Near the end ofthe third act of King Lear, the old king, the Fool and Edgar stumble out of thestorm on the heath into a farmhouse. Lear, who is now completely out of hismind, conducts a ghastly travesty of a trial, bringing a gray cat to justiceand pretending it is his daughter. "My tears begin to take his part,"murmurs Edgar (aside), and there follows what the romantic critics of the 19thcentury considered one of the finest examples of Shakespeare's humanity and hisgenius in Lear's lines:
The little dogsand all,
Tray, Blanch and Sweetheart, see, they bark at me.
The greatness ofthe passage is in its simplicity and its unexpectedness: the names of the dogs.These dogs are not merely dogs, a part of the background, noisy andobstreperous, but distinct and personalized dogs, and Lear's affection for themis understood by anyone who ever loved a dog of his own.
But supposeShakespeare had given them names like those that are now given to American showdogs:
The little dogsand all,
Foggyfurze Sugar Puss, Temple Bells of Blossom Lea,
And Wee Bit O'Honey of Winki-Poo, see, they bark at me.
These are thereal names of dogs who have figured prominently in modern dog shows, and withnames like that it wouldn't have mattered to Lear whether they barked or not.Only in the past few years have fancy and bizarre or ridiculous names beenused. They are not found in literature, or in dog shows until around the early1920s. Names in the past were simple, like that of Argus in the Odyssey, weakand crippled with age, who still recognized Ulysses when the wanderer at lastreached home. Homer could hardly have called him Robbie's Heavenly Daze (by DeKarlos Dashaway out of Robbie's Kiss of Allah), the proud label of a championcocker. The homely old bulldog in Dickens' Oliver Twist, whose blood-red pawprints reveal that Bill Sikes is a murderer, was named Bull's-Eye, not MiLittle Wee Wee's Cricket—another name found in a recent dog show. When Scottput a dog in Guy Mannering he named it Wasp—"Wasp, man! Wow, but he's gladto see you!"
Almost everynewspaper account of a best-in-show these days ends with a revelation that inthe privacy of the home the winner is known as Spot or Buster, no matter howhigh-toned his registered name may be. This is hard to believe. In simpledecency, where but in the privacy of the home should a dog be called, forexample, Tippy Tiu Tocco of Knollcrest? People who will so affront a pet arequite capable of rubbing it in: "Good boy, Blithe Arpeggio of HobbyHo!" "Fetch the ball, Sharevalpad Call Me Madam!"
Names like thosegiven to Pullman cars are now registered for all breeds. There is a famousDalmatian named Racing Roadster in the Valley; a Boston terrier, Tootsie OhGirl; a beagle, To-Bar-To Little Monkey; a basset hound, Siefenjagenheim LazyBones; a fox terrier, Welcome Here and Now. The New York Times recently openeda report of an all-breed event in these terms: "Ch. Gay Boy of Geddesburg,a peppy beagle, proved today to his new owners...that they made a wise purchasewhen they acquired him six weeks ago. Moving with his white-tipped tailpointing straight up, as if to say, 'See, boss, this'll get the attention,' GayBoy trotted off with the best-in-show award." Gay Boy of Geddesburg is arestrained name compared to most these days, but it still reflects theessential change from the old simplicity and its purpose. There was once a moremeaningful relationship between dogs and their masters and mistresses, and thenames that the dogs bore reflected it. If Ulysses' dog had been named somethinglike Prince Argo Naughty Boy instead of plain Argus, he wouldn't haverecognized Ulysses at all. He would have been in there eating and drinking withthe suitors. Probably he would have been strutting around with his tailpointing straight up, as if to say, "See, boss, this'll get theattention."
There was a goodreason why dogs names were originally simple: they had to be words that couldbe yelled loudly and that the dog could understand. Fido, which has nowdisappeared as a dog's name, was derived from the Latin for faithful, and Pontocame from the Spanish punta (point). Tray is believed to have come from theSpanish trae (fetch). The favorite hunting dog of Cheops, about 5,000 yearsago, was named Abakaru, and another Egyptian hunting dog, pictured under thechair of his master and believed to have been a basenji, was named Xalmes.Alexander the Great's favorite dog was Perites. A dog wearing a silver collarwas found in the ashes of Herculaneum: his name was Delta. Even the Arabs, wholoved horses and hated dogs and never named them, made one exception—a dognamed Kitmer, who appears in the Koran and who was admitted to Paradise byspecial fiat.
In this world orthe next, then, all names of dogs were traditionally terse, functional andplain. And so are they now for mongrels and dogs named by children. JanicePaprin, who recently combed through the license applications of the 260,000licensed dogs in New York City for the American Society for the Prevention ofCruelty to Animals, found that Skippy, Lucky and Butch, in that order, are themost popular dog names. The nationwide sampling of a Philadelphia dog-foodmanufacturer gave Lady and Tiny as the two most popular. Queenie, Lassie,Trixie, Duchess, Brownie, Rusty, Spot, Ginger, Tippy, Rex, Champ, Rocky, Wolf,Ace, Frisky, Sparky, Bullet, Cyclone, Candy, Satan, Minx and Mischief arecurrent favorites among the children-owned mongrel dogs that are licensed.
The trend towardcomplex names for show dogs can be traced back to the beginning of dog shows.The first ever held opened on June 27, 1859 in Newcastle, England with 60entries, all simply named (the winner was a setter named Dandy). There were 267dogs in the 1860 dog show in Birmingham (638 two years later), and it was wonby a great bloodhound named Old Druid. Later winners had such simple names asCheerful, Bonfire, Grouse, Silk, Baltic and Gruff. In the great London show of1863, in which there were 1,214 entries (and ¬£ 1,000 in prizes), a greyhoundbitch named Breach of Promise turned up. I believe this is the first instanceof a duplex, or multiple-word, dog name found in the history of dog shows. Suchnames remained very rare for a long time. Typical names were Valiant andBrimstone for deerhounds, Brilliant and Modesty for beagles, and Punch, Twigand Door Mat for Scotties. The list of winners was one that Shakespeare mighthave had a hand in: Quick, Cossack, Gambler, Cuba, Vocal, Slim, Barmaid, Swede,Venom, Fussy, Venture, Brag, Trout, Slink, Lawless, Giddy, Rat Trap andQuiz.
But in 1871 therewas a greyhound named Creeping Jane, who was first in Birmingham, with GreatConfusion second, an ominous portent. The first American dog shows were held inthe 1870s, and by that time whimsical or grotesque names had become fairlycommon in England, though still confined by real or assumed characteristics ofthe animals and further controlled by the strong English literary and poetictradition. In a dog show in Baltimore in 1877 the winning Irish water spanielwas named King of the River, but most names were common: the best native-bredEnglish setter was Tell, who won a double-barreled breech-loader for his owner,and the best Chesapeake bitch, Bess, won two kegs of dog powder. These earlyAmerican shows lacked the hauteur of the British variety, and the prizes wereuseful objects donated by the manufacturers, such as patent medicines, salves,flea powder, firearms, shot and a case of stuffed birds. King of the River, forexample, won a sealskin cap, an ice-water pitcher and $10.
The registeringof dogs by the English Kennel Club started 14 years after the first dog show.The first dog registered was Prince Louis Napoleon's Abeille, a black and tanbloodhound, whelped in 1865. When dogs began to be registered in the U.S. in1878, the volumes of the English studbook already contained an imposingcollection of pedigrees. The first dog to be registered in the U.S. was Adonis,a black, white and tan English setter. A portrait of Adonis hangs in thelibrary of the American Kennel Club in New York. He looks as if he were aboutto make a speech.
In view of thislate start, it is not surprising that show-dog names followed the Englishpattern. If there were few really indigenous names, there were neverthelessmany with a certain native slant to them: beagles named Hawkeye, Phantom,Ringleader, Tariff, Comedy, Dazzle and Whang; Bedlingtons with names likeChemist, Hard Tack, Postmaster and Schoolmarm; fox terriers called Burlesqueand Cribbage. Dog No. 100 in the American studbook is Duke, No. 200 PrinceDraco, No. 300 Bee, No. 400 Jessie, No. 500 Rose, No. 600 Jeff, and so onthrough one plain name after another all during the early years.
The commonestexplanation for the recent growth of fancy names for registered dogs is thatall the good simple ones have been taken. Rules for names of the AmericanKennel Club specify that a name once registered can't be changed. A name cannotcontain more than 25 letters. It cannot be the name of a famous living person.And after 20 dogs in one breed have been given the same name, that registrationis closed and no further registrations under that name are permitted. That is,there could be collies called Lassie, but the second was officially known asLassie II, the third Lassie III, and so on. In 1905 the 17th collie bitch namedLassie was registered by B. W. Camp of Asheville, North Carolina. When LassieXX was registered soon thereafter, the name was taken off and there can neverbe another registered Lassie. Yet it can be questioned whether the popularnames, with a few such exceptions, have been exhausted. General Lee was long afavorite name for bloodhounds in the South, for example, but by 1920 only threeGeneral Lees had been registered.
Certainly therule alone was not enough to account for the proliferation of exotic names thatbegan about that time. There had been names like Cymbaline, Nettle, Pig Wig,Haphazard, Milwaukee, Wig Wag, Ajax, Bowsprit, Zack, Landlord, Mermaid,Vexation, Cigarette, Royal Flush, Butterfly and Giggles; now there appearedsuch gems as Freezy Sneezy, for a Boston terrier, Aranos Behave Yourself, for abeagle, and airedales with such cognomens as Angle Iron Princess Nancy andBartlett's Khyber Swiveller. In the 1940s and 1950s characteristic entries boresuch names as Anthem O' The Prairie, Dansel Silence Is Golden, Monsiere Gee GeeFrisco, Ami Gateau Glace de Gannet. The Westminster has boasted such headlinersas Mar Eli's I'm the Guy, You'll Do de Luchar, Ledahof Light of Love, andCaledonia Apple-of-My-Eye, not to mention Ricochet Goody Gum Drop. At presentit seems fashionable to include words like Certainly or Unquestionably, andbefore long, if this trend continues, a whole litter may be given a continuoussentence at birth, with the names all joined to make a slogan detailing theworth of the kennel or celebrating the maker of a nourishing dog biscuit.
All this is along way from Tray,
Blanch and Sweetheart, a long way from
Yes, I ken JohnPeel and Ruby too,
Banter and Royal and Bellman so true
and possibly along way from dogs. The dilemma of a dog owner trying to think of a good usablename is now so great that a new profession is coming into existence, that ofthe professional dog namer, who, for a fee, dreams up a good name embodying thedog's ancestry and characteristics. The profession was started by agrandmother, Mrs. Carolyn Babson, who owns a kennel in Batavia, Illinois. Shenamed her bassets for famous highwaymen and highway women—Bold Turpin, MollCutpurse of Fleet Street, and so on. Word of these names got around, and Mrs.Babson was overwhelmed with requests from owners to pick likely names for theirdogs. At first she did so for nothing, but in 1957 began to name dogs as acommercial enterprise, Mrs. Babson's orders for dogs' names come from all overthe country. The fees that she charges are paid by the owners to humanesocieties.
She studies eightlanguages and uses folk songs and old music generally for her inspiration. Hernames are tasteful modifications of the prevailing long-name trend, sometimesartful, sometimes ingenious, and often of such nature that one wonders why theowner had not thought of it himself. It appears that some owners are a littleoverawed by the wealth of foreign phrases now found in dog-show catalogs andfeel that they need help in coming up with something similar.
And why shouldthere be a stupefying whimsy, or outright gibberish, attached to an otherwiseunblemished animal? Part of the reason lies in the changing position of dogsfrom household pets to prize specimens; the complex or idiotic names reflect alack of uncomplicated affection. The only really scholarly treatment of thereasons for dogs' names seems to be a paper called "Cyno-Psychosis:Children's Thoughts, Reactions and Feelings toward Pet Dogs," by apsychologist named W. Fowler Bucke, who flourished around the turn of thecentury. After studying the replies of 1,200 schoolchildren to variousquestions about their dogs and why they named them as they did, Dr. Buckeconcluded: "There is, with children, a sense of fitness recognized, whichaffords an idea of what some of the qualities are that stand out mostprominently in the dog's personality.... Looking at the list of about 800 namesfor this pet, a clue to his friendship with the race may be found."
And all of thechildren were aware of dogs' changing expressions, noticing joy, sadness, loveand the fear of thunder. They tried to equate a reaction to some valued caninequality in the names they chose. The universal tendency, Dr. Bucke decided, wasfor the name to suggest "a recognition of personality, be it great orsmall, commendable or objectionable." Children, then, named dogs the wayIndians named warriors, for some quality they were supposed to possess or forsome experience undergone or overcome. About a hundred of the children basedtheir names on visual evidence, calling their dogs Beauty, Diamond, Sparkle,and so on; in this category were the most familiar of them all, Blackie, Spotand Brownie. Almost the same number, or about 12%, were childish attempts tofind something suitable for canine poise and dignity: Noble, Queen, Judge,Victor, Rex and Admiral Dewey. But most of the names reflected attempts to getat traits of character, in names like Sport, Tramp, Sly or Buffalo Bill.
None of thechildren named any of the dogs anything like Tutu Solid of Elsinore Mews.