Cat and dog names reflect changing attitude towards pets


Jozef. Nice human based name of Dutch origin. Photo by Ruth aka Kattaddorra.

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 The classic is “Fido”, “Spot” and “Rover” for dogs as recently as the mid-20th century now seem outdated.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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Cat and dog names reflect changing attitude towards pets — 24 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed all of the comments on this topic. My daughter was the namegiver for all of our cats, koi, frogs and hamsters while she was growing up, including Shrimp (Shrimpster, shrimpie, shrimptaro, Shrimpzilla).
    Now that she has left home to start her own family, I am left with the daunting task of naming strays/rescues that come in the door. The latest “operation Rescue” brought in a two month longhaired black male kitten. It has been at least two weeks now, and only just this morning did I finally come up with a name. Without my daughter Madeline’s help. I must have tried two dozen names on him, most of them not fitting at all: Dexter, BooBoo, Otis (Redding), Neil, Marvin(ha!), Harvey, and even “Satchmo” for a few hrs. This a.m. as he was sleeping across my face so that I couldn’t see–I thought, “I know! I’ll call him Marco Polo!” and that seemed to make him pleased.
    Now I just have to teach him to vocalise one human word…”Polo!” so that I can call him when eventually he goes outside to play. 😉

    • Marco Polo, a very original name! I love it. Have you any photos of him Caroline?
      I think it’s amazing that when we have more than one cat, each one knows his own name, even from little kittens Walter and Jozef never looked up if we called the other. Just like us really, how we each know our own names before we are even conscious of ourselves.

    • You also change the name as Marc does and me. It sort of evolves and becomes more of a sound: “Shrimpzilla” a meaty sounding name.

      “Polo” has lots of potential for evolving into something slightly different.

  2. Hi Dee. Most of the names are already registered with TICA for Turkish Vans and Angoras. If you meant can you use them for your cats that would be the only complication.
    Fatima is just a Spanish name from the Turkish and perhaps Arabic Fatmah. Cimarra is my own invention derived from the Spanish Cimarron, feral or wild. The correct feminine form is Cimarrona but I prefer Cimarra as a name.
    Hi Ruth. You can have a lot of fun juggling and adapting names. I think it adds a certain importance to the cats

  3. Our granddad who we never knew was called Joseph and Babz and I agreed it was the name for our kitten. But she doesn’t like the way some people sound the s… JoSeph instead of JoZeph so we put the z and then we decided to make his name unique by putting a Z at the end instead of ph. I didn’t know it was of Dutch origin, but he very much suits his name.
    Walter was easy to name because we rescued him from Walter Street here.

  4. You might like to glance a moment at the names I have for my cats. They are mostly of Mediterranean and Turkish origin.
    Mediterranean girls names.
    Isadora, Messalina, Chulita, Elenora, Natilla, Endora, Jasmine,, Yolanda, Yayita, Maija Candice, Sorpresa, Shimona, Risa, Feliz, Cybele, Cimarra, Sofia, Fatima, Nerina, Otana, Talitha.
    Mediterranean male names.-
    Jason, Kyros, Moreno, Khufu.
    Turkish girls names.-
    Ayla, Aysun, Firdezden, Guzellik, Havva, Melek, Minos, Nadir, Orkide, Yeni Karin, Yeni Yildiz, Zerrin, Ziya.
    Turkish male names.
    Adnan, Balkar, Bergin, Erkin, Galip, Garip Garay, Hakan, Halim, Haydar, Jimbey, Kadir, Kahraman, Karaman, Karamat, Karan, Kedim, Kemal Kebab, Kerrim, Mayis, Lemardan, Muzaffer, Namik, Otan Ali, Suleiman, Selim, Volkan,
    Idiosyncratic or others.-
    Caspar, Gohar, Hatti, Pembe, Themba, Arkos, Rufus, Angel of the North, Snorri, Misty, Anglow Angie, Bengie Jungla. Fenicia, Malaika, Mongolia, Panda, Oz, Midnight, Tariq, Turkanna.
    I remember them all and I am pleased to think that being with me they were at least protected from an uncertain future. Some are are still with me, some are in their new homes in new countries, and some have passed away.

    • Wow Harvey you have so many great names for all your cats. I really like some of them. It doesn’t suprise me at all when you say you remember every single one absolutely.

  5. Names have changed very much since I was a kid when we used Tom, Duke, Buddy, Max, Blackie, etc.

    I love naming cats and give it a lot of thought. Their appearances and personalities are deciding factors most of the time.

    Some of my cats’ names are Damon, Tyler, Toby, Desiree, Spitfire, Simba, and Dreama.

    My 4 torti girls are nearky identical and were named in the order they came to me: Star, Start, Starter, Restart.

  6. Matata and Jozef and Walter and Marvin and Monty and Charlie are all great names in a similar vein. Then there is Bigfoot who lives with Dorothy – I like that name too, just as much, as do I like Yellow – I like all name to be honest.

    I used to call Pepi ‘Mr P’ – and am currently calling Lilly ‘Bubba’ or ‘Bubbles’ and it would sound weird if I called her Lilly now. My Gigi in Canada was actually called Ziggy but I kept slowly changing it. At one point I was calling her Jujitsu. Just because. The sound of her name and calling her changes and evolves over time with me. I rarely call Gigi her name properly and it’s now become just Gig (prnounced Jeej) and Molly I call all kinds of things including now Mini Puff because she is Red’s little sister and she is just like him in so many ways I feel like I still have him in a sense – I used to call him Puffpuff and Molly being a smaller version of him I call her Mini Puff.

    For me the name is an ever changing thing. I can have more than one name at any given time for any of my cats. Sometimes just going back to their real name in a more serious tone can really call their attention. I also have kind of one or even half syllable sounds for each of them which are obviously impossible to write. With Lilly (Billy, Bubbles etc) it’s a whispered airy ‘b’ sound. With Molly the same but an ‘M’ sound and with Jeej is more of a ‘s’ like the ‘s’ in ‘psst’. I use those when it’s night and quiet and I’m whispering to them or when we are playing and I’m coaxing them to chase me or a toy or I’m ‘hunting them down to grab them’ in our silly games.

    The name is a huge thing and very much alive for me. Not fixed. Constantly changing. I have always been like that with names of animals. I even have my own names for my ex girlfriends parents dog. I make up my own versions of name for animals basically because they know exactly that I am talking to them where a human would get confused unless you know them incredibly well.

    Interesting topic.

    I have a feeling I am going to be calling Gigi ‘my very precious little girl’ for a little while now!

    • I didn’t really talk about the nature of the names I started off with – Red, Gigi Molly Lilly Pepi – they are all short and similar sounding. They are real names though but just short ones which I happen to like. If I ever have another Red cat I am wondering if I will use the name Red again. Or if I won’t but then it’ll just happen anyway or if I won’t at all or won’t be able to. But I want to live and care for an orange boy again in this lifetime 🙂

      • Marc, I never realized how special the red tabbies are, physically, in temperament, in facial profile, their eyes, and on and on… until little Shrimp showed up in my arms. And I know that the great Spirit of the universe watches over them. you know, I can say with 100% positiveness that small miracles do occur! God bless:)

        • I like the name Shrimp 🙂 Its in some ways the opposite to the image of a hunky chunky red tabby ruling the roost – but it works so well somehow. I love orange tabbys too. They are special.

    • Very cute. I love all your cat names, Marc. I call Bigfoot Bubba often. It is with affection.

      When he wandered into my life, my husband said (as if it were up to him!), sure, let’s keep him but only if we call him Bigfoot. Lol. At that point, I figured why not, if it will make the man happy…I’m just glad to have Bigfoot.

      Oddly, he also named Marvin by default, when I never expected Marv to come live with us. He teasingly called him starvin Marvin because he was a big fat Tom cat, a former colony cat. Hardly starving. Marvin stuck. Much better than the Orangie, the lady who fed him called him.

      Yellow was named in my heart the first time I saw her and said “look at that yellow cat!

      Gigi will always be your precious little girl. They all are!

      • The way you named Yellow is very pure – it was your first reaction – that’s a great way to name a cat.

        I just love the name Marvin and I think it really suits him.

    • For me the name is an ever changing thing…

      This is another good topic of conversation. It is exactly what I do. I constantly shift the name gently to new sounds. It is about sounds.

      I am not sure why I change the name. I tend to reduce the name like “Charlie” to a sound like “Chaggie”.

      For me it is probably expressing a feeling through pure sound. Also cats respond to sounds and certain sounds are probably more likely to be responded to, which is why I make them.

      I’ll do a page on this.

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