Tuesday, 17 April 2012

What your pet’s name says about you

From Uggie and Eric, to Prince William (yes, really). Jack Smith reveals the dos and don’ts of naming YOUR best friend and why he settled on, ahem, Squeazles

Written by Jack Smith

Uggie has a rival. He was certainly the world’s cutest dog last week, but The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have now welcomed a gorgeous, three-month-old cocker spaniel into their family. Palace aides, however, have kept the dog’s name a secret. And perhaps it’s just as well, for naming your pet can reveal an awful lot about you.

Many years ago, I was wooing a young lady who seemed to have it all. She wasn’t just pretty, she was a stylish dresser, she was bright and witty, and she had this adorable way of rolling her eyes at the suggestion of anything gauche. Ultimately, however, there came the night when a kiss seemed inevitable. And as we stepped into her flat, a cat met us at the door. It was a very fluffy cat. Her name, said her owner, was Fluffy.

Fluffy? That was the best she could come up with for an exceedingly fluffy cat? From that moment on, I saw my date in a different light. Her pastel outfits that had looked so stylishly post-deb over glasses of champagne at the club had lost their sheen; her mannerisms now seemed affected and uninspired. And all because she had a fluffy cat named Fluffy.

The young lady and I didn’t last. And from that point on, before becoming involved with anyone of the opposite
gender, I made sure to find out if she had a pet and if so, what its name was. I am aware that according to one school of thought, it is a person’s own name that dictates his or her personality, talents, and self-image. But what one names one’s corgi, tabby or Irish hunter, is far more revealing.

A sobriquet intended to get a crude laugh, for instance, is always a bad sign. Obviously no intelligent person wants
to spend too much time hanging around with someone who calls her dog Dogbreath. Fuzzball is acceptable but only if the dog is a show winner who struts its stuff at Crufts under the name Rennselear’s Champion St Regis. Calling a hound dog Droopy just isn’t fair.

Fortunately, most British pet owners are anything but cavalier about their pets’ names.

‘Our analysis has found that when it comes to inspiration, owners will look far and wide to get their perfect pet name
– from the shopping basket and the silver screen to literary characters or even their favourite drink,’ said John Brady, head of commercial at John Lewis Insurance, where they recently conducted a survey of 36,000 pets’ names.

Even so, it is somehow disappointing to learn that British pet owners cited ‘Poppy’ as the UK’s most popular name for both dogs AND cats. More disturbing, however, is the societal trend the survey also revealed. ‘What is clear is that human names dominate and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to spot much difference between our (pet name) list and baby name choices.’

Thus, explains Mr Brady, who must have an awful lot of time on his hands, pooch names such as Fido or Lassie have
been replaced by the more prosaic Toby, Archie and Holly. There are limits to this practice, of course. Names such as Mystique or Destiny are fine for Las Vegas cocktail waitresses but will never work well for a cat or dog.

If the Banfield Pet Hospital is to be believed, pet names also tell us that Prince William is far more popular than his lovely bride Catherine. At least, among cat owners. The hospital, which maintains a database of the more than five million pets it treats each year, says cats named Prince William have more than doubled since 2009: and they a nearly 70 per cent increase in the number of cats named William this year. But while naming a pet after a famous human star is on the rise, I’d advise against calling yours after a celebrity animal: it shows an appalling lack of creativity. You don’t want to call the family cat Garfield, for example, or your dog Snoopy. No matter how much the children plead, don’t give in. They’ll thank you for it when they’re grown-up.

There’s also something to be learned from Victoria Beckham’s plight. She was struggling all last summer to
come up with a name for her then unborn daughter after using her first-choice names on Coco and Chanel, her pet
bulldogs. Headlines screamed: ‘Victoria Beckham Gave Girl Baby Names To Dogs’. Ah, well, that’s what psychiatrists are for.

Some pet owners will give a new dog or cat the first name it seems to respond to, but the tricky business of naming the pet is too serious to be left up to a puppy or kitten who – however adorable – is oblivious to the subtleties of life. It’s often all about context. The owner with a Doberman named Fang or Killer clearly has issues, while a bulldog named Winston will always be a rather tired cliché. With a hamster, however, any of these names would be fine.

It is troubling, too, to see an animal used as a fourlegged vanity licence plate, a ploy that is all too common with the horsey set. A trial lawyer astride a horse named Mistrial or Plea Bargain, for instance, deserves to be dumped at the first hedgerow. But if you can’t think of a fitting name, don’t stress. After parting ways with Fluffy’s owner I dated a young lady with a cat named Cat. If she’d had eight cats, it would have been insufficient. But as Cat was the only cat in the house, it was succinct and apt. I liked it.

In some cases, of course, the nature of the pet itself may be all the statement you need to make. No matter whether you call it Daphne or Napoleon, if you have an iguana in your apartment, you’re someone to be wary of.

It’s different if you have a parrot, in which case you have to deal with the possibility that your pet might name you.

On the other hand, if you are the proud owner of a long-haired tabby, you can’t go wrong with a name like Squeazles.

And Squeazles, who is at this moment lolling around beside me, begging to have her belly rubbed, agrees.

The world’s most famous pets?

  • The Queen’s life-long affair with corgis began with Susan, who she was given as an 18-year-old.
  • Among Winston Churchill’s favourites was black poodle Rufus, and Jock, a cat given to him by his private secretary, Sir John Colville. On his death he requested that Chartwell should always have a cat named Jock.
  • On moving into The White House, Barack Obama was keen to find a pet for his daughters Sasha and Malia. The current First Dog is Portuguese Water Dog, Bo.
  • One of Marilyn Monroe’s pets was basset hound, Hugo. But when she divorced Arthur Miller, the dog stayed with its master

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