I knew I wanted to name my dog Henry before I even found a dog to name. I honestly don’t remember why I was drawn to the name Henry, but once I heard it, I was fixated on it and there was nothing that could change my mind.
When I first saw my dog — a few pictures and a video of him playing online — I knew he was the one; he just looked like a Henry. And when I met him and held him and learned his name was Emery (a name phonetically similar to Henry), I knew it was a match made in doggy heaven. Over the years, he has grown into his name and "Henry" wound up being a perfect choice. (He is also "Hank," "Baby Bear," "Sweet Baby," and "King," but not in front of any of his friends, obvs.)
If you’re not like me and not completely obsessed with a name for years before getting a dog, what’s the best way to pick a name? How can you decide what’s the best name for your pup? Here are some tips.
Do pick a name that…
Is short. According to PetMD, dogs will learn and quickly respond to short sounds, like two-syllable names. "Longer names can be clumsy or confusing, or can be mispronounced by others who are involved in the dog’s life, making consistent obedience tricky." When you need to get his attention quickly, the shorter his name, the better. The New York Times also suggests, "To help the puppy distinguish its name from ambient noise, choose something with a sibilant consonant or blend (an ‘s,’ ‘sh’ or ‘zh’) or, better still, a crisp, commanding consonant (a ‘k’ or hard ‘c’)."
You can yell in public. While racial slurs and cultural insults are never cool, they’re even less cool being yelled… loudly… in public… at a dog. Do you really want to be the person whose dog’s name is a curse word that you have to yell in a public place? Pick a name that is both respectful to your dog and those with whom you will be in contact every day on walks and in dog parks.
Represents one of your favorite things. Whether it’s the name of your favorite fictional character, celebrity, or astrological sign, pick one that matches your dog’s personality or inspires you. Your dog’s name is something you will say thousands of times over her lifespan so make sure it’s something you will want to repeat over and over again.
The entire family likes. Laura Garber, head of behavior at the Town of Hempstead Animal Shelter and the owner of WoofGang LLC Dog Training, said, "I think it’s so important for children to have input — a name is so integral to how we relate to that pet. Giving children the opportunity to name the pet — with some adult guidance — can be a great way for them to bond with and feel responsible for the family pet." Since it’s a family pet, choosing a name should be a family decision. (Guide them, however, or create a list of acceptable names first so you’re not calling your dog "Spongebob" for 14 years.)
Don't choose a name that...
Sounds like a command. Dogs don’t understand language; they understand words as sounds. Names that sound like or rhyme with commands — Kit (like sit) or Joe (like no) will only confuse them, especially during training.
You may outgrow. It’s important to pick a name that you will like forever because you should never change an adult dog’s name unless it’s absolutely necessary. If you adopted him as an adult dog and dislike his current name or you no longer like the name you gave him as a pup, think carefully before changing it. He is used to that name and your changing it complicates things; if you must change it, try to choose a name that sounds similar (like Harry to Barry or Charlie to Marley).
Matches the name of another household member. Let your children continue your legacy, not your pets. In my house, there is a Kelsey, a Michael, and a Henry; when (not if) I get another dog, he will not be Kelsey II or Michael Jr. or Henry 2.0. If he is, he will be confused at all times, and we will be annoyed by his confusion and our poor decision-making.
Is popular. Imagine the madness that ensues when multiple owners yell "Buster" or "Max" at a dog park. Research which dog names are most popular and try to avoid them.
What color is she? If she’s white, you can call her Snowflake or Sugar; if she has a darker color, what about Brownie or Copper (that was the name of my pup growing up, and it was perfect for him!) or Fawn?
What’s his breed or size? If he’s a big guy, you can give him a big name like Hulk, Cannon, or Brutus. If he’s little, what about Tiny, Stringbean, or Pip? Better yet, if he’s small, give him a big name so when you walk your chihuahua down the street and say "Good boy, Tank," your neighbors will smile.
Does she look like a celebrity? If your dog looks like Julia Roberts or Whoopi Goldberg, name her after her celebrity doppelganger. It’s easy, adorable, and hilarious.
Where’s your favorite place? If you’re homesick or a big fan of a specific state or country, consider naming your dog after that place. Perhaps you can name him Pierre or Murphy or Franz to honor your heritage?
What are your hobbies? If you like sailing or going to the beach, a name like Captain or Shark or Skipper would be fitting. Do you like eating? Biscuit, Cookie, or Peaches are fun and adorable. Are you a bookworm? Name your dog after a favorite book character. (I almost named my dog Enzo after the dog from my favorite dog book The Art of Racing in the Rain; I highly recommend it, but you will cry.)
What’s her personality? Cuddles is a great name if she’s a snuggler (and a hilarious name if she’s more of a loner). What about Sweetie or Patience or Lady? Henry peed nonstop in the house when I first got him that I considered renaming him Peabody.
If you’re still having problems deciding, check out websites like Bow Wow Meow, My Dog’s Name, and Dog Name Guide to help you. With thousands of names, meanings, and ratings, you’ll be sure to find one that fits you and your pup.
Bringing Henry home was the best day of my life. If I hadn’t already known what I wanted to name him, I would have truly enjoyed watching him and spending time with him for a few days to decide which name would best fit him. Don’t stress over naming your pup; instead, cherish your new family member and as you get to know your dog (and learn more about yourself as a dog owner), the perfect name will come to you.