Features March 2011 Issue

What’s In a Dog's Name?

Apparently, so, so much!

The January issue of Whole Dog Journal featured “Say My Name,” an article by Pat Miller that explained the importance of teaching your dog to recognize and respond to his or her name. In a sidebar to that article, Pat also discussed the issue of naming (or renaming) your dog. And she announced a little contest for our readers, asking you to share the story of how you selected your dog’s name and why. Pat said she would select some winners and the “top three” would win a signed copy of her newest book, Do Over Dogs: Give Your Dog a Second Chance for a First Class Life.

Apparently, dog names are very important to our readers, too. We received more than 250 contest entries, via the U.S. mail and email, as well as through comments on the WDJ website (whole-dog-journal.com) and the WDJ Facebook page. (All of the Facebook and WDJ website entries can still be viewed online.) When we read them, we laughed, we cried, we felt like these stories ought to be a book! But picking a winner was difficult – kind of like adopting just three dogs out of a huge shelter full of terrific canine companions.

There was nothing scientific about Pat’s selection process; she simply chose the ones that touched her the most, with an admitted bias toward shelter and rescue dogs. Below are Pat’s three winners and three runners-up. Thanks to everyone who shared their funny, sweet, and memorable dog-naming stories.


Kate Durket, Sutherlin, OR

Here is the story of my “do over” dog.

Great Dog Naming Stories

Meet Hope!

In 2004, after losing my beloved girl, Grace, I was adamant about finding a dog who needed a new chance. After many weeks of looking I was contacted by my vet, who told me about a six-month-old Shepherd-mix who had been severely beaten and left abandoned.

When I went to the shelter to see her I noticed that “Linda” (as she was then known) was being bypassed by all the people looking for dogs that day. When I finally stood in front of her kennel it was easy to see why. She was a mass of bruises and lacerations, and the only fur she had was on her head. I gently knelt down and without hesitation she came up to me and licked my hand. In that moment Hope was reborn. She joined her “sister” (my Cocker-mix, Faith) and has been a wonderful member of my family for the past six-plus years. And last year on Christmas Eve my third girl, Joyeux Noel was born.
My three girls, Faith, Hope, and Joy are ambassadors of love in my little town.


Erin Saywell, Sykesville, MD

My pit-mix is named “Score.” Here’s his story:

I have a friend from an online message board who takes his dogs to a doggy daycare in North Carolina. My friend fostered and found homes for two Lab puppies who had been abandoned near a Dumpster near the daycare, so he was the one the daycare called the next time they needed to find a home for another abandoned pup.

It seems that a drug addict wandered into the daycare’s store area and stole $200 out of a donation jar. A few days later, he wandered back into the store. They told him to get out or they’d call the police. He asked them if they’d seen a puppy. With a lot of eye rolling, they told him to leave. Sure, he’s got a puppy . . . right! About an hour later, they found an eight-week-old puppy sitting on the sidewalk in front of the store. They scooped him up and called my friend, who took the puppy, of course.

My friend posted pictures of the puppy. I asked – half joking – if he’d like to donate the pup to my local assistance dog organization. He agreed readily, and we arranged for the new pup to come to Maryland.

I named him Score, both for his “old owner” and for his new life; he sure “scored”! He ended up washing out of the program because of his looks (too “pit bull”) and he stayed with me. He’s now a service dog demonstrator, a therapy dog, and an awesome flyball dog!


Dawn Goehring, Gatlinburg, TN

Great Dog Naming Stories

Meet Liberty!

On September 11, 2001, I needed a bit of love so I went to my local animal shelter. I was looking for a dog with good potential for becoming a trick dog. I was just getting started on training a group of dogs to perform together and I needed just the right dog to fit into my family.

When I got to the shelter I saw several dogs that would be great, but one caught my eye. She was a Beagle-mix, just circling in her cage. I knew this was not excitement, but stress. The closer I got, the faster she circled. I took her out. She jumped in my lap and proceeded to lick me all over. It was just the thing I needed on that sad day.

I took out some treats and played with her. I quickly found that she did the most beautiful stand on her back legs, like a statue! And because of the day, I thought of the Statue of Liberty. A patriotic name to remember the day and honor it. Liberty needed a job, as her neurotic circling was a major issue. But 10 years later she is one of my best working dogs, still curls up in my lap with kisses, and will always stand tall like the symbol she was named after!


Pat Miller selected the following three stories as runners-up in our contest, but of course these terrific owners are winners in their own right. What great stories!


Talitha Neher

Great Dog Naming Stories

Meat Toby Van Gogh!

When we were little, my grandmother used to unpin her hair, brush it until it crackled, and tell us she was a witch. Then she’d tell us the story of Little Dog Toby, who would bark! bark! bark! to scare away the hobbyahs that came of out the swamp at night to eat the Little Old Man and Little Old Woman. Unfortunately for Little Dog Toby, the Little Old Man (who hadn’t read Don’t Shoot the Dog!) thought Toby was just being obnoxious and came out with the scissors each night to cut off a body part and shut him up, starting with his ears.

Fast forward about 25 years, and I’m a veterinarian working with several local rescue groups. Thanks to a tolerant husband, my house is something of a halfway house for injured bully breeds. Usually they go on to long-term placements, but some of them stay. One of those is Toby.

Toby was anonymously relinquished to me after a home ear crop job went south. He came after a street-corner handoff, shaky and sick, ears crusted with blood, and dead tissue and cartilage hanging out everywhere. The lines of Sharpie ink were still visible on one side.

I got some fluids, antibiotics, and pain meds into him and took him to surgery to salvage what was left of his ears and relieve him of his testicles. I contacted Boise Bully Breed Rescue, made a report to Animal Control, and took him home for the night for observation. When I caught myself telling him that “Mommy would never let anyone hurt him like that again,” I knew he wasn’t going into rescue – and that meant he needed a name, preferably one that was pretty charming, since he would grow into an oversized pitty with a lopsided fighting crop.

I called my sister about him. “You have to call him Little Dog Toby!” she said. I also called my best friend from vet school, whose suggestion for a name was “Van Gogh!” Both names seemed to fit him, and he became Toby van Gogh.

He’s almost two years old now and embarking on agility classes. He’s going through a mouthy adolescent stage, but I can’t imagine life without him. I’ve attached a picture of his ears when he came to me and one of him now, hiking with his brother, “Stagger Lee.”

Great Dog Naming Stories

Meet Rosco!


JoAnne Tuffnell

When our son and daughter-in-law brought home their beagle from the Humane Society, his name was “Midas.” They sat down and looked through lists of names, went online for good dog names, and talked with family members. They finally chose “Rosco.” We were all stunned at how quickly he responded to his name and knew their choice had been a good one.

A few weeks later we had tree men working in our woods. I started talking with one of them, and the conversation turned to dogs and rescue animals. I said our kids had just adopted a beagle named Rosco from the Hamilton County Humane Society. “They got Roscoe?” he asked. He proceeded to tell me that his relatives had adopted a dog from the city humane society, but he barked too much for their neighborhood; the relatives asked this man to take the dog, but it didn’t work out for him either, so he returned the dog to the relatives. The relatives then took him to the county humane society, pretending they had found him because they were too embarrassed to return him to the city’s pound. The county group took him in and placed him for adoption.

“But what does that have to do with Rosco?” I asked. The man said, “You said it’s a Beagle, right? And his name is Roscoe?” “Yes,” I answered, “But his name was Midas when my son and daughter-in-law got him. THEY named him Rosco.” He continued to talk about the dog and we compared notes and dates. Yes, the unbelievable is believable. Roscoe the Beagle became Rosco the Beagle. No wonder he learned his name so fast! And the lack of the letter “e” didn’t bother him one bit.

Great Dog Naming Stories

Meet Rogue!


Debbie Schwagerman, Terrell, TX

Most of our dogs are rescues but we think they still deserve full “registered” names anyway! We pulled our latest rescue dog from a shelter that does not even adopt to the general public as our new “foster” dog. We like looking for fosters from this particular shelter because the dogs have such a small chance of getting out.
We were not looking to add a new dog to our permanent pack at all, but her slightly wild nature and sweet, snuggly personality caught us both off guard. We found ourselves unable to give her up when it came down to it. So, she became a permanent member of “The Ruff Mutt Gang” and was then named Ruff Mutt’s Caught Ewe Off Guard, aka “Rogue” (she’s a Border Collie, hence the “ewe” spelling).

Comments (11)

I have a few dog names on my blog that are pretty cool as well. I listed French Bulldog names and some cool hunting dog names. In case anyone is looking for ideas :)


Posted by: FreddyTheFrench | December 2, 2016 2:32 PM    Report this comment

My dog's name is Lilliput after the island of little people from Gulliver's Travels. The Lilliputians are the little people inhabitants, and Lilliput means "little person". I found her as a puppy on the streets, she was severely malnourished and sick, but made a quick recovery. She's the light of my life.
I love all these shared stories. Thanks Whole Dog Journal community.

Posted by: MHM | July 21, 2015 4:28 PM    Report this comment

I find it astounding that EVERY dog who is featured in this article is a "rescue" dog of some type. But lets be realistic, most of these dogs were HOMELESS, which is far different than being rescued. I love how one dog was "relieved" of his testicles. Why do we feel that we can remove pieces and parts, when it suits us, and feel it will have no after effects. Always humors me, the same people that are screaming about tail docks/crops think nothing of spaying or neutering!

Posted by: Concerned1 | April 29, 2014 11:03 AM    Report this comment


Posted by: taimancho | April 16, 2014 9:28 AM    Report this comment

When I we rescued our youngest gsd he had been kept in a crate for the first 6 months of his life.was suffering from malnutrition and caked in his own filth...the very mention of his name would cause him to shake and urinate in fear....with his new home came a new name and a full structured rutine....without a new name he would have had difficulty escaping the fear being called held and would have had trouble adapting to his new life

Posted by: Zaallia | March 19, 2014 4:46 PM    Report this comment

I have never been too concerned with a furfriend's name as long as it isn't derogatory or insulting, and I would NEVER name a 'bully' breed or any similar type dog something like Killer or Slasher. I always end up adding a mix of love-names to whatever official name goes on the vet record anyway -- and, nobody gets confused when they are called Love Puppy, Mom's Angel, or Special Blessing along with their official name. My current Blessing is a beautiful Flat Coated Retriever girl who was already named Trixie when she was given to me by a distant in-law who couldn't keep her. In this situation I really thought I should change her name because my family included a now-deceased Uncle Trixie, who had been called by the nickname Trixie by everyone his entire adult life. My sister insisted I let Trixie keep her name because Trixie knew it was her name, and besides it made a great laugh. So Trixie she remains, along with TrixieLove, PreciousGirl, LovePuppy, God'sGift, and I could go on.

Posted by: Barbara C | December 17, 2013 1:04 PM    Report this comment

My son was interested in a beautiful girl from Germany, so he began studying German. He did not win the girl, but he met a sweet orangish-golden Chow-Border collie mix at the time. Someone threw her out at his fire station one afternoon. He and his crew fed her, but they couldn't put her up for the night. A fire station gets calls in the night, and they were afraid this little golden dog would get hit by a fire truck. So, my son said, "If she's still here in the morning, I'll take her home. The next morning he tried to open the door, but it wouldn't budge. It had snowed/iced during the night, and he was afraid the door had sealed shut. A few minutes later, he tried the door again--throwing all his 6 ft. 175 lbs. against the door. It opened quickly, and the little dog tried to get out of the way. She was very cold and very stiff from being outside all night. My son picked her up and brought her home. He asked me what he could name her; I asked him what was the name of the lovely German girl? No, that wouldn't do. So I looked up some names on the Internet that had to do with "little girl" in German. I'm not sure that's exactly what I entered, but our little girl is named "Frauke." She's 6 yrs old now and 38#. She adores my son and vice versa.

Posted by: MARY D. A | May 21, 2013 7:28 PM    Report this comment

My dogs name is Sammy, I lost my other sammy 7 monts age, he was 11 years old.
Putting him down took a big part of myself with him, my sister bought me a new sammy within two weeks of Big sammys death. I didnt want him! But after about 1 min, I was in love with him, His now 7 months old and I had forgot how much work a puppy is, but its worth it for all the love he gives.


Posted by: Unknown | March 27, 2013 8:35 PM    Report this comment

i liked the name ROSCO very much

Posted by: Unknown | August 2, 2012 1:33 PM    Report this comment

I went online to search for a possible Mental Health Service Dog candidate and was literally on my way out the door to meet one at the nearest county shelter when I stopped to chat with our building manager. To my surprise, he insisted that a state law that applies to literally every type of dwelling allowing people with dogs they are training as assistance dogs didn't apply to our single-room occupancy residential hotel, so before I could bring a dog on the premises I'd have to get a letter from a doctor stating that I'm disabled and would benefit from an assistance dog. While this was illegal, I felt I had no choice but to comply. Four hours later I left a walk-in mental health clinic with the letter - but "my" dog had already been adopted by someone else. Though I felt hurt and angry, I continued my online search. A few days later my husband David and I went to a nearby city's shelter, where another potential candidate awaited. I promised dog-loving David that even if the adoption fell through, he could still visit the kennels to say "Hi!" to the canine residents. Had it not been for that, I would never have met my dog, because after I learned that the dog we'd taken two buses and the trolley to meet had already been adopted, too, I just wanted to go home and have a good cry. That shelter assessed all of its dogs, and none of the dogs that met my minimum criteria (under 20lb., breed or mix known to be trainable, and between one and two years old) had the traits I felt increased their chances of succeeding in service dog work. Nevertheless, when I dog I recognized that had been described as very shy, slow to recover, intolerant of rough treatment of any kind, and suitable only with respectful children 12 and older (any one of which is a disqualifier!), who was standing quietly in a kennel with a frantically yapping Chihuahua, went up on his hind legs to jam his nose and one front paw between the fence and gate posts as soon as we made eye contact, I thought, "Hmmm, he doesn't seem shy!" and offered my fingertips, which he licked slowly and gently, eyes closed. I decided to pay him a visit in the shelter's visiting pen, and during the half hour my husband, a shelter worker, and I spent with him, I saw cautious curiosity, not shyness. He feared neither my came nor my husband's power wheelchair, and though the 15-lb. gray and white curly-haired schnauzer/poodle mix was a far cry from the 5-8-lb. silken-tressed Maltese or Maltese mix on which I'd really had my heart set for years, I decided to give him a chance. As my David and I left (he had to stay one more night because he needed to be neutered), David exclaimed, "That dog's SUCH a sweetheart!" "The Sweetheart" is David's moniker, and he'd never used it to describe anyone else before. That, the fact that David was born and raised in the Dominican Republic and is more comfortable speaking Spanish than English, and the shelter being in a predominantly Hispanic city motivated me to suggest we name my dog "Dulce" - Spanish for "sweet". Three months later, Dulce's as sweet as ever and his training is going well -oh, and we adore him, of course! Nothing in the assessment, done only five days into his stay at the shelter, turned out to be accurate, incidentally - least of all the recommendation that he be placed in "a low-energy household"!! Can you say "schnoodle sillies"? lol

Posted by: Tamara J | December 9, 2011 1:01 PM    Report this comment

Names have always been important to us. Our beautiful male shar pei was rescued near death when the animal shelter gave up on him. He had been dumped in the early morn before shelter opened, and was near death when we got there. He would need super strength to survive. We named him Kaili which is means triumphant strength in Chinese. He doubled his weight and regained his beautiful pre-shelter appearance in a few months with us. Our next Chinese shar pei was dumped in rescue by her owner breeder when she and sisters got sick from neglect. She needed someone to believe in her, and we named her Xiangxin which means believe in Chinese. After I was dx with MS, we searched for the right puppy to train for my service dog. When we found him, I named him Shai Azer. Shai means gift and Azer mean helper in Hebrew.

Posted by: Patty A | September 11, 2011 11:57 PM    Report this comment

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