last night. The anthropomorphization of our animal companions is seen in dog owners who refer to themselves as “parents,” taking pet leaves and hiring pet therapists.
“My husband and I sometimes call our dog Hawaii because we could have taken a trip there with the money we spent on his knee surgeries,” says Kelly Caldwell, former editor of Dogs in Canada magazine. That dog, by the way, is actually named Henry, brother to Evie (a cat) and Dottie. Caldwell laughs at how much things have changed. “I was eight years old when I got my first dog,” she says. “My dad took me to the Humane Society and I chose a black Lab. We called him Blackie.”
A lot of dog names used to be associated with physical characteristics (Spot, Fluffy) and behaviours (Digger, Yeller). The turning point may have been in the mid-1980s, when Ronald and Nancy Reagan named their springer spaniel Rex after a White House staff member. Frasier’s lovable Jack Russell roommate was Eddie. In the late 1990s, consummate trendsetter Jennifer Aniston named her dog Norman.
The human names that made Rover’s top 10 list are notable because they’re not only human but also extremely popular. Jack, the number five name for male dogs, was the 38th most popular name for baby boys. Bella is number one for female dogs, while Isabella is number five for baby girls. Of the top 20 dog names, more than 50 percent were in the top 100 for 2017’s new crop of humans. Others, like Bear and Luna, are popular with hipster parents. Outside of the “top 10,” Rover notes that 53 percent of millennial new dog owners named their pups after characters and celebrities. As is the case with human names, Star Wars, Game of Thrones and Stranger Things were key influences (human Kylo meet puppy Kylo). Rover also noted the growing tendency to name dogs after locations (à la Chicago West).
Maybe that’s the reason why some human names are considered appropriate as dog names while others sound totally ridiculous? You don’t see a lot of Keiths and Karens at the dog park, but you don’t see them in the schoolyard either.
Popular baby names run in 100-year cycles, so we tend to revive the names of our great-grandparents—hence the exploding popularity of names like Archie and Ella in the human world. This holds true in the dog world, too. “Old-fashioned names are definitely big for dogs right now,” says Caldwell.
But what do humans think of sharing their “it” names with their four-legged friends? My friend Molly (number seven for dogs) has been hearing “I have a dog named Molly” for as long as she can remember. She says she doesn’t mind. “I think people like the name Molly for a dog because it sounds happy and approachable,” she says. Another friend of mine, a new mom, named her son Max. When I ask her if it bugs her to hear that Max was the top name for male dogs in 2017, she says no. (What would bug her is if Max was the number one name for male humans.)
That makes me wonder whether humans will one day reverse the flow of inspiration and start seeking inspiration for names from canines. “Meet my daughter Spot” seems a bit much, but that’s the extreme example. Caldwell has a friend with a new puppy named Pistachio. With the rise of names like Apple, Kale, Peaches and Saffron, baby Pistachio doesn’t sound so crazy. It’s cute and gender neutral, and at least you know what colour to paint the nursery.