Dogs and cats: what’s in a name?


When my wife and I picked up our dog from the shelter, he already had a name. We tried to come up with other names that fit him, thinking we’d somehow have a more personalized experience adopting him if we got to name him ourselves.

We were driving back home and our new dog was in the backseat with my wife. “Bucket!” I said, glancing up at the mirror to see if he’d reply. Nothing.

“Are you a Bucket?” my wife said to him. He just looked out the window, nervous and excited. “Are you… Bandit?” she asked him. Nope. We tried a couple more names, mostly based on inanimate objects, but nothing stuck.

Then we tried the name he had at the shelter. “Teddy?” I looked in the mirror and saw his ears perk up. “Are you Teddy?” He tilted his head in recognition. No other name would work, and today, now that we’re best friends, I can’t imagine calling him anything else.

So I wasn’t surprised when I read in LiveScience that there’s been a trend recently towards naming our pets more “humanlike” names than previous generations had. Most dogs I know have humanlike names. I know a Charlie, a Jed, a Leroy, a Bella and many others with great “people names.”

The article suggests that this trend could be due to a “change in society, in which owners see their fur babies more as family members than animals.” Fur babies. Love it.

The Dog Names of Dognition

I took an informal survey in the Dognition office, and the names of our dogs are overwhelmingly humanlike, too. Ernie, Lulu, Shirley, Jackson and Finley are some of the dogs we love. As one colleague pointed out, sure these names are human-like, but how many “Ernies” do you know? Good point. When Tia Ghose of LiveScience talked to Laura Wattenberg, founder of, the baby naming expert suggested that perhaps “we’re more willing to push the style to the extreme with pets, and maybe even live out the naming fantasies that we wouldn’t quite be able to give to our children.”

Although…I will say that I know a couple with a human child named Teddy.

We looked at the names of the 2,276 dogs who signed up for the Dognition beta program. The top 10 names are also notably “humanlike”:

  1. Maggie
  2. Sophie
  3. Bailey
  4. Lucy
  5. Bella
  6. Charlie
  7. Dexter
  8. Buddy
  9. Max
  10. Riley

Dog Names v. Cat Names

Interestingly, five — maybe six if you count “Kitty” — of the top 10 cat names in the US are names you might call a fur-less baby. Here are the lists, compiled in a study by Banfield Pet Hospital that surveyed 2.5 million pets:

Top Dog Names:

  1. Bella
  2. Max
  3. Buddy
  4. Daisy
  5. Bailey
  6. Coco
  7. Lucy
  8. Charlie
  9. Molly
  10. Rocky

Top Cat Names:

  1. Kitty
  2. Bella
  3. Tiger
  4. Max
  5. Smokey
  6. Shadow
  7. Tigger
  8. Lucy
  9. Chloe
  10.  Charlie

So why are dogs getting so many people names, while some cats are still called Tiger, Smokey and Shadow? Do the results imply that we’re more attached to our dogs than our cats? Or do we sense our dogs are more attached to us than our cats are? Dogs are called “Man’s Best Friend,” after all. And I don’t know about you, but most of my best friends have had humanlike names.

Maybe it’s just a matter of time. People and dogs have been living together for at least 14,000 years, maybe even 33,000 years, based on a fossil found in 2011. Meanwhile, the oldest known pet cat was discovered at a 9,500-year-old grave site in Cyprus. Maybe in 5,000 years the top 10 cat names will be more “humanlike” than they are today.

What’s the most memorable or interesting pet name you’ve ever heard? Let us know in the comments section or on Facebook.

(Photo by robwiss)