Can dogs have human names?
In April, model Chrissy Teigen announced the birth of her daughter, Luna, with John Legend. I love the name Luna, it’s feminine, celestial and easy to pronounce in many languages. It’s also the name of my dog — because Luna is clearly a dog name. It’s an even better cat name (the Harry Potter and Sailor Moon reference became so popular that Toronto Cat Rescue advised fosters to stop naming their cats Luna). Or so I thought.
I began thinking of Luna’s canine playmates and the list sounded like a kindergarten attendance sheet: Sophia, Ella, Riley, Oliver and Jack, and noticed that the top licensed cat, and even more so, dog names in Toronto seemed to be taking cues from BabyCenter.ca’s 100 most popular baby names lists.
When my friend revealed that Edith was the front-runner name for her baby, I could only think of an acquaintance’s hyperactive miniature pinscher-pug mix named Edith who appeared to run battery operated. She named her daughter Edith, anyway. But that’s OK. Human Edith’s mother named her now 16-year-old dog Brooklyn (a popular baby name for years).
Are the days of Fido and Lassie doggone? While traditional dog and cat names like Buddy and Coco still rank high among licensed pets, I’m guessing their owners may be mature in age. Let’s face it, you don’t have to be a spring chicken to become a pet “parent.” And I understand the appeal of modern baby names for dog owners because unlike cat owners, we are constantly addressing them in public.
In a 2011 poll by Purina Dog Chow, 90 per cent of owners considered their dogs members of the family, so it isn’t surprising pet owners are favouring trendy baby names since, culturally, they hold a special place in our hearts (and unique space in our homes).
“Companion animals are not wild animals, nor are they domesticated in the sense of farm animals. So, we have pets, which are like mini-humans to us,” explains James K. Stanescu, a lecturer specializing in animal and environmental ethics in Philosophy at American University in Washington, D.C.
According to the same 2011 survey, 40 per cent of owners refer to themselves as “mom” and “dad” to their canine companions and I have noticed that descriptors like “fur baby,” “practice baby,” “first born” and “the roommate” are widely used.
“I think we have slowly tended to want to see pets as more of a member of the family,” says Stanescu, “We give them more human names, as opposed to the old nicknames that we give to farm animals. But we also avoid calling them pets. They are fur babies, roommates, etc. We are still trying to figure out what a pet is, as opposed to a wild animal or a farm animal, both of which are categories that go back thousands of years.”
While Stanescu points out that giving names to animals helps us recognize them as individuals, calling them fur babies and roommates is a stretch — considering our pets lack basic human rights.
“If your dog makes too much noise, you can have a surgery called debarking. You can remove your cat’s claws. We routinely keep our cats indoors for their whole lives, and remove the reproductive organs of our pets,” Stanescu says. “Those last two are things we would never do to human children, but are probably for the best for our pets. So, I think we have hard ethical choices we have to make about what it means to live with other animals that we have complete control over, and I worry that calling them fur babies or children or roommates is a way of dodging this really complicated ethical activity.”
And perhaps, there are names that should be reserved for humans only. Particularly names claimed by friends and family, if only to avoid confusion.
When Shannon Echlin named her Boston terrier-beagle mix Kevin, she forgot about two human Kevins in her life. “We have to add Kevin ‘the dog’ or Kevin ‘the human’ to their names when we are addressing them,” she says. She also finds herself constantly clarifying that Kevin is not her significant other. “Most people think I have this wild boyfriend who eats garbage,” she says.
And before you wonder, Echlin does not have an ex named Kevin.
Toronto’s 25 most popular licensed dog names
15. no name given (dogs registered before being named)
Provided by Toronto Animal Services.