Monday, July 6, 2009

The Dog Parkist: What Did You Call Me?

Q: My question is simple: What does the name of  a dog say about its owner? I've noticed lately many dogs that have pretentious names like Vladimir and Hemingway. For example, there is a dog in my parents' neighborhood named Shakespeare (Shakey for short?). My first dog Skippy (now that's what I call a dog name) had a Vizsla friend named Nietzsche. Nietzsche's owner was a dude who drove a truck. Overcompensating much?
A Rose By Any Other Name

A: Ah, Rose. What an excellent question. Names say so much about a person or a dog. Your own name, if I may point out, is fraught with delicious contradictions. The rose is a flower both common and highly desirable, thorny but inviting, fragrant but often blowsy and cheap looking. Roses grow in hothouses and in ditches. They drive poets to the height of inspiration and to the depth of cliche. All this conjured by four little letters. 

Dog names are similarly burdened. An owner must choose wisely. After all, he or she will be hollering this chosen moniker for a decade or more, if things go well. Does one go for the reliable Boomer or Bailey or Jake or Missy? These are proven winners. They are both easily bellowed and legible to the vet tech who reads the intake forms. (Heaven help the tech who deals with Nietzsche or Lao Tzu or Beezlebub.) Or does one use the naming of an adorable puppy as an opportunity to advertise one's useless liberal arts degree or unfortunate political affiliations—all, let's be honest here, in the hope of  garnering both knowing and respectful glances from one's peers or breathless attention from members of the opposite sex? ("Oh, your dog's name is William Henry Harrison? How deeply patriotic and sexy!" "Lenin? Why you foxy pinko. Tell me all about yourself!" "Rigoletto? Let's sing an aria together right now!") It's a tough call.

It is a simple fact that most dog names are bestowed before owners can know the dog's personality. The names they select generally reflect who they are or, rather, how they perceive themselves (radical philosopher or awesome dude) rather than the dogs that bear them. After all, I doubt your dog's friend Shakespeare scribbles poetry between bouts of whore-mongering and sword play. As for Nietzche dog, do you think he seriously comprehends the slave-master relationship? If he did, there's no way he'd be riding shotgun down I-35 with the Dude. He'd be driving.

Of course, there are cases where the naming of a dog is accurate but nonetheless offensive to others. There is currently at Dog Park an Aussie named for a recent Vice Presidential candidate, the momentarily current governor of the state of Alaska. Let's think about this choice of names: The dog is attractive, charismatic, ditzy, extravagantly enthusiastic, and unable to control herself. She barrels around the park inviting hardbitten Park pros like Muzzy to tear after her in order to school her in Dog Park manners, but she seems not to care because, of course, she's a maverick.  (It remains to be seen how well the dog looks in red lipstick or festooned with American flag pins. Bitchin' probably.) Clearly the name fits, but the Dog Parkist is aware of several Parkers who feel conflicted when encountering this unfortunately named dog. They try to scorn it and its owners, a perfectly nice young woman and her clean-cut, All-American boyfriend, both of whom consistently act as if they have no idea they are the object of withering looks and partisan mutterings. In the name of comity, however, the Dog Parkist reminds the seethers to take a deep, cleansing breaths and to remember that Some People Will Never Learn.

So Rose, The Dog Parkist must concur. Pretentious and partisan dog names only show how desperate the owners are to direct attention to themselves. The names announce "This dog is an extension of my wildly interesting life and my totally accurate world view."  She would suggest that people like the owners of poor dogs potentially named Einstein and Cheney give us all a break. Simply name your dog Bob and then wear a t-shirt that says, "Ask me about my lame-o life and clueless political affiliations." It will be just as effective, people. 

Thanks for writing!

Dear Readers: The Dog Parkist gratefully accepts and considers every query. Without you, her days at the exclusive Dog Parkist spa and resort would be meaningless and uninspired. Thank you! Thank you! And thank you! 


  1. Oh, Parkist, you are *so* wise. Dogs' names are definitely all about the person.

    And thanks for taking on the biggest questionable name of all.

  2. Your theory applies to bovines as well. My neighbors gave the bull on their 20-acre spread the hyper-masculine name "Viking." My dad's equally masculine bull (on a larger spread) was named "Freckles." Which one was trying to prove something?


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