Cat and dog names reflect changing attitude towards pets

Jozef. Nice human based name of Dutch origin. Photo by Ruth aka Kattaddorra.
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We know that humankind is constantly in the middle of change. Humans continue to evolve and develop. Sometimes it appears that we are regressing, getting worse. I think the truth is that our evolution is very slow. There will be humps, bumps and setbacks along the way. Modern humans first appeared about 200,000 years ago.

Our relationship with animals is evolving in parallel with our personal evolution. Our attitudes towards animals is neither even nor consistent across the globe. There is a general transition from treating animals as a resource to be exploited at the will of people towards treating pets with love and care and as family members.

We are in the middle of this transition. However, as companion animals are treated progressively more often as family members people give them names that are increasingly for humans and as a result follow trends in the naming of babies.

I think you’ll find that before the 18th century pet owners tended to give names to their cat or dog that were not created for humans or, at least, far less often than at present. The classic is “Fido”, “Spot” and “Rover” for dogs as recently as the mid-20th century now seem outdated. These names were less individualised. I am struggling to think of old-fashioned cat names. What about “Tigger”? This is America’s most common cat name.

Apparently, in medieval Britain cat names were generic and based on human names. The names were not individualised but many cats were given the same name routinely. Such a name for a medieval cat was “Gyb” or “Gib”, which is the shortened version of “Gilbert”. It was the generic name for a tomcat.

Nowadays, cat and dog caretakers far more commonly name their companion animals as they would name a new baby and we know how baby names follow fashion trends.

I would imagine that people will search for popular, modern names for newborn babies when deciding on a name for their new companion animal. Inspiration often comes from TV, popular books and cinema. The idea of a generic name is far from people’s minds.

The top ten pet names are also in the top seventy names for babies in England and Wales (part of the United Kingdom – UK). There is a distinct merging of human and animal names.

For example “Poppy” is the most popular name for both cats and dogs while being 13th most popular in the UK for babies. Fido was in the top ten of dog names in the 1970s but is now at 1,480.

Perhaps the best modern cat names are those based on human names but with a twist. Ruth’s “Jozef”is the sort of thing I am thinking of. It is a name of Dutch origin, apparently.

Rudolph, living in Mumbai, India, named his younger cat “Matata“. This is a baby boy’s name and it means, “one who causes trouble”.

Associated: The Cat that Refuses a Name

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