A dog’s name should be short, punchy and easy for them to recognise, but while many human monikers fit this bill, some names simply suit pups better than people, says David Tomlinson

Choosing a name for you canine companion is always tricky. However David Tomlinson breaks the process down and provides some helpful tips to give your dog a name they can be proud of.


I’ve just undertaken a piece of fascinating but utterly useless research, checking out which of the most popular names for boys and girls born in 2021 also feature in the 10 most popular names for dogs whelped in the same year. You will be intrigued to know that there’s far more overlap of the boys’ names for both humans and dogs than there is with girls’ names. Oscar, for example, is number seven in both the list of dogs’ names and boys’ names, while none of the most popular names for bitches appear in the girls’ top 10. You have to go to number 12, Willow, before you even find an overlap.

Of course, some names simply suit dogs better than people. Few would think to call a dog Muhammed, though it’s number four on the boys’ list. And while Bella may be a suitable name for a dog (number two on the female dog list), it’s not as popular for girls. Those of us who did Latin at school will remember that bella means war.

One important question is the source of the top 10 names. Despite some serious trawling, I failed to find out where the dogs’ names came from, but given the information available, it’s clear there aren’t many sporting dogs featured. As a professional dog writer, I always make a point of listening out for what people on shoots call their dogs. When the latter are misbehaving, many seem to adopt the same name, but generally speaking the names of dogs that I hear in the shooting field bear little resemblance to the top 10 I found online.

Purdey, for example, doesn’t feature anywhere, but there’s no doubt that Purdey is by far the most popular name for a shooting dog. It’s not surprising really. I’m sure that many canine Purdey owners hanker after a gun of that make, while I have yet to come across anyone shooting with a Purdey who has a dog of the same name. There are, of course, plenty of other gunmakers’ names to consider, but Beretta or Cogswell don’t really roll off the tongue, though Boss and Churchill are both possibilities.

Best labrador colour

My senior spaniel is a black-and-white springer called Rowan. She acquired the name as a puppy: she was one of a litter of 10 and we named the litter after trees. She was the puppy we ended up keeping, so it seemed easier for her to keep her name, though I have on occasion had to explain that she is named after the mountain ash, not the former archbishop of Canterbury. We had a previous litter that were all named after tennis players. You can tell how long ago it was, as we had one called Boris.

My other spaniel is a sprocker called Emma. I was interested to note that Emma isn’t a name that features in last year’s top 50 girls’ names, but I would wager that after the exploits of our new number one tennis player, the delightful Emma Raducanu, it will do so this year. My bitch came by her name because I was in southern Spain in March 2018 when a storm called Emma deposited 12in of rain in Andalucia in 10 days. It was during one of the downpours that her breeder emailed me to say that she had been born, so it seemed natural to name her after the storm.

The requirements for a good name for a dog are simple: it should be short and punchy and easy for the dog to recognise. If you’ve got more than one dog, then you want their names to be sufficiently different to avoid any confusion. A picking-up friend, now sadly dead, had a labrador called Ghillie and a daughter called Gillie, which caused confusion as we always had to work out which one she was talking about. I was never brave enough to ask her why she gave them such similar names.

If you are going to use a human name for a dog, then it’s always wise to choose one that you won’t feel like an idiot when shouting. We all remember Fenton the dog that famously chased the deer in Richmond Park. Fenton may have been deaf to his name, but at least he didn’t have to be embarrassed by it. The clip of Fenton can still be enjoyed on YouTube.

The French have a curiously Francophile way of naming pedigree dogs. In 1926 the government decided that all dogs born in the same year would have a name beginning with the same letter, and they’ve stuck to it ever since, though K, Q, W, X, Y and Z are not used. This year the letter is T. Have any been called Trump, I wonder, or perhaps Tautou?

If you are stuck for a name for your new sporting dog, then turn to Appendix B in Hunting, written by the 8th Duke of Beaufort and first published in 1894 in the Badminton Library. It gives a wonderful list of hound names, from Acheron to Zozimus, and Abigal to Zillah, while there’s a Perdita but not a Purdey. You are sure to find inspiration.