What’s in a Name?

74b61dfb-7cc9-4000-95b9-1e04bbfd37d0 If ever a dog lived up to his name, it was Sonny Liston. As you’ve probably guessed, Sonny was a black Lab. (Sonny Liston, for those of you too young to remember, was a black heavyweight from the late-‘50s/early ‘60s.)
Most Labs don’t have a mean bone in their bodies, but Sonny Liston, like his namesake, was an ill-tempered fighter. It was impossible to hunt him with other dogs, and you didn’t dare try to pick up any birds in his vicinity. If Sonny saw it fall, that bird was his. Any challenge to his possession was met by a menacing growl.
Everyone who hunted with Sonny understood the rules. Trouble was, Sonny could see birds fall from a long way off—and on more than one occasion hunters on an adjacent property got the shock of their lives when he barreled in, scooped up a rooster they’d just shot and made off with it like a shoplifter grabbing a loaf of bread.

Of course, Sonny’s owner would return the bird (after first tying Sonny to a fencepost), making profuse apologies and smoothing any ruffled feathers. Eventually, he learned that if he saw other hunters coming he needed to make a hard turn and point Sonny in a different direction.
Was naming a dog for a notoriously surly fighter a case of self-fulfilling prophesy? Well, draw your own conclusions.
In this same general vein, I once had an English setter that I registered as Flirtin’ with Disaster, after the song by Southern rockers Molly Hatchet. Coincidence or not, she was by a wide margin the most accident-prone dog I’ve ever owned. She escaped with minor injuries for a while, but when she tried to cross a highway one morning (after kiting off and paying no attention to my calls) her luck finally ran out.
The moral, I guess, is to be careful what you name your dog, because it may come back to bite you.

Call Name

The aforementioned setter’s call name, by the way, was not Flirt (although that’s a good name) but Maggie. This raises the point that a dog’s registered name—the name on its “papers”—doesn’t necessarily have any connection to its call name. In fact, there may be no resemblance whatsoever.
Two of the greatest field trial English setters of all time were Johnny Crockett and Bozeann’s Mosley—but the names they went by in the field were Boy and Rocky, respectively.
Call names should be relatively short and distinct, and in particular they shouldn’t be similar in sound to any commands you’re likely to use. The paradigms in this respect are Jake and Duke—the quintessential call names for male hunting dogs. I’m not sure there’s an exact equivalent for females, although Molly, Peggy and Katie seem like contenders. (If you’re stumped for a call name, you can find lists of the most popular ones on the American Kennel Club’s website, akc.org.)

Registered Name

As far as registered names go, you can be as creative as you want to be. You can do what many owners do and reference the kennel, bloodline or a particular ancestor your dog descends from, or you can go in a different direction altogether. That’s what I’ve done. Thirty-five years ago I named a dog Got Me Hypnotized after the Fleetwood Mac song, and I liked the “song title” concept so much I’ve followed suit ever since. There was Grievous Angel (Emmylou), Graycoat Soldier (Traveler), Almost Persuaded (Hannah), Border Widow (Daphne), Fortunate Son (Ernie) and now Sweetheart of the Pines (Tina). Tina really is a sweetheart, too, although I have to admit that I hedged my bet and waited until she was a little older—when I knew beyond a doubt she was something special—to give her that name.
I once tried to name a dog Devil in Disguise, only to be informed by the Field Dog Stud Book that it had already been used. In retrospect, I probably dodged a bullet.
Tom Davis writes from his home in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Photo Credit: Susan Edginton