With human monikers, makes of gun or even gamebirds used to identify gundogs, David Tomlinson prefers the simplicity of the hunt system for naming foxhounds

The name of your shooting companion deserves a certain amount of thought. Human names, gunmakers and gamebirds are all popular choices, though each have their pitfalls. Follow David Tomlinson’s advice on how to name a gundog.

Are you thinking of welcoming a new pup into your home? Then you will be faced with that inevitable questions – breed or buy? Read breeding or choosing a puppy for our advice.


Some years ago I spent an amusing day on a shoot at which one of the guns had a golden retriever called Ben. He wasn’t the best-trained dog I’ve ever met and had a tendency to ignore the whistle. This led to furious bellows of “Ben!” from his owner. What made this funny was that the shoot captain was also called Ben, as was the chief picker-up. Like the dog, both Ben and Ben tended to ignore shouts of “Ben!”

There are many pitfalls in naming a dog: giving them human names, as many of us do, is one of them. For the past 11 years I’ve owned a springer spaniel called Rowan and there have been a number of occasions when I have had to explain that she was named after the tree (also know as the mountain ash) and not after a former Archbishop of Canterbury. She was one of a home-bred litter of 10 and we named all the puppies after trees. Few retained these names when they went to their new homes, though one that did was Ash.

It does seem that if you own a slightly whacky breed of dog, such as a cockerpoo, you give it a name that also makes you smile. I recently met one called Doris – named, apparently, after an elderly aunt – and it suited the dog perfectly. Over the years I have met a surprising number of dogs called Dog, which strikes me as somewhat unimaginative, as does calling one Boy or Girl.

Shooting dogs are often given names with shooting connotations. I have met more Purdeys than anything else, though curiously never owned by people who also own a Purdey shotgun. Purdey does have a better ring to it than Beretta, while neither Browning nor Cogswell & Harrison sound quite right. However, it would be fun to have a trio of retrievers called Atkin, Grant and Lang. All three would make good names for dogs in the same ownership, as they sound distinctively different from each other. I’m often amazed at how many people have two dogs with similar sounding names, such as Polly and Molly, yet expect their dogs to respond individually to their own name.

Even if you opt to use a bird name for your gundog there are potential pitfalls. Teal is a popular choice but it can sound just like the command heel. Call your dog Snipe and your fellow guns might well end up looking skywards when you shout the dog’s name. I have always though that Gannet would make a suitable name for a labrador, as most eat like gannets, but I’ve never yet come across one.

The best dog names are those that are short, snappy and easy to use. According to a recent survey, the top 10 dog names in the UK are Bella, Poppy, Alfie, Charlie, Lola, Max, Teddy, Daisy, Oscar and Buddy. I don’t think that I have ever met a Buddy but I suspect that it is the sort of name you give to a Staffie rather than a spaniel, and you don’t come across many Staffies in my part of Suffolk.


If you buy a Kennel Club-registered puppy, it will come with a name. This may well have taken the breeder a great deal of time to decide upon. According to the Club, no fewer than 20% of names are rejected as unavailable as they conflict with an existing name already taken for the breed or an active kennel name.

What’s more, the Club has strict rules about naming. You can’t, for example, use your surname, while a name can consist of more than one word but mustn’t be more than 24 characters long. It costs £16 per puppy to register names with the Club, while it will set you back another £15 if you decide to change it.

Compared with the names of racehorses, KC-registered dog names are irritatingly long-winded and confusing. Who, for example, will remember that FTCh Beiley’s Aguzannis of Fendawood won last year’s retriever championship? In contrast, it’s so much easier to recall that One for Arthur won the Grand National and Wings of Eagles won the Derby. Racehorse names allow for wit and humour; sadly, pedigree dog names don’t.

The French registry for dogs follows a naming system that makes it easy to work out the animal’s age. This year, for example, all registered names must begin with the letter N; last year it was M and next year it is P. The letters K, Q, W, X, Y and Z aren’t included because it’s too difficult to find names beginning with them. Every 20 years the alphabet starts over again. It’s a system that has a certain French logic that I rather like.

For simplicity, though, it’s difficult to beat the naming system many packs of foxhounds use, with first letter of the dam’s name used for all the puppies in the same litter. Thus a hound called Joyful might have puppies named Jolity, Juno, Julio, Juniper and Jupiter. My copy of Hunting, a volume in The Field Library (written by His Grace the 8th Duke of Beaufort and first published in 1894), includes a wonderful list of hound names, from which I have taken these examples. Many would make first-rate gundog names, too.