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How to Pick a Pet Name

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happy pit bull terrier running in the backyard

Naming your pet can be an enjoyable process, but it can also prove to be a time-consuming and stressful decision—you are picking their life-long name, after all.

When Did Humans Start Naming Pets?

Humans adore their pets. That’s why it’s no surprise that Americans share their homes with tens of millions of dogs and cats. Today, it’s rather common for people to treat their canine or feline friend as another member of the family, even a child—have you heard of the term ‘fur baby’?

However, people’s relationship with these animals has drastically changed throughout history. For instance, though it is normal to spoil our pets and treat them as family members or best friends, it has taken thousands of years to reach this point.

Besides their wild ancestors, which roamed about at their heart’s content, initially, dogs were used for various jobs. They’ve helped protect and herd livestock, they guarded properties and people, assisted with hunting, and they could help pull carts or sleds. Meanwhile, cats have been used to help maintain the pest issue in barns, stores, and homes.

Over time people began recognizing just how helpful these animals were. They were invaluable assets that helped make a recognizable difference in people’s daily lives. Wanting to take proper care of them and return their appreciation, people began inviting the animals into their homes.

It isn’t easy to pin down a single point in history when people began taking these wild animals and domesticating and naming them. That said, it is safe to say that people have had cats and dogs as pets for thousands of years, at least. Even the Egyptians had artwork depicting animals being kept as companions.

Just as people’s names have changed style and popularity throughout the years, the same is true for pet names. For instance, during the Medieval Ages, animals often had names that reflected something about their physical appearance. A few centuries down the road, it became much more popular to pick a name that mirrored your pet’s personality. These names could include Moxie, Duchess, Thunder, and Darling, to name a few.

Not much further down the line, as people began treating their pets more like members of the family, pet names began to take a turn, and traditionally human names became more popular.

Pop culture now also has a massive influence on the names people choose for their pets. Inspiration can come from nearly any source, such as favorite songs, artists, television shows, YouTubers, sports teams, movies, and even brands.

Today’s Most Popular Pet Names

As trends come and go and pop culture evolves with each new decade, popular pet names also change. According to our claims data,** the top dog and cat names are:

Dog Names

  • Luna
  • Bella
  • Charlie
  • Max
  • Lucy

Cat Names

  • Luna
  • Oliver
  • Milo
  • Pearl
  • Leo

Did your pet’s name make it on the list? If you want to stick with the latest trends when picking out a name for your new pet, these are some wonderful options to choose or draw inspiration from.

cute kitten with a pink collar

Do Pets Know Their Names?

Don’t all pet parents secretly wish they could talk to their pets? Although you can’t sit down and hold a conversation with them, you can still communicate with them. Over time, you’ve probably learned your cat’s different meows, and your dog has a way to let you know when they want to go outside.

Your cat and dog also have learned some of your body and spoken language. They know different commands and tricks, various names, places, and things. For instance, if you ask your dog if they want to go for a walk or if your cat wants a treat, there’s a good chance they’ll perk up. It’s clear that animals are capable of understanding at least a portion of what we say, but do they know their names?

Do Cats Recognize Their Names?

While there haven’t been as many studies done on cats as dogs, people are beginning to study cats and their behaviors more in recent years. One of these studies found that cats do indeed recognize their names.

That said, cats are not dogs and are naturally much more independent creatures. So, while your dog may drop everything at your beck and call, your cat could very well hear their name and choose not to listen. Your feline’s responsiveness boils down to their personality and what they are doing when you call their name. Some cats may naturally prefer more attention than others, so they will be more likely to respond when their name is called.

How to Teach a Cat Their Name

Lucky for cat parents, there are a few steps you can take to help your cat better learn (and hopefully listen) to their name. First, it’s helpful if your pal begins associating their name with positive things.

For instance, try saying your cat’s name right before you give them their food or when you are giving them a treat. You can also use their name when giving them a favorite toy or whenever they come over to you for some pets. Continue to use their name many times throughout the day.

You may also discover it beneficial never to use your cat’s name when they are in trouble. By hearing their name and then immediately being reprimanded, your cat will quickly stop listening to their name.

Why not turn to movie star pets for some name inspiration?

Do Dogs Know Their Names?

Like our feline friends, our canine companions can also recognize their names. If you adopt a puppy and are teaching them their name for the very first time, or if you are changing your adopted dog’s name, you may need to be patient as it may take some more time for your pal to recognize their new name.

How well your dog learns (and listens) to their name will also be affected by their personality in general. Some dog breeds are naturally more intellectually inclined and are able to distinguish hundreds of words, while other breeds may only be able to recognize a few dozen. Plus, if you happen to have an independent or stubborn dog, they may pretend not to hear when you call them, even if they do recognize their name.

How to Teach a Dog Its Name

Thankfully, there are many ways to teach your dog their name. You can start by choosing one that won’t be confusing for them. For instance, some people recommend choosing a shorter name—one or two syllables. It will also be easier for your dog to understand their name when it contains harder, consonant sounds instead of being vowel-filled, which can sound mumbled or confusing to dogs.

Like cats, it’s best to teach your dog to associate their name as a positive thing. A great exercise to begin practicing name recognition is to put your dog on a leash and keep them close to you. Say their name, and when they make eye contact, reward them with a “Yes!” and a little treat.

Continue this a few more times, then start including longer sentences without their name. Every so often, repeat their name and reward them every time they make eye contact. You can even progress with this technique by increasing the distance between you and your dog.

Are you curious about what pet is your ideal match? Take our quiz to find out!

How to Pick a Name for a Pet

Most pet parents can agree—picking a name for your pet is a big deal. Your cat or dog will have this name for the rest of their life, after all. You want to pick a unique name, one that fits your pet’s personality and appearance yet is still easy enough for your pet to understand.

When it comes to naming themes for pets, the possibilities are endless. Not only can your pet’s name reflect their personality, but it can also represent an interest of yours.

For instance, if you’re a major movie fan, turn to your favorite films for some name inspiration. If you are a fashionista always looking for the next trend, brand names may be a fun naming pool from which to choose. Even if you are an outdoorsy person who enjoys hiking and fishing, pet names can reflect those interests as well. Saving perhaps the best for last, many pet parents love to choose food-inspired names.

As you can imagine, it is incredibly easy to build an ever-growing, too-long list of possible pet names, but there are a few ways to help make this process more streamlined.

  • Write a list of your favorite names. But limit yourself to only allowing a certain number—you don’t want it to get too lengthy.
  • Ask others for their opinion. If you’re having difficulties eliminating a name, your friends can help make that decision for you.
  • Make it a family decision. Ask each member of your family to choose one name they like, and then everyone gets to choose the final name from this shortlist.
  • Leave it up to chance. After creating a list of possible names, roll a die and eliminate (or choose) a name that way.
  • Wait until you meet your pal. Sometimes it can be easier to choose a name for your cat or dog after spending a week or so with them. By learning more about their personality and temperament, you may discover which name will fit them best.

Do you still need some ideas on finding unique dog names or cute cat names? Don’t be afraid to use names you’ve never heard of before or find inspiration in the nitty-gritty details of your favorite books or movies.

If you’re looking for a helpful way to eliminate a name from your ‘contenders’ list, however, picture yourself using your pet’s name. Whether you’d be calling your dog at the dog park or just telling stories about your cat, that may sway you away from certain choices.

Although choosing a name for your best pal is a very important decision, don’t let it become one that causes you too much stress or creates disagreements in the family. After all, even when you spend a ridiculous amount of time choosing what you believe to be the perfect name, chances are, you will spend most of your time calling your pet by one of their many adorable or hilarious nicknames.

**Internal Claims Data, 2022

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.


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