How To Name Your Pet

The addition of a non-human to one’s household is an occasion for joy and, in most instances, minor carpet-cleaning. Many preparations are necessary to ensure that your newest family member is treated with the proper respect, but chief among them is the vital task of bestowing the proper name on your pet. The right name will illuminate your pet’s inherent nature and personality and will integrate the animal into your clan in a spirit of loving familiarity. A name chosen foolishly, based on whim or spite or for reasons of tax evasion, will doom your pet to a life of illness, crime and depravity and place the innocent creature on a path that leads inexorably to a messy bitter end for itself and possibly you.

So let’s have some fun and do it right, huh? Let’s name your pet!

1. Identify your type of pet.
The first step to any pet-naming endeavor is to determine what kind of pet you have. “But Mr. The Hairy Skeleton,” you might say, though I’m nowhere near you, “surely what kind of pet I have is obvious. I went to the shelter and adopted a dog. There was a veterinarian present and everything.”

Of course there was. And this website would never doubt the stated opinion of a qualified health professional, unless it was wrong. However, the task of identifying your kind (or “type”) of pet is considerably more nuanced than looking at the animal and declaring its species, or even its breed. The responsible pet namer must transcend mere biology and delve deeper, penetrating to the intrinsic petness of your pet.

To properly identify what type (or “kind”) of pet you have, you must confront your pet. Sit the pet down in front of you and meet its gaze. If the pet will not meet your gaze, hold its head (or whatever part of its body contains the eyes) in your hands and physically insist on meaningful eye contact. Do this with love. Failing to engage your pet in this fashion without the proper context of love is mean and more than a little weird. Also, a lack of love will skew your results. This intentional and prolonged period of eye contact (at least twenty minutes) may be discomforting, for as you look into your pet, your pet looks into you (Nietszche), and frankly neither one of you may like what you see (especially the pet). Stick with it though, and around minute seventeen, you will experience a new and profound understanding of your pet, its hopes and desires and of course, its true nature. However, and this is very important, do not stop at minute seventeen. Continue for the full twenty, and depending on how you feel, try to stretch it to an even half-hour. You can’t be too careful in avoiding false positives. That said, twenty minutes should probably do just fine.

Once the observation period is complete, your mind will be saturated with the kind (or “type”) of your pet. Record this information in whatever medium and/or method is most convenient and expressive. Paper and pen is most common; video confessional has a heart-wrenching reality show feel to it; modeling clay is often effective but almost always unwieldy. Whatever you choose, make sure to let go of your pet’s head first. The final identification will be more than a simple declaration of “dog” or “sugar glider” or “slime mold”. It may encompass a temperament, or political inclination, or a more general adjective, but will be highly symbolic and broad-ranging. Whatever the identity is, remember that this series of words defines your pet.

Examples (for demonstration only, your results will vary):

  • melancholic poodle
  • anarchist tabby cat
  • prissy ferret
  • turtle with an affected limp
  • hamster who is against gay marriage, but supports civil unions (very rare)
  • avuncular tree frog

Note also that an animal may not identify as its biological type, i.e. the melancholic poodle listed above may not be a poodle at all, but a dachshund or monitor lizard. While pet biology and pet type (or “kind”) often coincide, the rule is not hard and fast. It is, in fact, slow and quite squishy. Be aware of this as you continue the naming process.

2. Conduct feasibility studies.
Now that you have knowledge of your pet’s innermost self and a solid foundation for your nomenclature, the real work begins. Consider your pet. Let’s say it’s a dog, since our earlier example was a dog and most likely, it is a dog. What is its personality? Does it have any distinguishing marks? Unique coloration? An odor (pleasant or unpleasant)? Singular habits or affectations? Does it wear a monocle? (If your dog wears a monocle, then you have one hell of a dog, and your dog should be naming you.) Many of these traits will lead to  promising potential names, but do not limit yourself to the possibilities traits provide. Do not limit yourself in any way. Limits are for physics. You are naming your pet.

Compile a list of candidate names, no more than 97 (the lowest prime number less than 100) and no less than 21 (blackjack). Cross off any names you have already used for other pets or for children, terms of endearment for lovers, and any secret identities you have acquired, to avoid confusion. (“No, no, no, I need to speak to Captain Massive the vigilante, not Captain Massive, the French bulldog.”) This should leave you with exactly forty-seven names, even if you started with fewer than that. No one really knows why, and it’s best if you don’t think about it too much. Cross off the names you don’t like or are marked as potentially dangerous for your specific species or breed (see the subsection on the Radchyenko Pet Nomenclatural Matrix below) and you’re ready to begin.

Start by saying each name aloud in the presence of your pet. Do not address the pet; simply say the name into the room while the pet is nearby. Notice any changes in the room as the names are said. Have someone else observe your pet to see its reactions to each name as it is spoken. Body language and vocalizations on the part of the pet are of great import. If the pet ever leaves the room of its own accord while you’re saying the names, take note. If the pet solicits affection while you are saying the names, emit a high pitched whine, as if you were mimicking the Emergency Broadcast System. See what happens. No event is too small to ignore. Record everything in your naming log or personal journal, along with the names of teen heartthrobs you think are dreamy. This will come in handy later. Believe me.

After you’ve gone through the list three times, compare your findings with those of the person who was watching the pet. Some correlations should arise. Wherever the data congregate, there are your front runners. Repeat the process with the most promising names until only one name remains. This final name is the name.  You are ready to proceed.

On the Radcheynko Matrix
If the data are shifty and do not cooperate, or if you are the kind of person who takes no pride in doing things properly, you may want to “cheat” and use the Radchyenko Pet Nomenclatural Matrix. Developed by Ukranian biologist Antole Radchyenko in the late 1950s, the matrix is an informational tool designed to prevent unfortunate pet-name interactions. the matrix lists various combinations of pet and name in convenient grid format, with footnotes regarding special circumstances and contraindications. Radchyenko was a strange man with many flaws (including a taste for canned fish products and rubber underpants, often used in conjunction), but improper pet naming was not one of them. Have you ever met a Boston terrier named Crackers? Or a Persian cat named Buttercream? Or a guinea pig named the Duke of Worchester (Revised)? Of course you haven’t, and you never will, thanks to the Radchyenko Matrix. Before making any zany, off the wall name choice, consult this handy tool. The wrong name will bounce around inside your pet’s skull like a beam of gamma radiation, leaving stupidity and incontinence in its wake. Don’t do this to your pet or yourself. Name safely.

3. Perform due diligence.
The right name now firmly in your brain, you are ready for the final hurdle: field testing. Begin using the name on your pet as if it was actually the pet’s name. See how the pet responds. If after 48 hours the pet is not responding, start the process over from the very beginning, preferably in a new town. In case of redness, swelling, or discharge, consult a veterinarian immediately, especially if any of the redness, swelling or discharge is being experienced by the pet.

No problems? Then congratulations! You have named your pet, correctly and responsibly. The dog (or whatever) is now part of your family, and is constitutionally guaranteed all the rights and privileges therein. Enjoy your pet, treat it with respect, and revel in the satisfaction that you have helped it achieve a coherent and positive identity. Now, if you could only do something about your own stupid name. Seriously, what were your parents thinking?

APPENDIX: A Note on Pre-named Pets
From time to time,  a pet arrives in your life already saddled with a name.  You may not feel this name is fitting, or cute, or properly reflective of your status. Unfortunately, the pet will already have adapted to this name, and changing it, even to a “truer” name, will be extraordinarily difficult. You have three options. First, you can add your preferred name to the extant name, creating a awkward Germanic hybrid. “Come here, Mackenzie-Scamp!” For maximum effectiveness, mutter the name you chose and say the familiar name loudly. In theory, this solves the problem. In practice, it is bullshit.

Second, you can force your desired name on the dog (or other pet, if you went that route) with no compromise. In the best case, you will get a sullen resentful pet with identity issues. Good luck with that.

Third, you can change your own brain and like the name the pet came with. This is generally the easiest and most painless option, as the human brain (unlike any animal brain) is basically built for self-delusion, and in no time you’ll think that you always wanted to name your dog Pookums. Also, it’s nicest for the pet. They don’t really care what you call them. They just want to play and be petted and fed and to love the hell out of you. So let them.

Happy naming!
The Hairy Skeleton

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