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Naming Your Dog or Cat

The science and fun of choosing a name for your next pet.

Dog and Cat Name Science continued...

“We know that giving a short, choppy command in an up-tone of voice is something that encourages motor activity [movement], whereas long, slow, soothing tones generally do not,” Pachel says.

People taking part in competitive dog sports often prefer short, one-syllable names. Others lean toward two-syllable names, with the first syllable as an introduction to the second, giving pets more warning that you want their attention. Some find great glee in creating long, unusual pet names such as Ginko Cornelius (one of my dog's names) or Beauregard Thibodaux.

From a pet-training perspective, Pachel says that the longer the time interval between when the name sounds begin and the delivery of the reward (food, play), the more repetitions it will take a pet to recognize its name. “It doesn’t mean they cannot or won’t make the connection to longer names,” he says, “but they’ll have to learn the whole name as one command. Shorter is much more direct, much more precise.”

Alexandra Horowitz, PhD, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, recommends picking names with some flexibility for both playful and serious uses, as the need arises. Often, two or more syllables provide for more vocal variations. She also suggests distinctive names that don’t sound like other words the pet often hears in daily life.

Dog and Cat Names to Avoid

Pachel worries less about the complexity and length of a pet’s name and more about the possible undercurrents behind the name.

For example, it’s much harder for people to say a swear word or word/phrase intended in common usage as an insult in loving way.

Pachel also warns against giving names such as Killer to bigger breeds that other people might find intimidating.

Changing a Pet’s Name

You can change a pet’s name and in certain circumstances it makes sense to do so. Pachel says, “I’ve known dogs whose names have been used, not exclusively, but largely, in a punishment context, so the sound of their name immediately triggers a fearful or avoidant posture."

Ultimately, pet behavior and pet health experts want people to choose dog and cat names that they like and enjoy. After all, it’s a word you’ll be using a lot for many years to come.

“People assume I selected the name Victor for its winning properties, but that’s not it at all. It just made me smile,” Lester says. “What better way to select a name?”

Reviewed on June 08, 2012

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