What’s in a dog’s name?

April 8, 2010

Guelph Mercury,  08/04/10 Cassie

On the surface, dogs seem to have it all. They don’t have to work. No one blinks when they sniff each other’s rear ends. And they get to pee outside.

But unlike people, who can legally change their names, man’s best friend has to live with the name we give him, no matter how stupid it may be.

That means choosing a dog’s name has always been fraught with danger. Let children do it, and you’ll end up with Mr. PooPoo. Adults aren’t much better, considering one of the most popular female dog names remains Lady. I guess people take perverse pleasure in standing in the park and yelling, “Hey Lady” and “C’mere Lady!”

A tiny poodle named Killer is bound to be confused for life. Call your fierce guard dog Fluffy, and he’ll invite anyone into your house.

And so it is that I am about to welcome a shaggy stranger into my home. No, not Owen Wilson. That would just be weird. I’m talking about a dog. And this dog needs a name.

Personally, I’m partial to Uncle Leo, but apparently others don’t see the humour in naming your dog after Seinfeld characters. Others like the name Money, as in “We lost Money again,” and “Money has destroyed this house” and because you can stand on your doorstep and yell “Come here, Money!”

George W. Bush was partial to Barney, the Scottish Terrier that helped him craft foreign policy while he was in the White House. Then there’s Bo, Barack Obama’s Portugese water dog, the little pet that probably eats better than I do.

There’s the always dependable Pat, the Irish Terrier who mattered so much to our own Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King that he cancelled cabinet meetings just to sing to him.

For loyalty, you can’t beat Bobbie, the name of the Wonder Dog who walked 2,800 miles across the United States to Oregon after getting separated form his owners in 1923. Or Shep, the border collie that waited at a train station in Montana for six years after his master was loaded onto a train in a coffin.

My own experience with dogs hasn’t been quite that legendary. First there was Sheba – a sheep dog with a troubled past who herded the neighourhood kids around the yard. She was extremely effective, because any kid who strayed from the pack got nipped in the face.

Then there was poor old Sassie – the dog that would run for days on end until the game warden two counties over called and told us to come pick up our pet. Every year, she’d chase deer across the ice until the lake broke open in spring. Inevitably, she’d come home sopping wet, shivering violently like an underdressed university student standing in line outside a downtown bar.

Sassie spent her final months carrying around a goiter on her mouth the size of a tennis ball. As kids, we ran from her like she was the Elephant Man.

Then came Cassie, the dog who took to digging up deer carcasses and dragging them to the front door after they had aged properly. She was pretty to look at but just about as dumb as you’d like a dog to be – though smart enough to figure out if you went swimming with your electric collar long enough, it would eventually stop shocking you.

Maybe, just maybe, a good name should be a reward for good behaviour. In that case, maybe I’ll let the dog help choose its own name. That way if it turns out to be a monster, I swear I’m naming it Whiskers The Cat.

Greg Mercer is a journalist who lives in Guelph. His column appears Wednesdays. He can be reached at greg_mercer@hotmail.com, and past columns can be read at gregmercer.ca

One Response to What’s in a dog’s name?

  1. Kate on April 8, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    What a cute photo of you and Cassie!

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