Popular Pet Names: Decoded!

What's in a (pet) name? Find out!
By: Andrew Daniels
Cat and dog hanging out together.

Your pet is an important part of your family. So when you bring a new furry friend into your life, you should show the same careful consideration when choosing his or her name as you would when deciding what to call your newborn son or daughter.

“People see their pets as companions,” says Frank Nuessel, Ph.D., a linguistics professor at the University of Louisvilleand editor of NAMES: A Journal of Omnastics. “So it makes sense that there’s a link between how we name children and how we name animals. The act of naming is such a symbolic thing,” he says.

In other words, don’t just start calling your critter the very first thing that pops into your head. Nuessel suggests naming your puppy or kitten something indicative of their behavior or appearance, or giving a name that has a special meaning to you and your family.

We asked Nuessel to comment on some of the most popular pet names for dogs and cats and offer his expertise into what these names say about our relationship with our furry friends:

Top Male Dog Names

Names such as Buddy, Charlie, and Rocky all end in an “E” sound, which suggests a close friendship between you and your pooch, says Nuessel. You wouldn’t call your boss Charlie—instead you’d say Charles or Mr. Smith—but the welcoming nickname suits a great friend just fine. (In this case, Buddy literally means your pal!)

Most top-name lists for dogs also include masculine names, like Diesel, Bandit, Tank and Hunter. “That suggests a male bonding phenomenon,” Nuessel says. The logic: Name your canine something distinctly manly, and you’ll feel more macho just by hanging with him.

Top Female Dog Names

Once again, the “E” sound is extremely prominent when it comes to popular dog names for females. Names such as Daisy, Lucy, Molly, and Sadie commonly take top spots.

But Bella is another name that skyrocketed to success in 2012 and 2013. You can probably chalk up Bella’s exploding popularity in recent years to Bella Swan, the main character in the Twilight book and film series. But Nuessel has another theory: “It’s a shortened form of Isabella, which is actually the fourth most popular name for female children,” he says. “So that suggests a humanized relationship we have with our animals.”

Top Male Cat Names

When it comes to male cat names, Nuessel singles out Max—also a popular male name for dogs—for being monosyllabic, and thereby easier for young children to remember. And Simba’s annual inclusion on top dog name lists might have something to do with the enduring success of The Lion King, which came out 20 years ago.

Top Female Cat Names

If you’re looking for something simple, you won’t find an easier fit for your kitten than Kitty. And elsewhere on the list of popular female cat names, monikers like Patches and Ginger share the same theme and often describe the pet’s appearance, Nuessel says. “Patches could refer to patches of color in the cat’s fur, for example,” he says, while Ginger might fit a brown-orange feline. “Names that reflect physical attributes are popular.”

Celebrity Pet Names

If you’re still stuck, you might try taking a cue from famous folks by naming your pet something a little off-kilter. Some of the goofiest celebrity pet names—like Adam Sandler’s bulldog, Matzoball, or Rachel Bilson’s mixed-breed Thurman Murman—certainly follow that trend.

“Celebrities will more likely than not have a pet name that’s unusual, because celebrities see themselves as being unusual—that they’re somehow special from everyone else,” says Nuessel. “Giving their animal a special name just re-emphasizes that.”

Image via Shutterstock